There is NO limit. You set the rules. You can do anything you put your mind to. The only person that can hold you back from your goals is yourself. That can sound intimidating, but for each person, the goal is something different. Your goal might be one transaction a month. Mine might be to take over the world. We all choose our own paths and real estate lends you that opportunity.
As a part of my series about strong women leaders of the Real Estate industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Suzanne Seini.
Suzanne is the Chief Operating Officer of Active Realty, a leading residential real estate brokerage firm in Orange County, California. Alongside her role at Active Realty, Suzanne is a Zillow Premier Agent in Orange County and San Diego. Suzanne firmly believes that buying or selling a home does not have to be stressful or difficult. Suzanne has spent her life climbing the industry ladder as a strong female agent, breaking the mold of what real estate should look like. She uses her vast knowledge of the competitive California real estate market to help her clients make informed decisions in order to get the results they want.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to the Real Estate industry?
When I moved to California, I was working in the world of marketing and found myself at Zillow Group. My primary role was coaching agents on how to convert online leads. I taught them how to scale and grow a team and overall how to treat real estate as the business it is. After 5 years at Zillow, coaching over 2000 top real estate agents, I realized there was a void in the industry I needed to fill. I decided to lead by example and help transform the industry from the inside. I believed with technology advancing as fast as it was, real estate needed to advance as well. To me, real estate has always been a relationship business. As realtors, we need to embrace the tech side of things to provide our clients with the best possible experience. Buying a home should be fun and exciting, not stressful. That is my overall mission and why I am here.
Can you share with our readers the most interesting or amusing story that occurred to you in your career so far? Can you share the lesson or take away you took out of that story?
One day, on the close of escrow, prior to the home actually closing, the buyer’s agent gave his clients access to the property, and they began demolishing the marble floors of the $4,000,000 home. Half way through, they decided it was going to be too much work and canceled the transaction. They basically came into the home without permission, vandalized it, and then left. Long story short, we needed to file a police report and ended up repairing the entire floor. Lesson learned, follow the contract. It’s not over until it’s over. As an agent, you don’t know the kind of communication that’s happening between other agents and clients. From now on, I always make it clear that even if in escrow, all visits are scheduled by me.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Right now I’m focused on driving our tech infrastructure to the next level. That includes automations and integrations of the brokerage. My team is constantly leveraging our internal infrastructure to reach clients when and how they want to interact. Real estate should be simple, and that’s our main focus at Active Realty. I’m also working with our agents on their workflow routines. Working in real estate is a fast-paced world. I want to give agents the time they need to make big decisions for their clients. This increased visibility fosters a collaborative and communicative environment between our internal and external clients.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Active Realty is one giant team. We help each other, we work together and we share in each other’s successes. Real estate can be a lonely profession when you don’t have the support from others. Many agents operate as a “one man/woman show”. Our team at Active Realty embodies a collaborative spirit which not only reduces friction in the buying and selling process but questions the status quo of transacting. It’s a win-win for everyone involved. We provide agents with the tools it takes to be successful. We cultivate buyers and sellers for our agents and set them up on real appointments. Most agents struggle to find business in real estate. At Active Realty, that will never be your problem. It’s how you keep and grow the opportunities provided that will be the key to agent success.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I’ve had many mentors over the years and each has taught me something different. All of those experiences have shaped me into who I am today, and they all deserve some credit. The biggest impact has been from my father. At a very young age, he taught me to be independent and be my own person. He taught me to be kind, not nice. Those are two very different qualities. The biggest blessing though, was his constant support of my decisions. He told me that I have “the gift of knowing when to get out”, meaning I know when I’m on a path that might not be the best and need to move forward to the next challenge. Complacency can be counterproductive and I recognize when I need to move to the next chapter. My father is my biggest fan and I know he is always in my corner.
Ok. Thank you for all that. Let’s now jump to the main core of our interview. The Real Estate industry, like the Veterinarian, Nursing and Public Relations fields, is a women dominated industry. Yet despite this, less than 20 percent of senior positions in Real Estate companies are held by women. In your opinion or experience, what do you think is the cause of this imbalance?
One of the best things about real estate is that you are your own boss. You are an entrepreneur, and you make your own schedule. That lifestyle can be great for some people and terrible for others. It opens the door for multitaskers. It’s great for single moms or stay-at-home parents who need the flexibility. It provides a decent income to stay afloat. There is a perception that most agents work part time and make a ton of money living their best life. Real estate agents are the hardest working people I know. The top 10% of agents work 24/7 and are glued to their phones because there is no “clocking out” at the end of the day. We answer emails at midnight, or if you are an early bird like myself, 5 a.m.
Like many other industries in the business sector, the roots rise from a male dominated environment in the ’50s and ’60s. It wasn’t until recently that women were cast into Hollywood movies on a regular basis let alone running a real estate company. Dominant female figures like Sheryl Sandberg and Barbara Corcoran blazed the trail, and today women in business have a responsibility to continue pushing that entrepreneurial spirit forward. It’s up to us to challenge the status quo and break down barriers through knowledge, while we drive compassion and, most importantly, lift each other up.
Think about this, when you see a real estate agent on TV or in a movie, how are they portrayed? It is usually a woman, good looking, and just trying to make a sale. There IS such a thing as a stereotypical “female” realtor, and it leaves a lasting impression. As a female in this industry, we don’t get the automatic respect or trust that comes much easier to the man in an expensive suit. I’ve been on many listing presentations with a male colleague and even though I’m doing most of the talking, the questions get directed to him. Clients worry about our negotiation skills. Will we be able to get them what they want or will we be a pushover? They think about the stereotypical agent and wonder, “is she just a pretty face?” I’m here to change that perception. The success of my work is proof.
What 3 things can be done by a)individuals b)companies and/or c) society to support greater gender balance going forward?
- We need more interviews like this. Really though! We need to showcase the hardworking women who work their tails off for their clients to get the job done.
- Be diverse and merit based. Give credit where it is due — regardless of color or gender. Contribution and collaboration drive companies to be successful and this cannot be accomplished without a diverse team bringing their best to the table on a daily basis.
- Call out gender bias when it’s in front of you. Be part of the solution and include everyone. The best of society is seen when we are working together to accomplish the common good for all.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
Let’s state the obvious, most women executives have to choose between family or career. I personally chose a career. We really shouldn’t have to make that decision. For me, making that decision removed that challenge from the equation. Women have to fight for credibility, prove their intelligence and earn their respect. They start at 0 and work their way to 10. Men start at about an 8.
Can you share 3 things that most excite you about the Real Estate industry?
- For most families, buying a home is the biggest purchase of their lives. They will always remember it, and we have the opportunity to make it a positive experience they will cherish forever. There are plenty of ups and downs in real estate, but a happy and appreciative client makes it all worth it. Real estate is a relationship business. You never know who you are going to meet that could potentially change your life for the better. From making a new networking connection to a life-long friend, the possibilities are endless.
- There is NO limit. You set the rules. You can do anything you put your mind to. The only person that can hold you back from your goals is yourself. That can sound intimidating, but for each person, the goal is something different. Your goal might be one transaction a month. Mine might be to take over the world. We all choose our own paths and real estate lends you that opportunity.
- I love a good challenge. I’m competitive with myself and look for growth wherever I can find it. Real estate is resilient and continues to evolve. I’m happy to be along for the ride, and sometimes even in the driver’s seat.
Can you share 3 things that most concern you about the industry? If you had the ability to implement 3 ways to reform or improve the industry, what would you suggest?
- My motto since coming into this industry is that real estate doesn’t need to be difficult. I think agents tend to make things more stressful than they need to be. Not everyone operates with the same moral compass or rules. In most cases, you are your own boss, which leaves many agents unaccountable. It’s hard to shake off a bad experience when moving onto the next transaction and sometimes you take a chip with you. I make a point to treat everyone with respect and always give other agents the benefit of the doubt, until they give me a reason not to. We all have a role to play, but the common goal is to close the transaction with an overall positive experience for our client. Instead of gearing up for a battle, work together to provide a cohesive closing.
- Technology is here to help not hurt. Many agents are fighting the inevitable growth. Sometimes clients find their own listings and even tour homes with the click of a button. In many cases, they’ll need the help of an expert to finish the sale. I will be there for them when they need me. Many agents have the perception that technology is trying to take away a sale. Realtors should use every tool to their advantage. Show your value elsewhere and, plot twist, it might even make our jobs a little easier.
- The last thing that will always concern me is the market. I am the first to admit, I’m a bit of a type A controller and wish that I could predict exactly what the market will look like. No matter what type of market we come into, real estate is resilient and so are we! The market will inevitably change and so will our strategy and focus.
What advice would you give to other leaders to help their team to thrive?
It’s all about compassion, support and accountability. Remember that most agents are self-taught and now self-employed. Sometimes they get worn down during a transaction. Don’t forget what it is like to be in their shoes and provide them with the guidance and wisdom they need to get through it.
Ok, here is the main question of our interview. You are a “Real Estate Insider”. If you had to advise someone about 5 non intuitive things one should know to succeed in the Real Estate industry, what would you say? Can you please give a story or an example for each?
- Real estate is hard. I’ll be honest, starting out, I thought it was going to be a cake walk with my previous coaching experience, but real estate is a series of highs and lows, over and over again. There are days where I felt like I was on the clock for 72 hours straight. There is always something to learn and until you get the real life experience, you have no idea what can pop up and kill a deal you have worked on for months.
- You have to be good with people. Brush up on your communication skills because you have to work with multiple parties and manage high emotions during a transaction. It’s important to know how to speak to people with respect and to be likeable. My real estate mentor taught me the more emojis the better. It is an easy way to soften the tone of any message.
- Never count your commission. It’s not over until it’s over. Somewhere around 30% of transactions fall out of escrow. Your buyer could lose their job, something could pop up during a home inspection or they might just have buyer’s remorse. You will set yourself up for disappointment if you are excited about a commission and spending money you don’t have. The reward will always come, but not always when you think. Remember that story about the client that trashed the marble floors? It’s a perfect example that it’s not a deal until it’s done.
- You control the transaction. Things don’t just happen. You have to make them happen. Early on, I assumed other agents had the same moral compass as me and were strictly there to serve the customer. Throughout the years I learned to never assume someone else is doing their job. You are dealing with your client (sometimes multiple), escrow, title, lender, inspector and fellow agents. Make yourself a checklist to follow and make sure everyone is doing their part. Someone has to take charge of the escrow and it should be you.
- You are basically a therapist, advisor, designer, contractor and real estate agent all in one. Don’t think for a second that your expertise is limited to real estate. Your client will be leaning on you for all of the above, and it will be expected. The more you know, the more value you have built. Trust me, your clients think you get paid too much. Often, they find the home on an online site and have no idea what kind of behind the scenes work must take place. Show value everywhere you can. I once had a client who actually said to me “Wow, I’m in the wrong profession. I want your kind of commission.” By the end of the transaction, he was so grateful and said he wished he could pay me more for what I did for him.
Because of your position, you are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 😊
Simplify real estate. Let’s work together instead of against each other. It’s a very simple concept, yet rarely done. Stop looking at the person on the other side of the transaction as an enemy and instead, look at them as an ally. Have FUN while doing it. We spend most of our lives either sleeping or working. If you don’t love what you do, what is the point?
How can our readers follow you online?
Thank you for your time, and your excellent insights!