According to the National Association of Realtors, across the U.S., “women brokers dominate the residential real estate market, but have yet to make a major entrance into the more lucrative commercial market.” Similarly, women have made a lot more progress in terms of property ownership, but research suggests that only 30% of real estate investors in America are women. So, while ladies are dipping their toes in the industry, very few are positioned to earn the big bucks. But it’s time for all that to change.
Below, five well-established women with decades of experience in various aspects of the real estate business share the advice that female investors must know if they want to start small and earn big.
Empathy is an asset.
Sarah Eder, Founder of Sarah Eder Investments in Ontario, Canada, has been a full-time real estate investor for almost four years in Ontario—and she’s amassed a portfolio of over 200 doors (individual rental units). She started in her 20s with no access to cash, credit, or help from family, so she became an expert in creative financing (i.e., leveraging other people’s money).
“When I first got started in real estate, I realized immediately that I would be underestimated by men in the field,” Eder admits. “From realtors to mortgage brokers to contractors, the vast majority of people I encountered were men who were very aggressive, focused, and liked to ‘network’ like an old boy’s club of golfing and drinking. I had to fight contractors constantly who called me ‘sweetie’ and ‘hun’ on job sites, while trying to swindle and overcharge me, not believing I understood what goes into a construction project.”
Her best advice is to see compassion and empathy as strengths, not weaknesses. When you know your stuff—your industry, your business, your pricing—you can stand firm in being polite and making respect integral to your growth. “I showed my tenants, clients, and staff kindness and caring,” Eder explains. “This didn’t weaken my brand, in fact; it is one of the tenets of my success, and gives many of my clients confidence in how I conduct business. While I am incredibly competitive and never back down from a challenge, I use my words wisely, and believe in playing fair.”
She says it is important to quietly educate yourself and take smart risks, as well as to learn how to embrace differences and make them strengths. “I have now achieved a level of success that very few women have achieved in my industry, but I’m hoping to change that,” Eder adds. “I’ve recently mentored many women in real estate investing, so that hopefully soon it will become commonplace to see women at the top of the real estate investing world.”
Multitasking reaps rewards.
Ashley Messina is co-CEO of Loftey, New York City’s top tenant rep brokerage. The company has done nearly 5,000 tenant side transactions and is an industry leader in lead generation. In over five years, Loftey has grown to represent more renters than any other brokerage in NYC—and Messina is among the highest-rated real estate agents in the city. But she didn’t come into real estate until she’d spent time working in larger, more bureaucratic companies.
“I wanted to be in a position where I could really take a lot of ownership over my day-to-day and drive my own business,” Messina says. “It’s not an industry where you can glide along and let other people do the work for you. You’re only going to be successful in real estate if you want to have the sales skills and entrepreneurial drive to build your own brand and book of business.”
Messina says real estate is a field that rewards multi-taskers and tapping into your social and professional networks. “Most women are already great at these things, so I’d really recommend leaning into those strengths,” she adds. “It’s also important to keep in mind that everyone has a different sales style. When people think of real estate agents they tend to think of a really brash style, but I’ve found that what clients appreciate most in an agent is transparency and competency. Ultimately real estate is a social business, so it’s important to define your own style and come across as authentic to gain clients’ trust and confidence.”
If financial education comes first, investing comes easy.
Jeanine Smith, founder of Black Girls in Real Estate in Atlanta, now leads an online community of more than 100,000 followers interested in learning more about real estate investing and growing wealth. According to Smith’s decades of experience, “African American women have the credit, income, and oftentimes the savings or equity in their homes to invest. We just need the education to learn how to do so.” She fills the gap by offering tours and training to showcase the diversity of ways that real estate investing can start small and grow fast.
As a single mom, Smith started by “house-hacking” (renting rooms in her home), which launched her into a six-figure renovation and development company. She says beginners have to first understand money basics. “It is important to strategize for savings for the down payment and securing a good credit score,” Smith implores. After that, the sky is the limit.
Particularly, Smith says there is a lot of upside in multi-family investments for short-term rentals. “The short-term rental market is extremely competitive at this time, with sites like Airbnb and Padsplit,” Smith explains. “You can make more money faster by frequently turning over these properties or rooms, rather than having a long-term renter set at a locked-in monthly rate.”
There’s plenty of room for you in commercial real estate.
Danielle Garson, real estate and corporate lawyer in Cleveland, came into the role of a real estate attorney after years of business litigation. “Fighting over what went wrong in a company or who owes whom money was exhausting, especially when my daughter was born,” Garson says. “I spent the month of her first birthday in trial. I was tired of the conflict, and I turned to real estate law to build, instead of destroy.”
And she’s so grateful she made the switch. “Driving through town, or even ‘traveling’ through Google Earth, and seeing the tangible building that I helped buy, sell, construct, finance, etc. is gratifying—and something I can show my children one day,” Garson explains. “Also, the knowledge that transactions in real estate do not just relate to a physical building, but projects can produce hundreds of jobs during and after construction, including maintenance, leasing, design, etc.”
She says that most of her clients who call themselves real estate professionals are men—and the female clients are business owners who have ancillary real estate needs. But both are, in fact, serious real estate investors. Garson says there is plenty of room at the table for women, but ladies have to own it. “It’s interesting that women still tend to lead in the design aspect and increasingly more women are leading the title world,” Garson says. “While I do work with some females in the other roles, men tend to still dominate commercial real estate. I have seen more and more women involved in the residential real estate market, but I do think we have a lot of progress to make in commercial real estate.”
For women looking to break into commercial, Garson recommends joining a real estate organization to network, understand broader business issues and to better position themselves for visibility. “My advice for the women who want a career in real estate is to define their professional and personal priorities, be confident, communicate clearly, and assume responsibility without unnecessarily apologizing,” she says. “And, give yourself a break every once in a while—women seem to be much harder on themselves than men and we are often juggling a lot more.”
Bet on yourself, and you can’t lose.
Tanya Salseth, real estate investor and multimillion-dollar agent in Washington, D.C., never imagined that one day she’d own a real estate portfolio encompassing 470 rental doors in South Carolina plus various multifamily buildings and single-family homes in the Washington D.C. metro area.
“I spent 12 years as a United States diplomat working overseas and was the main breadwinner in my family,” Salseth says. “I worried that leaving my secure federal government job to launch my own real estate business would put my family in a precarious position, so I amassed as much rental property as I could before making the leap. It was incredibly scary to walk away from a secure and prestigious government job, but betting on myself has reaped incredible benefits for myself and my family.”
She encourages women to bet on themselves by pushing past their comfort zones—because success lies just on the other side. “Women are incredible planners, and they often feel they need to know everything and think through all aspects of something before they get started, whereas men will insert themselves into a brand new field with no knowledge and feel confident that they will get the hang of it over time,” she observes. Salseth insists that women need to jump in, often before they are ready and comfortable. To assist with this, she recommends seeking out other women in the industry who can help you learn as you go.
“I have found other female investors are very passionate about helping other women break into the field,” says Salseth. “While it can certainly be an advantage to be one of the only women at real estate conferences, we all want more women in the room.”
Last, she reminds new investors to get comfortable and agile with numbers. “At the end of the day, real estate investments are about hard math,” she explains. “Mastering due diligence and financial analysis should be your founding basis for evaluating all investments.”