The North Bay has dozens of local real estate agents who exclusively market commercial property, but only a handful are women. Though that’s been changing slowly in recent years, the stories of these trailblazers hint at why the ranks aren’t larger.
The industry stereotype is that women in real estate brokerage gravitate toward residential sales. And if they get into commercial deals, it’s for retail property. Local agents and national real estate organizations acknowledge there’s some truth to that.
“If you go into a retail-only brokerage, you’ll likely find more women than in an office and industrial brokerage,” said Cathy D’Angelo Holmes, who has been leasing and selling real estate with Coldwell Banker Commercial Brokers of the Valley in Napa for a decade. Her office has had only one other female commercial agent since Aurora McKnight came seven years ago. “I don’t know why. It’s still all about walls and square footage and ADA requirements.”
Many residential agents are women, according to the National Association of Realtors, which as nearly 1.2 million members, or about half of licensed U.S. real estate agents. About two-thirds of members specialized in residential brokerage last year, down from 82 percent. Fifty-three percent of all members who have broker licenses are female, compared with 63 percent of licensed agents.
A Napa native, Holmes does broker retail deals, but because of the relatively small size of the Napa Valley market, she’s also marketing and searching for office and industrial space.
Holmes came to commercial real estate from seven years in the mortgage business then six years of selling homes in Texas and California. She had been working since the early 1980s in selling Texas Instruments computers and the first laser printers, one of the few women in the country doing that at the time. She also worked in sales for Sprint and American Airlines. During an economic slump she moved into the mortgage business because of homeowner rush to refinance to lower rates. Then she pursued a real estate license after seeing how much more agents earned.
“One of the things I’ve always known in real estate vs. selling computers is the more time and experience you have, the more you gain credibility,” Holmes said. “Every year for me is more business and more credibility.”
To gain and keep that credibility in the early years of her sales career, Holmes took a “masculine” approach to how she dressed. In recent years, she’s been dressing “very conservatively,” wearing a skirt at times. Sometimes, she’s decked out in a white suit while touring a dirty warehouse with a client.
‘MORE ABOUT TANGIBLES’
Retail real estate deals can be more involved than for office and industrial properties, said Sara Wann in the Petaluma office of Keegan & Coppin Co. Inc./ONCOR International.
“Retail adds another couple levels of complication, like traffic counts and customer patterns, that do not matter as much with office space,” Wann said. “There’s also exclusives, like when shopping centers have a coffee shop there and cannot have another go in there. I enjoy those aspects.”
Wann entered commercial real estate 12 years ago in a career change from being a working mother who handled the finances and administration of a family construction business. Now she specializes in retail properties.
“I was never interested in residential real estate,” she said. “Business decisions are made differently from home-buying decisions, which are much more emotional. The business world is more about tangibles.”