Women Professionals in Real Estate Reaching the Top of Their Field

Although New Jersey real estate has long been viewed as a male-dominated world, it's no longer just a boys-only club. Many women have carved their own paths to success in the industry, rising through the ranks as property managers, accountants and realtors.

Several of these professionals recently shared their personal experiences and unique perspectives on the industry with The New Jersey Cooperator. Although their career trajectories and areas of expertise differ, these women do share an entrepreneurial spirit, business acumen and strong personal drive in common. They all love what they do and are thriving in their own businesses. Here's how—and why—they got to where they are today.

Robin Habacht

Robin Habacht, a property manager with Monticello Management, Inc., in Leonia, N.J., has been working in the service industry since the early 1980s, although property management is a more recent venture.

"As Bob Dylan said, 'You're gonna have to serve somebody.' Well, it's true and if you're lucky, you'll make a living at it and it will bring you a great sense of fulfillment," says Habacht. "I have been in and enjoyed the service industry for as long as I can remember. I started out in the early 1980s on Wall Street, working in accounting via stock loans back when E.F. Hutton spoke, not only did people listen, they knew who E.F. Hutton was. I rode the wave of incredible interest rates with best of them, watched the market crash, enjoyed the IPO craze as a chief financial officer. But after having been one of those ironically—'off on September 11 people'—I decided to take some time off from New York City."

Her time away from the city led to a new career for Habacht. "They say that timing is everything. At the same time that I decided to retire from New York City, a New Jersey management company came up for sale. At the same time, Paul DePetro agreed to join the company, bringing with him 25 years of New York City property management and engineering experience. Going into the business did not even look like an option, it was an amazing opportunity."

Keeping It in the Family

Although she was starting over in New Jersey, she was no stranger to real estate. Habacht, who was born in New York City, comes from a family of New York City real estate and property management professionals. "Because my family has been in New York City real estate and property management for 50 years, it seemed that going into the business was just keeping it in the family. I'm on [the New Jersey] side of the Hudson and they are on the other."

Monticello Management offers its services throughout New Jersey and has offices in Bergen, Hudson, Monmouth and Ocean Counties. The company specializes in property and realty management; residential, commercial, rental and cooperative management; accounting and reporting; and cash management and collection.

Thriving in Her Own Right

Habacht believes that her years of experience and unique background have helped her thrive in the industry, and she has never felt at a disadvantage as a woman in a male-dominated line of work. "If I've been discriminated against as a woman, I've been too busy to notice," says Habacht. "I have always felt that I have a distinct advantage in the field. I hold a master's degree in accounting and several licenses in property management. I have a background that includes construction and engineering and have surrounded myself with the caliber of personnel that strive to achieve the best possible end result for the communities we serve."

She views her work as more than just a job. "I have the privilege of being in charge in my business," says Habacht. "This privilege has allowed me to take the best of every professional experience I have had over the years and recommendations from clients, and build my company's policies and procedures around them. I have the privilege and reward of giving my customers and employees the best of the best, and exceeding their expectations."

Karen Sackstein

Karen Sackstein is a CPA with her own firm in Fair Lawn, N.J. As a common interest real estate accountant, her firm handles issues related to accounting, tax, litigation support, and budgeting in co-ops and condos.

A Knack for Numbers

Sackstein, a New Jersey native who was born in Livingston and graduated from Livingston High School, felt the pull from the accounting world early on. "I knew I wanted to be an accountant when I took my first business class at 14," she says. That interest led her to Boston University, where she earned a bachelor's degree in business administration before returning home to begin work in the industry. She started her own firm in 1996 when she saw an opportunity to focus on the untapped co-op and condo market. "I saw the potential for work. There was not a lot of competition but a great need for accountants in this industry," she says. Currently, Sackstein has eight employees—all of them women: six accountants, one bookkeeper and one paraprofessional. Their nickname, "The Condo Queens" appears prominently on her firm's logo.

Working Moms Together

"Our employees are all moms with kids and they all work flex time," says Sackstein. As a working mother herself, Sackstein, who has a nearly four-year-old son, understands the value of providing other moms the opportunity to work flexible hours. "It's a benefit I wanted to offer. Because we primarily do audits, our work is very project-oriented and it made sense to set it up this way. Our business lends itself to working after hours and at home, and doing a lot of things electronically."

Although Sackstein has not personally faced discrimination as a woman, she does know other women who have. "People who work for me now have faced challenges when they've left the workforce and then gone back into it. It is very difficult for women who leave the industry to go back and to find a position that allows them the flexibility they may need."

What often happens, she says, is that women returning to the industry decide to work part-time, but the hours may be rigid. Or, they sometimes find that part-time really means a full-time task to be completed in less time, for less money. She was able to address this challenge directly by allowing her employees to work flexible hours, anywhere from 10 to 40 hours per week. "I've been able to find really good people who are dedicated and want to get the job done," she says.

Sackstein enjoys being her own boss. "It gives me flexibility. I have a small son and I'm able to take a day off to spend with him if I need to." She also finds working with her clients and providing a service to them rewarding. "The buck stops here," she says, "That's mostly good because I'm ultimately responsible for everything. When you do a good job, the benefits will come to you. It's nice to receive appreciation from our clients. It's like a pat on the back."

Sackstein couldn't imagine not having her own business. "I don't have a commute because my office is in my home," she says of one of the biggest perks. "It's satisfying to know it's yours and you're building something for the future."

Carolyn Weiss

Carolyn Weiss, a realtor with ReMax Properties Unlimited in Morristown, N.J., was looking for a new challenge when she entered the real estate arena 22 years ago. She had already worked as a speech pathologist and a special education teacher for several years and, after advancing a number of times, she felt that she wanted to explore a different line of work. "I was the director of a private special education school and I felt had run the gamut, and I wanted to take my talents to the business world."

Possess Good Business Acumen

Although she entered real estate from a seemingly unrelated line of work, Weiss, who holds a master's degree from George Washington University, believes her previous experience gave her an edge when she became a realtor. "Some of the skills from education really carry over," she says. "In both fields you must be organized, creative and resourceful because you have to take care of people. It was a good transition for me. In fact, I see a lot of former teachers, and even nurses, entering real estate."

To Weiss, gender doesn't guarantee success as a realtor: every realtor must have a good business sense. "I did not go into this field haphazardly. It has always been a business for me," she says. "You really need to be a business person to do well, otherwise you will have inconsistent income," says Weiss. "When I started out, I was not well connected in terms of having business connections in the industry. It forced me to find my own niche and focus on condos and townhouses. I've really studied the business and even have aerial photos of the local condo communities." To date, she's listed and sold more than 800 homes.

Weiss is a native of the New York-New Jersey Metro area: she was born in Brooklyn and raised in Suffolk County. Although she spent about 10 years post-college in Virginia, she came back north and has been here ever since. A resident of Morris Township, she lives in the community she serves and has observed changes in the community over time first hand. "Today, about 85 percent of buyers start on the Internet," she says. "In this area things have just grown and it's become more crowded. It's all positive stuff and business has picked up now that Morristown has the midtown direct train line. The area has grown and people have started referring to it as 'Hoboken West.'"

Being Your Own Boss

She appreciates the freedom she has as a RE/MAX agent. "At RE/MAX, you really run your own business," says Weiss. "I have an office within the building and I have two buyer-brokers who work for me. Having my own business allows me to use my best judgment and own personal values to help sellers and buyers," she says. "I don't have to adapt to a corporate culture so I basically run my own show. It allows me to be confident that my judgment is the best for my clients."

Stephanie Mannino is a freelance writer living in Pennsylvania and a frequent contributor to the New Jersey Cooperator.

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