Every time you influence other people to do a better job, you increase your value. Don’t be afraid to share best practices. Some people feel you need to hold on to your value to stay competitive. But if you grow others up, that becomes your value.
As a part of my series about strong women leaders of the Real Estate industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Amy Somerville, Senior Vice President, Professional Development & Engagement for RE/MAX, LLC.
Amy earned a bachelor’s degree in Journalism and Technical Communications at Colorado State University and did MBA coursework at the University of New Mexico’s Anderson School of Business. Before joining RE/MAX, she spent several years working as Director of Marketing for a nonprofit public policy organization in New Mexico.
She began her RE/MAX career in 2003 as a Sales Associate in Albuquerque, N.M., where she eventually led a top-producing sales team. In 2008, she moved to Denver and joined RE/MAX LLC as a Franchise Development Consultant. In 2011, Amy’s focus shifted from regional operations to education, and she joined RE/MAX University as Director of Broker Training.
Her role grew constantly, and in February 2019 her responsibilities expanded once again when she was named Senior Vice President, Professional Development & Engagement.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to the Real Estate industry?
I was working for a nonprofit organization and was hired on as a public relations specialist. By the time I left I was the Director of Marketing. My boss was a female leader who said she had an amazing boss who gave her a director title early in her career. He told her that he believed in her and didn’t want her to ever accept a title less than director. And she did the same for me. Titles can seem meaningless, but they can also drive your future career and leadership confidence.
I left that position to join my husband in real estate. Both my parents were entrepreneurs and I loved that I could run my own business in real estate. Real estate is an industry where you get what you put in.
It also gave me the freedom to give back to my grandmother, a strong woman who was in need of a health advocate as she got older. She needed me, and real estate offered me the flexibility to be there for her.
Years later, my husband and I moved to Colorado with the dream of buying a RE/MAX franchise, but at the time the territory was maxed out. We ultimately both found jobs working for RE/MAX Headquarters instead.
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?
I was offered the position leading RE/MAX University, our training and professional development division, for a very long time before I accepted it. But I didn’t want it because of my debilitating fear of public speaking. Back then, the concept of teaching a room of RE/MAX brokers during our 101 orientation — a key part of the role — was my nightmare.
Then I had a child. My husband Lance worked in franchise sales for the company and I worked as a franchise development consultant. We both were traveling constantly for work, my mom even had to move in to help raise the baby. We decided as a family that one of us had to change our career.
And I thought, “Well, I’ve been telling RE/MAX University no for months because I’m petrified of it.” I remember exactly where I was when I told my husband, “I’m going to take one for the team. I’m going to get uncomfortable and see what happens.”
I took the job, and 5 years later I was on stage speaking in front of 7,000 people with Jay Leno during our annual convention.
One of the things we teach agents and brokers is leaning into discomfort. Nothing great happens in status quo, the minute you feel discomfort is when you need to celebrate. Something great could happen. Taking a position that centered on public speaking is the first time I really leaned into that belief system instead of just talking about it.
To this day, I’m more nervous about public speaking than I’ve ever been, because I’m more and more dedicated to the value I’m delivering to our agents and brokers. When I’m waiting to get on stage, I pace, I get in my head about the connection I want to make and the value I want to transfer.
Once I was about to go onstage with Brian Buffini, a well-known real estate coach in our industry. He gave me the most incredible advice ever. He said, “The minute you go up on stage and you’re not nervous, you better quit. The reason you do is that you truly care about the impact you’re going to make on the audience. If you don’t have butterflies and nervousness, that’s the day you need to think about quitting.”
Nervousness is passion, and that’s okay.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Obviously we’re working on new professional development and education content. We’re also working on ways to recognize the incredible talent of our network. Over time, we’ve recommended several of our agents and brokers as speakers at events. These events are often life changing for them. These people realize how much they love giving back and how much it feeds them. We’re working on new programs to make it easier for them to find opportunities to share their value.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
The thing that makes us different, the one thing I love, is that the people that are part of this company are always willing to share best practices to make each other better.
We are the most talented, most successful and most productive real estate network. We’re competitive, but not to the point where we don’t want to see each other succeed.
Our brokers and agents are willing to get on camera and are willing to hand over their scripts, their systems, their checklists, everything they’ve built, to anyone who can benefit from it. I talk to people at other companies and that’s not their culture.
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?
So many people!
Mike Ryan, a retired RE/MAX Executive Vice President is one. He’s the guy who said, “I want to put you on stage at our convention.” His big thing is, promote your people. Promote your team. Help them get bigger than you ever were. Mike pushed me in so many ways and believed in me. I know I wouldn’t be where I am today without him. Mike himself has three daughters, so he’s always been a big promoter of women in general.
My stepmom is another — she sits on every board known to man. She’s a true leader in the banking industry. This year she called me up and said, “Your resume is really…‘blah’.” I asked what she meant, and she said, “You need to be more connected in the community!” Thanks to her encouragement, I met with the Denver Metro Chamber Leadership Foundation and Colorado Women’s Forum. I want to give back on a grander scale.
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?
RE/MAX has a very different culture that I am honored to be a part of. Dave Liniger founded this company on women at a time when it was predominantly white men running the industry. Dave says he believed in the strength and drive of women. Of course he interviewed men as well, they just weren’t joining until six months into the company when they saw how successful the company’s model was making the women who joined.
What 3 things can be done by a) individuals b) companies and/or c) society to support greater gender balance going forward?
I think it starts in early childhood. My bio on the company website says I enjoy discussing the power of executive management and leadership skills with my daughters, and there’s an interesting back story to that.
When my oldest daughter (she’s 10 now) was really little, my husband and I watched a documentary where psychologists told parents they were going to give their child a questionnaire to identify their success potential. At the end of the day, the psychologists would tell the parents, “At this young age, your child is displaying significant executive management and leadership skills.”
The reaction from the parents of the boys was, “Oh yes, we know!” But with the parents of the girls, it was, “Really?” Shock and disbelief.
My husband and I learned that daughters will believe what their fathers tell them, and the activities their mom displays. So for example, if I say to my girls, “Do you know how beautiful you are?” but then walk by a mirror and criticize my own weight or my hair, they’re going to mimic the self-criticism. But if their father says, “Do you know how beautiful you are?” they believe it.
We decided to make bedtime very intentional. I’ll do the cuddling, and Lance will tell our daughters a story. He’ll say something like, “Once upon a time there were two little girls, and they were strong, sharing, confident, athletic, independent, supporting, giving, artistic,” and he’ll end with, “And they exhibited executive management and leadership skills.”
If you want to fix the imbalance with gender in any industry, it starts early. Moms need to demonstrate the behavior they want their daughters to look up to and aspire to be. Women need to be the role models they wish they had had and demonstrate leadership behavior for young girls showing them there is no ceiling. And men need to use leadership language with their daughters and expect they are going to be great leaders in that space.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
I’m probably most often seen as an aggressive leader, but those closest to me would also tell you I am loving and giving. I think women are expected to deliver softer and more emotionally than I do. I value and deliver authenticity and truth (no fluff) and sometimes people see that as a negative, but I think for a man, the same attributes might be seen as a positive.
Men by instinct and from when they’re little instantly measure each other up and figure out who is in the dominate position. Women aren’t taught to do that. Women are taught to take a submissive standpoint. If you do take a dominate stance, you can be labeled names pretty quickly. And of course it goes both ways, it’s negative to be an aggressive female, but it’s also seen as negative for a man to be more passive. Those stereotypes unfortunately both still exist.
Can you share some things that most excite you about the Real Estate industry?
First, this industry allows you the opportunity to build wealth — which is defined as both time and money — and to experience life the way you want to. The sky is the limit in this business. I also love that your success is primarily built on relationships and value delivery, which is something women do inherently well.
Can you share some things that most concern you about the industry? If you had the ability to reform or improve the industry, what would you suggest?
I think we’ve accidentally devalued our profession with marketing that says, “we will make this transaction the easiest of your life, and help you make as much money as you can with the least amount of hassle and in the least amount of time.”
Think about it, if doctors or lawyers started promoting how easy their jobs are, we wouldn’t want to pay them. This “convenience and easy-focused” marketing puts our commissions in question.
Agents do make life easier for consumers, but the transaction is complicated and there are a lot of ways it can go wrong if you’re not working with a professional guide. Agents should be honest about that and set clear expectations about what the transaction looks like.
We also need to be thinking about things in terms of relationship building, and not the number of transactions. It’s not a transaction to the buyer.
What advice would you give to other leaders to help their team to thrive?
I have an acronym posted in my office: LIVE. It stands for Lead, Inspire, provide Value, and Empathize. And it’s reciprocal, it works both ways.
A leader is intentional and proactive, and at the end of the day, if I feel I didn’t get that acronym, I can take action. I can read an article to make sure I receive value, I can make a phone call to empathize with someone.
Being a leader means helping those you are leading achieve more than you, caring about their aspirations more than your own. My job today is not about my career, it’s about making sure my team has everything they need to be successful. When you become a manager or team leader, your job is to develop those you are bringing up. You may no longer get to do the tasks you once loved, and that is okay. Your responsibilities are much bigger and more rewarding.
Also, I believe strongly in leading through story telling. Story telling provides context and allows empathy and ownership to occur. It creates relationship, connection and trust.
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?
1. I think intuitively, we have told the consumer how we can make their life easy and convenient, and I think that has done a disservice to us as an industry. We need to refocus on setting expectations and the value an agent brings to the transaction instead of selling conveniences.
2. Most agents focus on transactions. The more transactional we are, the more-short term gain there is. If you’re looking for a longer, prosperous career, agents need to look at things in terms of relationships. The more you put into activities that build the relationship over time, the more you’ll see in returns. Relationships go far beyond the closing.
3. Someone recently pointed out to me that agents come to the table like it’s a battlefield, and their opponent is the agent on the other side of the transactions. They use terms like “fighting for the client,” which seems intuitive.
But really, if you’re looking at the two most important people in the transaction, the first is your client and the second is the other agent. It’s important to build a relationship with them as well, that dictates your future growth and your reputation in the community.
4. Many agents choose to hit on their value at different points instead of educating the consumer about what they’re going through early. They’ll say, “Okay, now that we’ve gone through the appraisal, here’s what’s happening now.” Instead of going step-by-step, agents should set expectations so homebuyers know what the process looks like several steps ahead of time.
5. Every time you influence other people to do a better job, you increase your value. Don’t be afraid to share best practices. Some people feel you need to hold on to your value to stay competitive. But if you grow others up, that becomes your value.
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. :-)
I’ve been on a big kick thinking about my kids’ generation. I think we are calling them Generation Z.
When my mom was little, she played with dolls. When I was little, I played teacher or business woman. My kids are playing YouTube star. I overhear them saying things like, “Click to subscribe!” or “Like us below!” They’re already raised in an entrepreneurial environment.
Add to that, the incredible amount of debt our generation has carried for college education. Our kids are not going to want to deal with that. They’re going to want to make money before going to school. I think they’ll be very entrepreneurial; they’ll want to run the show.
It would be great to see people in our Industry who know entrepreneurship at the highest levels- give back. But many who are successful are afraid to share where they’ve stumbled. If I were to inspire a movement it would be recognizing that my kids’ generation are going to be entrepreneurs, and for those who’ve made it to help those coming up under them and set them up for success.
How can our readers follow you online?
You can find me on LinkedIn here.
Thank you for your time, and your excellent insights!