Women Leaders Of Real Estate: “Over networking is not a good use of your time” with Alison Bernstein of The Suburban Jungle
Over networking is not a good use of your time. Think wisely before you commit to conferences and nonessential meetings. Time is your number 1 asset.
Alison Bernstein is the President and Founder of The Suburban Jungle, a real estate firm exclusively focused on buyers leaving the city for the suburbs. Recognizing how different neighboring towns can be from one another and how little families learn about a community during the home search, Alison launched Suburban Jungle while at Columbia Business School — -helping buyers navigate suburbia and understand the ins and outs of towns before making their decision. The company’s innovative approach, proprietary technology and award winning “town first” approach to real estate helps to make certain that each family is looking in the right places, and more importantly asking the right questions. All services are free. The company has expanded across the nation, with offices in LA, San Francisco, Chicago, Boston, Dallas, DC, Miami and the Hamptons. To learn more about how we work and read about us in the NY Times, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, The Real Deal and more, please log onto SuburbanJungleGroup.com
Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to the Real Estate industry?
I was at Columbia Business School, expecting my first child and living in NYC. In trying to figure out where to live, and ultimately how I wanted to raise my family, I found a great inefficiency in the residential marketplace. There was no truly objective advice aiding families in selecting their uniquely ideal place to live. There were tons of opportunities to plug in bedrooms, bathrooms and land size as well as taxes and commute. However, there was no true way to understand all the possible towns out there that might fit our needs, what lifestyles they might provide, and how my family might fit-in in all of this. Everyone was trying to sell us a house, but ultimately it was much more important to pick the right town. I saw the opportunity and launched Suburban Jungle.
Can you share with our readers the most interesting or amusing story that occurred to you in your career so far?
We hired what we thought was a tech guru to manage our site, social media and platform. Since I didn’t really speak tech at the time whatever he said sounded good to me…but in a short while it became apparent, he had no idea what he was talking about. His ineptness was driving the team bonkers and eventually I freaked out and fired the guy. After a debrief with our strategists apparently he was worse than I even could have imagined. I laugh now, but at the time it was kind of a nightmare.
Can you share the lesson or take away you took out of that story?
My lesson was that hiring is the hardest part of the gig, and also the most important.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
We are in the process of launching our AI product which utilizes our proprietary technology to help clients find the right place to call home. In addition, we are launching new markets: Austin, Philadelphia and Atlanta!
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Our company provides a free service that people truly need — but don’t know that they need until they find it- which is hilarious. We are the only company that does what we do, and we focus exclusively on this very specific niche of the market. We help families figure out where to live — and the right town to call home. We have thousands of great client stories … (on our site)
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 would have to say it is my family. While many women feel they need to choose between family and career, my family fuels me to win. I want so much to be a role model and make my brood proud. In turn they are always there to cheer me on, give a hug or tell me they appreciate me.
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?
I think that this industry attracts a lot of women because of the flexible nature of the positions. To be successful, you need to work a lot, however you can make your own schedule allowing real estate employees to be there for kids’ activities, pick-ups and more. The senior positions you describe are fulltime in-office and demanding-without flexibility which has driven many women away from those types of positions. I see that today, almost all companies prefer remote employees; opening many more doors for women. As for our company, our HQ is in NYC but I have a flexible work policy — which means our team members don’t have to be in the office every day. They work hard and fulltime yet can do so from the flexibility of either their own homes OR our office. This is a huge perk that allows us to attract much better talent!
What 3 things can be done by a)individuals b)companies and/or c) society to support greater gender balance going forward?
- Technology can help ensure greater balance by using AI to hire the right people versus personal judgment — overall equalizing the playing field
- Higher-up mentors should inspire others and show them how it is done!
- It is imperative to create more flexibility in positions given today’s technology- allowing people to balance lives better and not have to choose between family versus career.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
I think to be clear that there is a distinction between a woman and a mother. Most of the conversations tend to focus not necessarily around women versus men- but mothers not having the flexibility for long hours or business travel no matter how much help they have at home. Having that opportunity cost of being with your child (children) versus a meeting or work is a huge challenge. Typically, many mothers in the workplace are competing against people who don’t have that guilt, are not juggling various schedules, childcare, etc. This is a huge distinction.
Can you share 3 things that most excite you about the Real Estate industry?
There is so much change that needs to happen to make this a better place for buyers and sellers- and make the industry more efficient. I am excited to help create this change — and with all of the money that has flown into the space, we have seen very little progress which means it remains ripe for opportunity.
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?
There are a lot of things wrong with the industry. A few to start with:
- Barriers to entry. There are none, which leads to a lot of people who are not qualified or professional entering the field. It ultimately muddies the waters for those that are professional.
- firms are doing buy and sell side, creating massive conflicts of interest. There should be a very specific divide — so buyers know they are getting true representation as should sellers. Dual agency should never exist in any firm.
- There is no differentiation among brands, or agents. Agents have been creating teams, marketing themselves — and leaving very little value add to the brokerage. This creates confusion in the marketplace — and ultimately ends up being about selecting an agent versus a firm — and therefore the future of the brokerage brand name is confusing.
- There needs to be a better flow of national information. A national MLS — -and a way to get as much data as possible out there to empower the consumer and create a more efficient marketplace for both the buyer and seller. We are moving away from this for some reason — and I don’t understand why in 2020 there can’t be full transparency.
What advice would you give to other leaders to help their team to thrive?
Simply empower your employees. It is a lot like I raise my kids… let them accomplish their OWN goals, and you will see better results
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. There are no business hours. Just like you can’t make a newborn sleep through the night, you are on at all times. My team is on slack 24/7 — this is where the world is.
2. Over networking is not a good use of your time. Think wisely before you commit to conferences and nonessential meetings. Time is your number 1 asset.
3. Treat your team with respect. This goes without saying but respecting and reminding people they do a good job is key. This often gets forgotten.
4. A business plan is a waste of time. Sort of. It changes every day, so unless you want to update it every day be prepared to think on your feet and execute asap. Don’t get stuck on analysis paralysis.
5. Don’t be afraid of change. Fire people who are not pulling their weight, promote people who exceed expectations. Set expectations that you need your expectations exceeded from the start. Reminder: no one wants a job; they want a career no matter how important their “position” is.
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 ask people to make the “honest Promise”. In business, life, love and friendship- truth and transparency always wins!
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