At 70, Lynda Cox dreams of long, balmy days in Viterbo, Italy. Every year since 2006, it’s been her home away from home with one of her two sons and extended family in wine country. But it hasn’t stopped her from serving her Ottawa real estate clients.
Just back home in Ottawa from a three-month trip to Italy this year, Cox, of Cox Home Team at Royal LePage Performance Realty didn’t allow COVID-19 to get in the way of an annual vacation. The virus briefly let up for a few summer months in Rome and it was deemed safe to fly. Her sojourn this year was set to lead up to her retirement.
While there, a phone plan allowed her to work remotely and call her clients in Ottawa, whom she helped with their real estate needs during the pandemic. “It’s actually quite seamless. You can be away. And as long as you’ve got good help at home, you can work from anywhere,” says Cox. Her help came from Jim Cox, her Canada-based son with whom she has been tag teaming since 2011 in their close-knit, flourishing family business.
It wasn’t always this easy for Cox to straddle between overseas travel and a real estate business. “Traveling and being in real estate is a little tricky unless you’ve got somebody on the home front,” she says, even with high-tech solutions available.
But Cox is an expert in transitions, especially at retirement. In 2000, at age 50, she left a 26-year career as a schoolteacher at the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board, to begin her career in real estate practice. “They gave a window of opportunity for those who wanted to retire. I felt a little burnt out. I didn’t know really what to do,” says Cox. Then, somebody mentioned that schoolteachers make good real estate agents.
“Because teachers, like nurses, have almost like a bedside manner. You’ve got lots of experience in dealing with tricky issues or kids that are having difficulties. You have a lot of parent-teacher interaction. If you’re not good at that, it’s going to be difficult. So, I think that was a strength,” says Cox.
In other words, teaching, like real estate, is a people business based on building relationships, and it’s not just about sales. “If it was sales, I would not have gone into it,” says Cox.
She remembers the words of her first broker, who drove home the point that thinking of real estate as a sales-oriented business and not a relational one would be a big mistake. And that “sales are the product of those relationships, not the other way around.” Although real estate was never on her radar, that was enough for Cox to retire from teaching and become a full-time Realtor.
She began her transition by conducting informational interviews with brokers to get an idea of the business. Right away, she was brushed off by one who had just started their own boutique realty after leaving a larger, corporate setting. But Cox was determined to make a connection.
“When I hung up the phone, I just had a gut feeling that I should call her back,” said Cox. Serendipitously, a second call revealed that the broker worshipped at the church where Cox’s husband preached.
“And that was it,” says Cox. For the next six months, Cox became a mentee of the broker, following her footsteps through every deal that came by.
“It was a dream beginning. I didn’t have to just go out there on my own to fend for myself. I had this unbelievably successful agent who took me around and (showed me) the ropes,” she says.
In the first year of her second career, Cox got 11 leads that she turned into 33 sold homes. It also helped to have a market that was recovering from the ’90s slump to record jumps of 10 to 14 per cent increases, she says.
As a one-person business, Cox struggled to find the work-life balance. She fronted calls 24/7 and didn’t know when to hit the off button. She hired temporary fresh-out-of-school assistants who left to start their own practice after getting licensed. “At 50, then 60, being run off my feet didn’t feel so good anymore,” she says.
Fortunately for Cox, Jim joined the business 11 years later. The mother-son duo hasn’t looked back since then.
Today, entering the golden years of her life, Cox reflects on her 21-year real estate career fondly for all the lasting relationships she was able to build, albeit sometimes with embarrassing starts. Like the time when she put up a sold sign when the client’s property was still under a conditional sale contract. To Cox’s credit, the client thought it was a lucky mistake that brought good publicity for him in his neighbourhood.
“At the beginning, you’re dealing with these big decisions, big money, and it’s tough to get it right when you’re inexperienced. And luckily for me, everything worked out,” says Cox.