Women in commercial real estate


Business woman standing outside in front of office building, using mobile phoneNot long ago, some of the major real estate brokerages in Canada would not hire women, except in clerical positions. Now, women constitute about half of agents with the percentage growing.

Almost all are in residential sales, which is far easier to break into than commercial real estate.  But times are changing. Women are a growing presence on the commercial side. They are now accepted in corporate boardrooms, where some hold highly placed executive positions. Doors that were slammed shut only 10 years ago are now opening.

All evidence indicates that a greater number of women are entering the commercial field but they earn less than men and still have a long way to go before achieving parity. Go on the web. See how many female commercial real estate practitioners there are. You will find very few, but the gap is narrowing.

So why are there not more female commercial real estate agents?

It takes considerably more education, on-the-job training and persistence to be successful.  You don’t see the “green horns” testing the commercial sales field to see if they can make it. It cannot be a part-time occupation. Although the deals are larger and the commissions greater, they are far fewer. It may take a year or more to put together the sale of an office building or a shopping centre with no guarantee of completion along the way.

Residential agents are not expected to have a college degree; with commercials, it is almost mandatory. A clear understanding of business principals is required. People identify with owning a home, but not everyone wants to own a $2 million industrial warehouse.

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In many larger markets, commercial real estate is still a “good old boys” network where overt sexism applies. Laura Heffner of Re/Max of Lloydminster in Lloydminster, Alta., a successful broker with considerable commercial experience, says that in the smaller centres this seldom occurs.

The professional commercial real estate brokerages have far more stringent hiring practices than do their residential counterparts. They will only hire a person who they feel has a high probability of success, one who can survive and continue if having to go without any income for several months. They look for a person who understands or is willing to learn about capitalization rates, returns on investment, returns on equity, amortization, financing, points and discounts, the effect of taxation, real estate legalese and all that goes with the selling, buying, ownership and leasing of investment properties. This is education not easily come by. Learning requires dedication and persistence. Taking the courses offered by the Appraisal Institute of Canada would prove to be beneficial. Be it success or failure; women must create their own destiny.

Women may also have a harder time balancing family and home life with career success. Although laptop computers that are perpetually at one’s side have narrowed the concerns, with many women it is still family first, career second. To argue the merits of this stance is beyond the purpose of this article but any woman considering commercial real estate brokerage must determine where her priorities lie and act accordingly. Heffner says it is absolutely necessary that you have a clear-cut understanding and acceptance of the home life constraints from your spouse. You will not always be there to change diapers or make supper when required.

The bottom line is that in the larger markets you must decide if you want to sell residential or commercial.  It is usually difficult to mix them. In the smaller market communities it is necessary to sell residential and perhaps farmlands along with the commercial.

Selling and leasing commercial properties requires a different mindset than does residential. It takes more time, more patience, know-how and greater adaptability. The procedures are different and one’s patience is more frequently tested. There is more to learn. An attributes check-up is required. Analytical talent is often more important than persuasive.

Lloyd ManningIf you feel up to it and are willing to spend the time to learn and overcome the starting aggravation, by all means give it a go. Commercial real estate is a tough business and full of conflict, where aggressiveness, self confidence and persistence are basic requirements. Women are well-equipped – maybe better equipped than most men – to handle conflicting and multi-task situations. They’ve been handling men for years, usually quite skilfully. However, there are no handouts. Women who want to get into commercial real estate must develop a clear image of themselves and their attributes to not just keep up but set the pace in this male-dominated field.

Lloyd Manning, AACI, FRI, CCRA, PApp is a semi-retired commercial real estate and business appraiser and broker who now spends his time writing for professional journals and trade magazines. He resides in Lloydminster, Alta. Email [email protected]


  1. How completely insulting – not only to female commercial practitioners, but also to women in general. It is this type of neanderthal thinking that is the problem.

    “It takes considerably more education, on-the-job training and persistence to be successful.” So what are you saying Lloyd, that women aren’t as smart or as persistent as men? Really???

    “Women may also have a harder time balancing family and home life with career success.” My husband had a hard time balancing family and home life with career success. It has nothing to do with gender.

    “Selling and leasing commercial properties requires a different mindset… It takes more time, more patience, know-how and greater adaptability. The procedures are different and one’s patience is more frequently tested. There is more to learn. An attributes check-up is required. Analytical talent is often more important than persuasive.” Ugh. Are you kidding me?

    I hope that REM gives more thought to the type of insulting, sexist articles it publishes.

  2. The industry teaching methods might support the metaphor music.

    All real estate education is theory based. There’s little or no practical. There’s no piano or other musical instrument available to practise on.
    How would a musician ever successfully create a presentation using his learned theory skills, only?

    Perhaps another example would be learning the Qwerty keyboard, never having sat at a typewriter, much less learning to type at a high rate of speed, error-free of course. But in fact, it can be done.

    When I took my courses, down to the final choice of mandatory electives, I found myself needing to decide if I would take the rural and recreation course or the commercial course. It had to be one or the other, not both.

    I elected to take the commercial course. It’s so long ago but I remember being thrilled that I made my highest course mark for the commercial program. I was very proud.
    I was nearly 50 yrs old at the time, and was working full time, carrying a heavy listing load, working alone, and had absolutely no knowledge as to commercial and industrial applications despite having had a remarkable +10 yr residential career to date at the time.

    I also recall being surprised that the course was almost entirely intricate math related: all sorts of math – needing to be memorized – formula, algorithms, tax terms relative, and how it all related to supporting clients interested in acquiring or disposing of commercial or industrial property.

    There was nothing at all, in any of the course material, covering real life showing or listing of such, or a formula for how to evaluate or qualify “the client” in this regard.
    There wasn’t much time spent on selling businesses per se. A brief mention of the Bulk Sales Act.

    A great deal of time was spent on figuring out and formulating and reading Income Statements; rental property, mostly multiple units.

    It truly was a, perhaps the, most exciting course in spite of what some students found boring to tears. And, the course was like an anthology, covering parts and pieces of all the other courses.
    No one had ever addressed that
    topic along the way, as to what one would/could expect from this course.

    I was glad that I hadn’t taken the commercial course first. I never would have been able to relate to the material in full. So my personal recommendation would be to take whatever other required courses apply to your career, and leave this one to last, in order to enjoy it fully and take away the most.

    I never worked in commercial in my 34 years, as I, too believe one should concentrate on one or the other: residential or commercial. I did referrals.

    But if you are ever planning on taking the business seriously as in managing an office perhaps or going it alone in your own business, large or small, a general knowledge acquired from this course will be valuable and make the taking of it worth your while.

    Just my thoughts.

    Carolyne L

  3. Great article, Lloyd. As a female commercial agent I do find myself surrounded by men in my own office. Female agents make up a fifth of our brokerage pool so we definitely have a ways to go in evening out those numbers.

    I couldn’t agree more wholeheartedly that in large markets you must choose between the disciplines of residential or commercial. Both are unique fields with a specific set of skills required; I myself wouldn’t undertake selling my own home, as that’s not my area of expertise. We come across too many agents trying to wear both hats and not succeeding at properly servicing their clients. It makes both sides of the profession look bad when this occurs.

  4. LLoyd:
    I have been on the road to B.C. and then on down to Baltimore over the past couple of weeks, and have just checked in on REM. I like your article.
    The most important sentence and most telling truth within your piece is thus: “Analytical talent is more important than persuasive.” (vis a vis being a commercial Realtor vs a residential Realtor). In other words, being a residential resale Realtor survivor is more about being a persuader, a wannabe psychological quasi-expert, a mind-bender, than it is about possessing vast amounts of residential real estate knowledge. I agree with your stance. Thus, the main obstacle/problem against/with respectively becoming a professional residential real estate salesperson (rampant greenhornism) is revealed. Too many residentialists hang their hats on their previously learned abilities to persuade vs their inherent inabilities to acquire and objectively disseminate knowledge in pursuit of their personal short-term sales goals. It’s just easier to be a persuasive, always-establishing-rapport talking head, especially when that so-called talent comes easily to one’s self.
    Wannabe residential real estate salespeople should not be sought out, trained and licensed as sales persons. They should be held at bay, trained and licensed as residential real estate consultants and/or advocates, and thereafter hired only with a jaundiced eye. The CREA crowd is over populated with too many type “A” hypester sales yappers desperate for commissions, and not with enough measured consultant types.


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