When Sarah Hackett announced she was dropping out of a university degree to sell real estate, her mother burst into tears.
Today, 19 years on, the award-winning co-director of Place Estate Agents in Brisbane is clearly having the last laugh as she heads a company of more than 400 employees and 13 agency businesses, juggles family commitments, and mentors her team to more than $1 million of commissions every year.
Sarah spoke to Domain about her career flip from test tubes to sold signs, gender issues in real estate and how to get over a bad day.
Your career path did a 180-degree turn early on, is that right?
Yes it was 1997. I was 21 at the time, I deferred from studying science at university to go into real estate after one of LJ Hooker’s best agents at that time, a very successful older woman, told me I’d be great at it. My mother cried!
In my very first year I would have grossed $60,000 in fees; the second year that figure grew by about three.
In 2009, Damian [Hackett] and I decided to take on the prestige market in [Brisbane’s] eastern suburbs, specifically the riverfront, and we sold 85% of the market share for properties over $2.5 million, which was very exciting.
Although we don’t take commissions any more, the fees from these sales are always over $1 million per annum.
Is it tough for women in real estate?
Absolutely! Not only was I a female when I entered the industry but as a 22-year-old I did care about my presentation, but learnt very early on that the woman in the transaction was who I had to win over and so I dressed very conservatively at work and deliberately didn’t apply my lipstick in meetings.
I wanted my clients to feel completely comfortable with me and, more importantly, know I had a very successful sales record even though I was young.
Unfortunately my competition, mostly males, would still use their best efforts to say things like, ‘she only wins business due to her short skirts’, which I never did, or ‘the boss favours her’, which never happened.
One thing I must say in[real estate’s] defence is it is one of the few industries that do offer equal pay, so that is something I’m very proud of.
Have you ever done anything outside-the-square in terms of marketing yourself?
I went to a Virgin party because my brother is one of their pilots and his wife was sick at the time and I took a snap of Richard Branson and myself and asked him ‘Can I use this to promote my real estate business’?’
He said ‘Sure if you think I can help’, and so I sent a postcard out to my whole suburb saying ‘it’s not what you know, it’s who you know …I have an international database of buyers’ and it worked a treat!
What advice would you give your 20-year-old self about how to survive in this industry?
Handle the knocks and pick yourself up as quickly as you can.
I was told ‘the best loose as much as the average make’, which stuck with me as it’s very true in this industry.
At 26, I was earning $1 million in fees, selling 13 homes a month, listing 16 a month and the one listing I would lose to my competition was the one that would keep me awake all night. Fortunately, over the years I have learnt to get over these disappointments and handle rejection so I can focus on what I can control.
What do you do when you are having a bad week?
I have learnt after years, that you have to be ‘good selfish’. Most women are hopeless at being selfish, everyone else comes first, but we can and do need to get better at this otherwise you will build up resentment.
Also, some days can begin looking really draining and that’s when I turn up the music in my car, think about everything I am grateful for and snap out of it.
I personally love to exercise three times a week, love to internet shop, which is a terrible new habit, love sleep, which I rarely get with little ones and love a glass of wine with my mum or girlfriends.
We are all human, and kisses and cuddles with my kids are a really great rebalance after a bad day.