The Cooperator
The Co-op & Condo Monthly

January, 2004

CHIEF TRAILBLAZERS:
WOMEN PROFESSIONALS IN REAL ESTATE

 

By Rebekah Darcy Mulhare

While other industries have been more difficult to penetrate, many areas of the fast-paced world of real estate have long been the professional domain
of women. The past two decades have witnessed an influx of women as innovators in their fields, following a trail for women of today to follow in a competitive, high-stakes industry. The Cooperator spoke with a few of these industry pioneers about their roots, their work, and how they’ve successfully navigated the changing waters of New York real estate.

Teaching the Next Wave

Esther Muller, master teacher and president of the Real Estate Academy,
was named by the Mann Report 2001 as one of the most influential women
in real estate. Although she built a very successful career and personal portfolio of properties as a real estate broker, her passion is where she started out – in education.

“My parents were Holocaust survivors who immigrated to Israel,” recalls Muller. “A few years later, they moved to Brooklyn with $500 in their pockets and in only two years, started their own business.” Muller’s parents not only started a business, they bought the building that housed it, and a two-family house where they could live and hav e a tenant pay the bills. Their entrepreneurial spirit rubbed off on their daughter. “My parents taught
me three important things,” Muller said. “Work for yourself. Don’t pay
rent, and have someone else pay the mortgage.”

Still, Muller came of age in the time when most women’s job options consisted of nursing, typing or teaching. She chose the latter, earning a degree in early childhood education from Brooklyn College. Her introduction to real estate came quite by accident. “I was living in Connecticut and a friend of mine bought a rental building to convert to condominiums. He asked me to decorate the building,” says Muller. “Suddenly, I have the tenants, many
of them elderly, coming to me crying about the conversion. I found myself counseling them to buy their apartments, and build equity.”

The impromptu advising led to a job offer with commissions for each apartment sold. She became a full-time agent, moving to New York City
in 1979. It was the golden era of co-op conversions, and Muller became an expert. She is quick to extol the benefits of working as a real estate broker. “This is an incredible profession for women,” says Muller. “It is one of the
few places that as you get older and wiser, you become more valuable.
The smarter you are, the more you are needed.” As the single mother of a young son, she also appreciated the flexible hours, and the money enabled her to put her son through private school, and buy income-producing properties for herself.

With the Real Estate Academy, Muller returns to her love of teaching. She started the program because, “I had to do 45 hours of continuing education every four years and I felt my teachers were not adequate practitioners,” explains Muller. She wrote the curriculum, went through the process to get state approval and licensing, and now lectures weekly to full classrooms. “When I was starting as a broker, people would go to their mandatory classes every two years and eat, read the paper. The material was dry as dust and a lot of the teachers weren’t even familiar with the New York market.”

Muller introduced innovations like guest speakers who were working professionals at the peak of their careers, and held the classes in upscale environments like the St. Moritz hotel. The first class had 30 students, now the classes regularly draw 150 participants. “Today, all the programs are better, and I believe it is because they realized there was competition. My biggest challenge is to stay on top of the information and keep delivering a better program each year.”

When asked if she had encountered the “old boy network” Muller laughed.
“I love the old boy network,” she says. “So much of what I learned, I got from watching men network. There’s nothing wrong with networking. This is a business where you don’t have to play politics and there’s no ceiling to how high you can go. You can have no background, get 45 hours of training,
and sell a million-dollar apartment the next week. I have the freedom to be exactly who I am.”