Kate Rossi began her real estate career in 1982 to provide a life for her daughter where “she wouldn't have to worry about anything,” she says.
Working as a single mom, she says, real estate afforded her that life.
Fast-forward 34 years, and Rossi is now executive vice president of the southeast region for NRT LLC, the largest real estate brokerage firm nationwide by volume according to REAL Trends Power 500 list.
Rossi, based in Sarasota, oversees 9 states and 12,000 agents under multiple Coldwell Banker brands. She recently sat down with the Business Observer to talk about her career, leadership and the industry. Here are edited excerpts of the interview:
What are the key characteristics of a successful leader?
You have to know your people and surround yourself with really good people. I've been blessed over the years where I can find talent. And I look for talent all the time. And then you have to listen to them. Sometimes you have a different opinion, but at the end of the day, if you listen to really talented people, they make you look good. With leadership, ego sometimes gets in the way, and you can't have that.
How can you avoid that?
Well sometimes you really know you're right and you're trying to make a point, so you have to have good negotiating and persuasive skills. Sometimes when you have a big ego, you just say 'no you're wrong,' which doesn't leave a good impression. If you're really trying to teach people and help people grow, you have to help them understand why they're not right.
What is one business lesson you've learned that's resonated with you over time?
Never forget where you came from. When I first got started in the industry, interest rates were 18%. The sky was falling. Steel mills were shutting down left and right.
But what worked then still works today. You have to stay consistent with your behavior, your work ethic has to be there and you have to be fair and treat people well. Sometimes people get higher up in the food chain and forget that. They think it's just some magical thing got them there. Hard work, when you're commissioned sales people, pays off. You can't get around it.
How do you deal with the up and down nature of real estate?
The thing about real estate is it's the biggest investment most people will ever make in a lifetime. But it's your best investment. I believe the real estate agent has the most important job in the United States of America. I really believe that.
Think about this: When somebody sells a house, people love the home that first day they buy it. That night they're talking about getting new carpet, paint, landscaping, adding a room. So when they do that, other people go to work. When housing wasn't selling during the crash, America stopped working. So in my mind, the Realtor is the most important person to keep the economy going.
What's the outlook for 2016?
Anytime there's an election year, and the stock market is so volatile right now, people are cautious. I think it's going to be a good year, but people need to recognize that if they want to sell their property, we need inventory. Inventory is really low, but there are a ton of buyers out there right now.
What are your goals moving forward through 2016?
Personally, I'm purchasing companies. We're on a growth pattern right now, and I'm looking to buy real estate companies.
How many you have purchased?
In my career, I've purchased 17 companies. Last year's purchase was the largest franchise for Coldwell Banker. He covered North Carolina, South Carolina, Austin and Houston, and Tyler, Texas and the panhandle of Florida. He had 2,000 agents, so that was a pretty nice acquisition.
What do you look at when considering companies to purchase?
First of all, the seller has to be interested. And it's real estate, so we negotiate. We really are interested in the agents, not so much the buildings. It's all about the agents.
What qualities can agents possess that stand out to you?
You know what, because there are so many different personalities out there that buy houses, there isn't one. I might relate to you but I might not relate to somebody else. It doesn't take a certain personality, but you have to be self-motivated and you have to be self-driven. And you've got to have good work ethic. This is not a 9 to 5 job. If you want a 9 to 5 job, go do something else. You can't do this part-time.
How do you stay current on what's going on in the industry?
I'll go on a listing with somebody. I like to talk to agents who are currently doing really well because they tell me what's going on in the marketplace. You can't keep your head in the sand and just say, “do this” because the markets are changing.
Technology has been a big influx of change for us, but it's another tool that helps the agent and the consumer. You still have to be nose-to-nose, toes-to-toes because it's the biggest investment most people will ever make. You have to talk to people.
What keeps you up at night?
I'm concerned about millennials and the unemployment. These kids that come out of college maybe don't see the home as being a good investment because they're afraid. They need to understand that all they need to do is talk to their parents or somebody and say, “what was your home worth 10 years ago and what is it worth today?” You'll have an increase in investment unless you really overpaid.
But these millennials just don't have the cash right now. They're debt heavy and they can't find the job they went to school for. And they're waiting for something. I'm not sure what because even if you buy a small investment and keep it — it might not be your dream home — but you should do it.