It’s the dream — home ownership. But more often than not, people can fall in love with a house and not be prepared for the reality of what it takes to sustain such a huge purchase. Louise Phillips Forbes, an industry leader in New York City’s residential real estate market, offers her tips on how to look for a new home (or even downsize from their current property), the financials of it all, and what it truly takes to be a successful agent.
What advice would you give to working moms who are looking to potentially downsize from their current home?
My greatest piece of advice is that time is money. However, one cannot divert the legwork that needs to go into finding the right home – whether you’re downsizing or expanding. It is not like buying a t-shirt; you’re buying a home. My process of being sensitive to a working mom’s precious time is to compile a snapshot of the market, inclusive of all of her top six or seven priorities, as well as some of the points she wishes to avoid, i.e. apartments that need renovation, apartments in which the dining room doesn’t face the street, etc. This snapshot can be assembled electronically, and subsequently, arrange a time to talk to your agent for 15 minutes with your broker to prioritize. Looking at a number of homes consecutively and in a very concentrated period of time (whether it’s an hour or four hours, whatever you can spare), starts to reveal emotionally how one feels about that particular home.
Quite frankly, this is a formula that is not only applicable to working moms, but for all purchasers. My job is to determine what the buyer’s likes and dislikes are, and then put the pieces of the puzzle together to result in his or her ideal home. I’m not only a broker, but also an educator, helping to lead a buyer or seller on their gut instinct, which will help lead them to making the best decision.
For moms who are looking to make a first-time investment, what are some things they should be looking out for?
I chuckled after reading this question because I think back to many years ago when I encountered a young lady who was three months pregnant and looking to buy an apartment. She was running around rampant with books about private schools, public schools, and where she should buy a home. If it were all that easy, it would be wonderful. Of course, one should have awareness about schools and play areas for easy access to socialization for both younger and older children.
For the person that is a first time buyer and has only a single child, I suggest staying cognizant to acquiring a property that has a floor plan that can be adaptable. For example, in time, you may want to convert a dining room into a third bedroom by cutting the size of the dining room in half. Be aware if alterations like this are feasible and stay keen past what you have in front of you right now. Although you may not be able to afford a three bedroom right now, choosing a floor plan that has flexibility can buy you so much more.
How much should women budget out for their home purchase? (i.e. 20% to avoid the PMI, etc.)
I’ve been in the business for over two decades, many of those years as a single woman without children. I always thought I would wait until I met my husband to buy my first home, but later on, realized that I wasn’t going to wait to start a home for myself. I was working so hard to find homes for clients, and thought that this was the greatest gift I could give myself. Ten years later, I still live in this apartment with my husband and two children, which we converted to a duplex.
There are a lot of career women who may fall into this mindset, in many cases because they’re waiting for their life partner to come along or they just don’t take time out of their busy careers. Allocate a 25 percent debt ratio of your income (pre-tax) for the purchase of your home. Most boards find this to be an acceptable debt ratio and you also don’t want to be house rich and wallet poor.
When looking at real estate ads, what are some key factors to look out for?
With today’s easy access to information on the Internet, it’s wildly different than it was 20 years ago. The visual tools available to us, such as video tours and illustrative photographs provide an opportunity for an individual to ask the right questions, even before seeing an apartment in person. The process of finding a home can now be extremely accelerated and the buyer can thoroughly educate herself in understanding past transactions in a specific area.
You can’t ever assume that an eloquent description is accurate. If a doorman isn’t mentioned, then one must assume that the building doesn’t have a doorman. This is also where email and access to data comes in handy. If a broker does not respond fast enough, there are other outlets with which you can find information.
Is it a good idea to find a property close to your job? I recently saw a study that said that women who work close to their office never feel like they’re not working, and that it adds stress to their already-stressful lives.
In my experience, purchasers seem to be more focused on an easier commute, i.e. in New York City, commuting via one subway as opposed to transferring or taking both a bus and a subway. My experience is that working moms want their children’s lives to be more convenient than their own. For myself, as a working mom, to be able to take my child to school conveniently on my way to work is invaluable.
I think all working moms struggle with the balance of being a mother and working. Purchasing a home that allows for a simple commute is much more of a common occurrence than actually purchasing to be in close proximity to your office. However, from a mother’s point of view, I would suggest focusing on your home’s location around your children’s commute before your own.
What are the benefits of working in real estate for moms?
Fortunately, after two decades of dedicating 150 percent of myself, investing time into my career and clients, and gaining a keen knowledge of the market, I have finally earned the flexibility to be able to skip out in the middle of the day for my children’s class trips and other school activities. Most recently I was a chaperone on my son’s kindergarten class trip to Grand Central Station for a treasure hunt. This took about two and a half hours of my morning, but for me, it was the greatest blessing of my week. I wasn’t tied to a trading desk where millions of dollars were depending on my every decision. I am very lucky to work in a business in which most of my clients are people who have families and are understanding, and that I now work alongside a strong team to help support me with time sensitive clients.
Real estate today is not what it used to be – ladies lunching and putting together one or two transactions every so often. Many women with working careers like mine have massive books of business. However, it’s moments like being with my son on his class trip that I wouldn’t miss that for the world. Flexibility is the biggest asset of my career and I am very grateful for that.
What is the type of personality required to be an agent?
Someone who is patient, organized, not afraid to ask questions, enjoys people, is a good listener, places attention on detail, enjoys architecture and real estate, is organized, a multi-tasker, and not afraid to ask questions and put themselves in the buyer or seller’s position. Real estate requires a lot of handholding throughout the process. You cannot take yourself too seriously, but rather take what someone tells you and apply it to a space. Buying and selling a home can be very emotional. You have to be able to read people.
As a former dancer, teacher, and now a mom on the go, I could never imagine that my life would be so fulfilling – and that’s in large part to the people component of real estate. It is a privilege to be apart of something so important in someone else’s life and still be able to go home and spend time with my family.
If a mom is thinking of a career change, what can she expect to do in terms of time commitments to become an agent?
Roll up your sleeves and fasten your seatbelts, but be prepared for the highs and lows. If you’re honest, a hard worker, have a sense of humor, and like people, there is nothing that can stop you from being successful in real estate. Treat people the way you want to be treated. That’s all it takes.