She was a student at Pratt Institute in New York with a career in the art world ahead of her. But after witnessing two jets fly into the World Trade Center towers on Sept. 11, 2001, Heather Valentine had a change of heart. She moved home to Virginia to work and continue her art studies closer to her loved ones. After buying her first home at 19, she decided a career change was in order. Valentine hasn't left her art sensibilities behind; she uses her design and aesthetic skills to help buyers imagine the possibilities of a home and to help sellers present their homes in the best light possible. Today, she works side-by-side with her husband, Austin Bergman, in their own brokerage. Valentine, 29, spoils her clients with family-oriented events and cocktail parties. Most of her business is referral-based, she says. She credits careful listening and world-class follow-up: Valentine stays in constant contact before, during, and after the transaction. She gives past clients a handpicked service-provider directory, visit them quarterly with a small gift, mails monthly lifestyle and home tips, writes personal notes, and supports their businesses and charitable activities.
Tip: "One of the things I have learned from this recession is to build wealth by getting out of debt and staying out of debt."