Pamela Dittmer McKuen is a Chicago-based freelance writer who specializes in homes, lifestyle, and travel. Read her work at AlltheWritePlaces.com
Brokerage Lessons From a Punk Rocker
Jenelle Isaacson’s music career helped turn her company into a fierce performer on the real estate stage.
January 17, 2018
Punk rock gave me the confidence to know I could rock anything in heels. A year after graduating from the University of Oregon, where I majored in art, I started a punk rock band called Spread Eagle with three girlfriends. It wasn’t that we loved punk rock—it was all we could play. I was lead singer and guitarist. I don’t have a good singing voice, but that’s the beauty of punk rock. You just need something to say and the courage to scream it. For the next several years, with Spread Eagle and other bands, I screamed and sang in clubs and dive bars around the country. As the crowds cheered us on, the louder and crazier we got. I also negotiated contracts, marketed the band, sold merchandise, and managed budgets and schedules. Those years were transformational. They taught me about being a business owner and an entrepreneur. They taught me I could create my own space.
Jenelle Isaacson 41
Obtained her real estate license in 2002.
Opened her own boutique brokerage in 2008.
Company: Living Room Realty
Number of offices: 6 offices in Oregon and Washington
Number of associates: 108
In 2016: $433 million gross sales
1,018 transaction sides
In 2017: $550 million gross sales
1,230 transaction sides
Projected for 2018: $700 million gross sales
1,500 transaction sides
Joy Through Serving
I’m a big-picture thinker, and I knew that owning a house was an important piece to financial stability. But as a musician, I didn’t have any credit. I’d never had a car loan or a student loan. An overdue library book was the only thing that showed on my credit report. But early 2002, when I was 26, I bought my first house through an Oregon bond program that counted paying my rent and utilities on time. The experience was empowering. At the bars we were playing, I went up to people and said, “Do you know you can buy a house?” My stepmother, a real estate agent, urged me to get my license, and I did.
I worked for two brokerages over the next few years and became a top producer at both. But I felt we as agents were valued based on our transaction level, and that didn’t tell the whole story. I saw a need for a real estate company that viewed the home as a place to live, not just another investment, and that built community and celebrated our lives. At the end of 2008, I launched Living Room Realty. The market had crashed, but I had given birth to my second daughter and was too focused on being the sole provider to my family to worry about it. I was just looking for opportunities. Punk rockers don’t need permission to do something. They just go for it and figure it out.
Our company was founded on eight values: Diversity, balance, connection, abundance, integrity, excellence, joy, and relevance. From the beginning, we’ve defined a Living Room agent as a leader who finds joy through serving, whether through sports or religion or music or some other passion. Punk rock taught me that technical proficiency is overrated. I can coach someone to sell real estate. It’s pretty hard to coach someone to have the values of connecting to the community with integrity.
Play Through the Wrong Notes
Read more about how to "Own It"
I’ve had missteps along the way. For one, we went through a rebranding early on. It cost me some agents who felt left out of the process. From my music experience, I learned that writing a song was always better when we did it together. Someone else came up with the right word or the right chord. I had to learn to translate that approach I had as a musician into business. If I don’t tell people what I’m doing, I’ve missed a chance to collaborate.
Another misstep was when some agents weren’t a good fit in terms of values. On paper, they were top performers, and firing them was going to be a big hit for my financial picture. But they weren’t very kind to me or to the staff. One of our values is joy, and I realized I had a right to feel joy myself.
We recognize our agents for fulfilling goals that are important to them outside the transaction. We look at sales volume, too, and we celebrate that, but it’s not the end-all and be-all. It’s huge for agents to feel their whole being is seen. We have very intentional conversations about what brings them joy.