A Great Mentor

With the market still stinging from the savings-and-loan fallout of the late 1980s, Maryland broker Diana Whitney had a lot to worry about when she started selling real estate. But the generous support of an experienced sales professional provided a solid foundation for continued success.

October 1, 2010

Diana Whitney, GRI, SFR, has come a long way since she started selling real estate in the summer of 1987. But that first sale didn’t come easy.

“My first five sales fell through,” recalls Whitney, the broker of record with Salisbury, Md.-based Whitney-Wallace Commercial Real Estate Services LLC. “I worked six or seven days a week for eight months before I made my first dollar.”

Times were tough. Whitney — who had given birth to her first child, a daughter, in January 1987 — and her husband had recently left sales jobs in the city that collectively paid about $70,000 and were living on a farm with Whitney’s parents.

At 29, Whitney landed a job with Ocean City, Md.-based Moore, Warfield & Glick Inc. Still, with her husband making about $10,000 a year in his job and her slow start in real estate, Whitney knew she was taking a risk.

“We couldn’t retire on the salaries we were making, so I decided to move into real estate,” she explains.

Despite trepidation, Whitney found her real-estate footing. Moreover, she closed $3.25 million in gross sales her first year. Knowing others had faith in her ability to sell real estate made all the difference, she explains. “My brokers never gave up on me. They believed in me and helped me with some of the start-up expenses.”

More than 20 years later, Whitney uses that same approach to instill confidence in her own staff.

How did you start building your client list as a new sales associate?

WHITNEY: I kept in touch with every lead I ever got from floor time, unless they said ‘uncle’ and admitted that they were not going to buy a condo at the beach. I was working in a second-home-investment, beach-resort market in Maryland.

To give you some perspective on the market, this was just after the Old Court Savings and Loan disaster, where Old Court president Jeffrey Levitt was convicted of making improper loans and looting bank funds. So we had a lot of inventory, and it took about 365 days to sell a listing that would sell. Listings with less appeal just sat for what seemed like forever. And buyers were golden.

In many ways, the market I started in is comparable to the current market in some areas, which goes to show that no matter what the market, a good salesperson can sell real estate. Hard work and really caring about the client always pays off.

Tell me about the first sale.

WHITNEY: My first clients were a couple, and the first sale was an oceanfront three-bedroom, two-bath condominium in a project overseen by a wonderful experienced sales representative named Ronnie Bassett. The listing sold for about $160,000. Ronnie took me under his wing. He had an oceanfront three-bedroom, two-bath condominium project that was tied up in the Old Court fiasco and held open houses pretty much seven days a week, especially on weekends.

The $250,000 units were selling for $160,000 to $190,000. He asked me to be his partner. With his age and experience, people just automatically had faith in him. I was young, energetic, smart, and aggressive enough to go out on a limb if necessary to make a sale.

Ronnie and I sat the project together. When a potential buyer came in, I showed the property, and he closed the sale if possible. If an oceanfront home wasn't what they wanted, I drove them around until I found them something else, and Ronnie stayed at the project. No matter who sold what to whom, we split all sales 50-50.

I ended up selling $3.25 million that first year. When we added up each sale and looked at the numbers, we both closed 50 percent of the sales.

Ronnie provided the education and the opportunity I needed. I provided the energy and enthusiasm he needed. We made a great team.

How would you apply your early experience to the current market?

WHITNEY: Sales professionals starting today can use the same approach to building a business. Experienced sales professionals have the knowledge. Young sales professionals have the energy and enthusiasm. And when put the two together, it makes for a winning combination.

Did you have a specialty or niche when you started?

WHITNEY: I was working with resort properties. Now, I sell all types of real estate. But I specialize in commercial. I like to work with people I know and handle all of their real estate needs. Variety keeps life interesting.

What was your biggest fear when you started out in real estate?

WHITNEY: I was 29 when I started and working in a high-end market in which many people, I felt, didn’t take me seriously because of my age. In addition, before I got a good grasp of the value of real estate as an investment, it was hard for me to close the sale. I was uncomfortable overcoming objections, because I thought buyers believed that I was just trying to make a sale and didn't understand that I was really trying to help them make the right decision for their situation.

Overcoming these initial barriers was challenging. But I hung in there, and as I became more experienced and gained confidence, I was better equipped to communicate with the buyers and make more sales.

What did this transaction do for your professional career?

WHITNEY: These early sales really defined my career on many levels. That first year, I was the rookie of the year. It was fantastic. I have been in real estate ever since. As soon as I had the first three years’ experience I needed, I opened my own real estate company. I have owned three different companies since those early days in Ocean City. But I will never forget that first start. I get to have a job I love to go to every day. I am rich. But not because I have a lot of money; I am rich because I love what I do and look forward to doing it every day. Now that, to me, is success.