Sometimes, the most satisfying days for real estate agent Joan Rogliano are the ones when she goes to a listing appointment and the homeowner decides not to sell.
Rogliano, who owns Rogliano Realty Group in Littleton, Colo., specializes in sales related to divorce, a niche she began to cultivate after her own marriage ended several years ago and she became painfully aware of the confusion and anxiety that can surround that major marital asset.
"When you’re going through a divorce, you’re out of control, for the most part," she said. "You’re scared to death. Your friends say to do one thing with the house, your kids say another. Here I was, a Realtor, and even I wasn’t sure of what to do."
Deciding that her own anxiety over the house — as well as other financial confusion that seems to go hand-in-hand with marital breakups — couldn’t have been a unique experience, she decided to become more familiar with divorce law. And she talked to financial planners. She assembled groups of newly single women to talk about their concerns.
About three years ago, she completed a two-day "Real Estate Divorce Specialist" course offered by Boulder, Colo., financial planner Carol Ann Wilson.
Rogliano was well on her way to creating a steady business niche. Although she said she’s unsure of how much of her business is specifically divorce-related (she also handles many high-end listings in the Denver area), it’s now a significant part of her practice.
Her interest in the concerns of recently divorced and widowed women led her to found a not-for-profit organization that offers various kinds of support for women in those circumstances.
The organization grew from the period when she was trying to learn more about what kinds of help newly divorced women need and she was conducting focus groups at her home, she said. Later, she started doing workshops in her office.
Then she began hosting estate-planning seminars, and she would bring in designers to help the women decide how they wanted to outfit the place that would be home in this next stage of their lives.
She became friends with many of these women, and even as the women got on with their lives, some were eager to pass on to others what they had learned. Rogliano realized they had the makings of a community resource.
So in January, she founded the Wildflower Women’s Foundation, which recently received its federal 501(c)(3) not-for-profit status approval.
"Our mission is to give educational, financial and legal support to women and children as they go through (divorce and widowhood), regardless of financial need," she said.
"We’ve had 20-year-olds living in the basement of somebody’s house with their kids, and I’ve had people who are going to be experiencing multimillion-dollar settlements," she said.
Some of the women simply need referrals to financial or personal counseling, but the group also provides scholarships for women who need to go back to school in order to re-enter the workforce, or just a place to live temporarily.
"If they’re living in their cars, if they need to go to a hotel with their kids, if they need help with legal retainers — lawyers are very expensive — we help with that," she said.
In the course of pulling all these resources together, Rogliano realized she had learned a lot about building a real estate practice around divorce.
So earlier this month she began marketing The Wildflower Group, an entity separate from the charity, for real estate agents who want to develop their own versions of her specialty, and she occupied a booth at the trade show portion of a Massachusetts Association of Realtors conference.
"I’ve put together my entire marketing plan for creating your niche market of working with women in transition of divorce and widowhood," she said.
She said there have been no sales yet, though she’s in talks with some agents.
It’s not a niche for the faint-of-heart, she said.
Any real estate agent who specializes in divorce-related sales not only is going to have to be able to weather a certain amount of tension and potential discord, but also has to tread a fine line between empathy and businesslike detachment, she said.
"In the beginning, the tendency would be to want to listen (to sellers discussing their marital breakups), and two hours later, you’re thinking, ‘I can’t be helpful to you here because this isn’t what I do,’ " she said. "Now I know to say, ‘Have you thought about chatting with a therapist or counselor?’ There’s only so much support you can provide."
And any referrals to professional support have to maintain a careful neutrality, she said.
"It’s like you learn in Real Estate 101, when you say, ‘Here’s a list of lenders, here’s a list of insurance people,’ " she said.
There are ugly moments, though those are fewer as she has gained more experience and foresight into potential problems, she said.
In some instances, she said, she works as a transactional broker — representing both exes in the sale of their home, which often requires a double set of every communication and separate approvals for every decision.
"Sometimes a mediator is brought in," she said. "You have to read these undercurrents of motivation. Maybe somebody doesn’t really want to sell the house, even though they’re supposed to be wanting to sell it. You have to be really mindful of reading those emotions."
Rogliano has worked with a few men in the midst of divorce who need real estate representation, but the majority have been women. Women are disproportionately in need of such specialized services, she said.
"Women, on average, take a tremendous reduction in their financial status following a divorce," she said. "They’re usually awarded primary-caregiver roles for the children. They tend to be under tremendous economic stress, as well as the emotional piece of it.
"Most of them are not primary breadwinners," she said. "I’ve worked with women who haven’t worked in 20 years: What are they going to do? Where are they going to turn?"
And sometimes, she said, it’s a happy day when she helps a recently divorced woman realize she can keep the house, after all — whether by connecting her with a mortgage professional who can work out a refinance, or just by consulting her lawyer to clarify the terms of the settlement.
Some real estate colleagues aren’t sympathetic with those "non-listing" victories, Rogliano said.
"There are agents who have said to me, ‘You just talked yourself out of a listing,’ " she said. "I’ve heard that repeatedly. But I don’t practice that way."
"(Selling) is not what’s best for (some) clients," she said. "I believe what we do needs to be built on trust."
Mary Umberger is a freelance writer in Chicago.
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