NEW YORK – They represent female power to the nth degree – some of the most powerful women in real estate together on one stage. Overlooking the Great White Way, it was real estate meets Broadway.

They are real estate’s “divas,” but all had humble beginnings as described by Michael Saunders, founder and CEO of Michael Saunders & Co. in Florida.

“I came into the industry 30 years ago,” Saunders said Thursday during a panel discussion at Real Estate Connect. “I think it’s difficult for anyone to get into the business today and make an impact. There was more room 30 years ago and I took advantage of it. When I began, I needed someone to sign a $5,000 note for the bank to approve the loan for me to start the business.”

The mood was upbeat regarding any downturn. “I believe product will be on the market for a longer period of time,” said Diane Ramirez, president of Halstead Property in New York. “So we have to adjust our media schedule for that. I believe this will be an easier market to work in. Nothing is easy when there is frenzy around. I think our brokers will be able to broker instead of just being order-takers, and the brokers who have the good skills will really shine.

“As for adjusting for a down market, I think you always need to look at the bottom line. You shouldn’t overspend in a crazy market and you shouldn’t retreat in a slow market. You need a business plan that you can trust. I believe we will see a healthier market.”

Pam Liebman, president and CEO of The Corcoran Group in New York, pointed to the importance of educating people when the market shifts. “We have seen parts of the market shifting from the sellers to the buyers,” she said. “And as we have increased inventory, you will see the buyers get more and more selection, which will give them more power. We’ve also seen pressure on pricing in various parts of the country but not in New York as of yet.”

Liebman offered advice to brokers working in a slower market. “Brokers need to understand that you can’t spend or advertise your way out of a down market. You need to work with buyers and sellers that are educated” and not waste time with unrealistic consumers, she said.

People buy in New York to live in New York, unlike some of the investor-driven markets such as Las Vegas, she said, “and we have a broad base of buyers to choose from.”

JoAnne Kennedy, chief operating officer of Coldwell Banker Hunt Kennedy in New York, said, “I think we may be doing a new, slower dance, which is fine.”

“What I like about New York is that we are still pushing the boundaries and pioneering new neighborhoods,” she said. “I’m extremely optimistic about the upcoming year. What I do see is less people taking the test to be brokers. You need a skilled professional in a slowing market and perhaps some newcomers may decide real estate is not for them.”

Dottie Herman, president and CEO of Prudential Douglas Elliman in New York, recalled a time when interest rates on mortgages were at 19 percent and people were saying, “It’s the end of the good times.”

“Well, I didn’t know the good times and that can be an advantage. I had to go out and get business. People weren’t calling back then. I remember seeing newspaper headlines predicting the end of real estate. And some of the headlines were from the 1940s. So you have to employ a different strategy depending on the market. I tell people there really is never a bad market. It’s like driving on the expressway. If you’re speeding and then slow down to the speed limit, it seems like you’re not moving.”

As for the notion of a real estate bubble, Kennedy brought down the house with her theory. “I think people want to believe what they read and hear … that a bubble will pop and they will benefit from it. My theory is that the media wasn’t paid enough money to afford the prices so they tried to break the market down.”

Liebman agreed, “The media have been pushing the bubble story for three years and they jumped on figures from the third quarter of 2005, which showed average prices of apartments are down. That was only because more studios and one-bedroom apartments were sold. So the media needs to look beyond just average prices for the whole story.”


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