You’re just as likely to find real estate agent Hannah Tai mixing batter, hand-painting fondant and carefully placing sprinkles as you are to find her diligently working to seal the deal for the clients she serves every day.
Before Tai began her career at Vanguard Properties in Mill Valley, Calif., she was a well-known pastry chef who worked in some of California’s best kitchens (namely, Jeremiah Tower’s Santa Fe Bar and Grill in Berkeley) for 20-plus years before going on to establish her own business, Hannah’s Edible Art, in 2000.
“I’ve always been a creative person and an artistic person,” Tai said, while mentioning how a year-long excursion to China during her college years stoked her creativity and led her to become a pastry chef.
“I studied (Chinese) for about a year, then the artistic side of me wanted to evolve,” she said in a previous interview with the Marin Independent Journal. “I was vegetarian — I’m now vegan — so I didn’t want to be a regular chef and have to cook meat. I went into pastry.”
Tai honed her skills, making special occasion and wedding cakes for clients all over the Bay Area. But, her encounter with a real estate agent sparked a new passion in Tai’s mind: She wanted not only to craft cakes, but real estate deals.
During her own home buying experience in 1995, Tai’s real estate agent noticed how involved she was in the process, reading all the paperwork and carefully examining all the marketing materials for each prospective home. Although it took 12 years for Tai to make the leap into real estate, she never forgot her agent’s encouraging words.
“Home has always been a sanctuary for me,” she said while recalling how she spent much of her childhood globetrotting with her parents who were travel writers. “I think he noticed that.”
Although Tai eventually closed Hannah’s Edible Art in 2013, she never let go of her passion for pastries. In fact, she used the lessons she learned as a chef to propel her career as an agent.
“It’s very similar in a sense when you’re dealing with brides, and when you’re dealing with people buying a house,” she said. “It can be a stressful time, and I found out that I really enjoyed the process of working with both kinds of clients.”
“I think that both are a process,” Tai added. “When I’m baking a cake, it’s a creative process, and there’s a lot of detail and care that goes into it. You’re dealing with your clients and you’re trying to help them have the perfect cake.”
“When you’re doing a real estate transation, you’re working for them and your primary goal is to help them through this process and getting them to their dream home. Finishing up a cake or finishing up an escrow — it’s the same.”
Tai says she channels her creativity into every home she lists, even taking on some of the staging duties to highlight a home’s beauty.
“If I’m listing a home, I have a very artistic eye and I do some staging, and that’s all part of the work I do with my clients,” she said. “And if I’m working with a buyer, I find creative ways to get them into their home, such as sending heartfelt letters about my buyers [to sellers.] I’m very heartfelt when I do that. I truly care about all my clients.”
And when all is said and done, Tai breaks out her cooking utensils to whip up a sweet treat for her clients to celebrate the closing of a deal.
“I enjoyed the creative process and I translated that into making cakes for my clients after they closed escrow,” she said. “It just seemed like a natural thing to do.”
Among Tai’s favorite cakes is one she made for a client that includes a scene from Peter Rabbit. It was her client’s daughter’s birthday, and she captured every detail, even making tiny vegetables out of sugar for Peter Rabbit’s veggie patch.
“I always enjoy the reaction I get from people. They’re always so surprised,” she said.
For professionals who’d like to jump into real estate but don’t know how, Tai says it’s important to merge your passions and use previous experiences and clientele to your benefit.
“Continue to stay in each world and figure out a way to merge it,” she said. “Contact past clients and let them know what you’re doing now.”
Lastly, she gave one piece of simple advice: “Be who you are and be authentic in everything that you do.”