The ICNY 2020 panelist and The Costa Group CEO shares how a background in psychology guides her personal and business life.

Sara Werner Costa’s biography reads like a dream — she’s the CEO of San Francisco and Nashville-based The Costa Group, she was part of National Association of Realtors’ 2012 ‘30 under 30’ class, she’s completed more than $500 million in sales, and is in the top 1 percent of San Francisco agents.

However, Werner Costa is quick to note her journey has been filled with plenty of ups-and-downs, including a bout with burnout that nearly ended her career and the death of a close friend that served as a wake-up call to create a life she loved outside of the office.

Before hitting the Inman Connect stage in January, Werner Costa sat down with Inman to talk about how agents can cultivate healthy client-agent relationships and build a personal and professional life they love.

Inman: You started your professional career as a suicide and crisis hotline counselor. What led you to transition from psychology to real estate?

Werner Costa: It all began when I was 23 years old. I was about to apply for a doctorate in psychology when I had a happenstance date with serendipity. I was invited to celebrate the close of escrow of a friend’s new bachelor pad in San Francisco.

One thing lead to another, and his broker invited me to come work with him. I am always one to welcome new opportunities, so I followed my intuition and went for it. I got my license just a few months later, worked with this amazing team for three years developing property, and selling it in one of the top real estate markets in the world — San Francisco.

I started my team shortly after that, and nearly 15 years later, real estate is still a staple and foundation in my life.

Do you still use your background in psychology? I imagine it would come in handy as the buying and selling process can be emotionally taxing for clients. 

Yes! The reason I bypassed getting a doctorate and went for real estate is that I realized I would have the honor and privilege of helping people through massive life transitions.

The purchase of real estate is often triggered or inspired by a massive life event, such as a new job, marriage, starting a family, divorce, illness, or death. All of those events can be challenging and stressful in their own ways.

While we as agents must be knowledgeable regarding the numbers, the [transaction] process, and the market, I have found that the most important piece is emotional intelligence. We must hold space for the client with kindness, wisdom, and an open heart from start to finish.

We must actively listen, ask questions, anticipate their needs, and be there for them as a partner, educator, mentor, and guide throughout the process. The focus is on service and loving on the clients — not the money. We are dealing with people, their lives, their life savings, their joy, their happiness, their future.

It is a massive responsibility that my team and I take very seriously.

Buyers and sellers aren’t the only ones who get stressed during a transaction — real estate agents do too. What advice do you give your mentees on building and maintaining a healthy mindset and routine?

I highly encourage my team to do the inner work to be present, centered, and find homeostasis so not much can shake or shatter them. Stressing out over our transactions does not affect the outcome. Being a stress ball and too attached to outcomes and things that are out of our control is truly a death sentence and sure-fire way to burnout.

At the end of the day, it comes back to the agent knowing their self-worth, and knowing their inner peace and joy is key to a sustainable career. It’s not an easy job, so why not create it in a way that works for you?

If people cannot respect whatever those boundaries are, you don’t want to work with them. I’ve found that when you set boundaries, clients will actually respect you more. Know what you’re willing to deal with and not willing to deal with. If you’re running around in fear of getting a bad Yelp review or losing a client, this business will eat you alive.

Your biography noted, “you’re living the life of your dreams.” In real estate, it seems easy to get caught up in competing with others and lose track of what you truly want in the process. What steps can agents take to reset, refocus, and rediscover their own personal and professional dream?

I have been on the opposite side of this coin before, where I was very caught up in the grind and the competitive nature of the business. I really lost sight of my dreams and got so busy that I couldn’t even tune into what my heart and soul were trying to lead me.

It honestly took me going through a near-deadly burnout and then a friend dying of cancer at the ripe age of 46 for me to wake the heck up. I went to one of the top psychologists in the San Francisco Bay Area [to get help]. That was about seven years ago, and that changed my life.

In the first session, I had to lay on the floor and learn how to breathe again because I was living in fight or flight mode — I had chronic stress from trying to please everyone. So, I would recommend not doing what I did. No need to learn the hard way!

The best way to reset, refocus and discover your own personal and professional dreams would be to simplify, make space in your schedule for self-care, inner work and reflection time (e.g., journaling, seeing a counselor or coach, etc.), delegating out some business and tasks or bringing in a partner.

The only way to gain perspective is to take a step back. It might cost a bit at the moment, but it will pay off tenfold in the long haul. Once that inner peace and a constant state of joy, gratitude, and self-love is found — fasten your seatbelt! The abundance comes at you like a magnet.

Email Marian McPherson

Are you ready for what the industry holds in 2020? Inman Connect New York is your key to unlocking opportunity in a changing market. At Connect you will gain insight into the future, discover new strategies and network with real estate’s best and brightest to accelerate your business. Create your 2020 success story at Inman Connect New York, January 28-31, 2019.

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