It seems that Sandra Debuire was destined to become a real estate agent. The 46-year-old luxury team leader was born and raised in Paris, a city known for exquisite food, fashion, and architecture. It was on Paris’ streets that Debuire fell in love with real estate.
“Growing up in Paris and being surrounded by so many beautiful estates at every single corner of the street, I learned to appreciate the beauty of the construction,” she said. “My mom used to be an interior designer so I followed her everywhere as a kid, and I’ve always been very proud and interested in seeing how she was improving homes for customers.”
Armed with a background in law, Debuire began her real estate career as an appraiser for a notary services company where she appraised homes for court cases, legacies, and divorces. During that time, she learned to appreciate homes for more than their outward exteriors, but for the value they offered to owners and their families.
Although she loved her job as an appraiser, Debuire jumped at the opportunity to become a real estate agent when the notary company she worked for launched a real estate sales division and wanted her to lead it.
“I was passionate and knowledgeable about the market,” she said, noting that she’d learned plenty from the real estate agents she completed appraisals and notary services for. From there, Debuire expanded her client base from Paris to the French Riviera, Cannes, and Monaco, and began connecting with agents in the United States.
Debuire became close with The Jills on her visits to Miami, and on one visit, Jills team member Danny Hertzberg encouraged the French real estate dynamo to set her sights on America. In 2009, Debuire decided to follow Hertzberg’s advice — she applied for a work visa in the hopes of restarting her career with Coldwell Banker in Florida.
“Living in the U.S. is a dream of everybody living outside the U.S,” she said while reminiscing on the days she’d play ‘cowboys and Indians’ with her siblings, imagining she was in the Wild West. “The United States is a country of dreams, is a country of liberty, and is innovative in many ways.”
It took five years for Debuire to gain her work permit, but as soon as it was approved, the single mother of two immediately moved to Miami, took her licensing test and began working for Coldwell Banker.
“When I had the opportunity to get the working permit and take my chance in this country, I took it without thinking about if it was a good idea for a mom of two kids,” she said. “I just did it. Nobody ever judged me [here]. In France, people thought I was crazy to give up everything and start over from scratch.”
Although she had the passion and talent, Debuire said she had a hard time breaking into Miami’s luxury real estate market due to the major differences between France and the United States’ real estate systems.
“I had a very difficult beginning because I had to learn the code and I had to learn the contracts,” she said. “The mentality of doing business is very different, and the way of handling transactions in the U.S. is very different.”
Debuire said France has yet to fully embrace electronic signatures, property information isn’t public record, and that agents must rely on notaries to complete contracts. Furthermore, available properties aren’t marketed to the public-at-large, and buyer’s agents cannot show buyers every property that meets their needs due to how listing agreements are drafted.
“In France, you get the listing, but it’s a non-exclusive listing so you try to sell it by yourself,” she said. “So you limit the exposure of the property and you cannot offer everything that is on the market for your buyer.”
Because of this, Debuire said most transactions in France take three to four months to close, compared to the 30 or 45 days it takes in the United States.
“I love to mix my knowledge that I got in Europe with the efficiency of American real estate,” she said. “I love that business here combines so many aspects — from the contracts to the negotiation and the marketing.”
“There is so much information available to the consumer, so much so that it’s very often that the buyer wants to buy in a certain neighborhood or a certain building and may know more than you do because everything is online,” she added. “You add value in representing someone not by the knowledge of the market, but by being on top of every single step of the transaction and marketing and promoting the property.”
After navigating the learning curve, Debuire’s business took off as she tapped into her Parisian sensibilities to create stunning marketing campaigns, the most notable of which was a collaboration between her and a well-known muralist to transform the wall of a luxury listing during Art Basel.
“Everything I do, I do it with my personality and thinking about the person I represent,” she said. When I saw the amazing opportunity to have a mural, I took it.”
“Miami is a vibrant city and you have the population that’s mixed with the different cultures and everyone comes from a different country in Miami,” she added. “It can be an American coming from a different state, they can be from South America or Europe and it creates a synergy that’s unique to Miami. So, I think people are more open to street art — it’s very Miami.”
Debuire’s hard work and creative spirit have paid off, as she’s become one of NRT’s (now called Realogy Brokerage Group) top agents and her team has broken several Miami sales records.
“You can be no-one and become someone. It’s magical. You’re not stuck in your caste. You’re not where you are born. You are what you make yourself,” she said of her time in the United States. “But, it’s not an easy road when you want to immigrate to the U.S.”
“It was five years not being able to travel outside the U.S. It’s very difficult, psychologically,” she added. “I think everybody now [with the coronavirus pandemic] is experiencing what it’s like to not to be able to travel, and you feel that you’re not really free anymore.”
“But, people here are very positive, and this positive atmosphere is what pushes me.”
We’re highlighting agents with extraordinary stories through a new series, Agent Plus. Do you know someone who should be highlighted for their work inside and outside of the office? Send your nominations to AgentPlus@inman.com.