Change agents: women in real estate

With the industry going digital, more women real estate brokers are signing up, especially in the south and west of India

August 13, 2021 06:46 pm | Updated 06:53 pm IST

Neetu Arya

Neetu Arya

In May 2019, Nimmy David, 34, started a YouTube vlog in her name, documenting in Malayalam the various luxury properties she sold — mainly across Kerala. Initially, it was just a value-add because people were physically travelling to see spaces. Ten months later, the pandemic hit, and suddenly an investment of ₹45,000 in video equipment paid off.

“People didn’t have much to do, so they would go online and watch my videos. When things began reopening, there was quick conversion,” says David, who has been in the industry for 12 years. Pre-pandemic, she and her husband (a graphic designer who does the vlogs) would make a sale every month or two, with just a couple of enquiries daily. During the lockdowns, she’d get 20-25 fresh calls a day; these have now settled to 10-20. David’s sales right after the pandemic went to about 2-3 a month, which continues today.

“It is only because of the vlog,” she says of the 10-20 minute videos with her as host, describing the home, its amenities, surroundings, and the project itself. David often interviews property developers, establishing her credentials as an influential direct selling agent (selling builders’ projects) of luxury residences to Malayalees across the globe. She says her segment in Kerala has not been affected by the pandemic, and that prices have increased because of the rise in raw material costs.

Remote work advantage

In Mumbai though, Srishti Patel, 28, observes that the luxury market has been hit by 20% to 30%. A number of business owners who need liquid cash are selling homes they may have bought as investments. Another set of people are upgrading to newer properties that may be bigger, with better amenities, since work from home has become long term. This has stood to benefit many women brokers, who operate within the ‘safe space’ of luxury rentals and sales. The company that Patel works for, Gupta & Sen, deals only in luxury, and has almost equal numbers of men and women employees.

(Clockwise from left) Srishti Patel, Ritu Arora and Uma Natarajan

(Clockwise from left) Srishti Patel, Ritu Arora and Uma Natarajan

Pit this against just about 100 women members of the National Association of Realtors (NAR) India, with a countrywide membership of approximately 5,000 primary (with voting rights) members. While their membership may be just about 2%, they bring in 8-10% of the approximately ₹2,000 crore business, according to Ekta Ranjan, 46, who heads the central zone of NAR, and is based out of Bhopal. “Women are more aggressive and focussed on the business,” she says, adding that the bulk of women in her profession are in the south and west of India. Last year, she headed the women’s cell (set up as a part of NAR’s activities) and started a WhatsApp group for women to exchange ideas and information around properties.

An earlier generation dabbled in the sector while juggling homes and kids, and a few women discovered the profession serendipitously. Ranjan, who moved to Bhopal in 2013, after stints in retail, insurance, and placement services, decided to venture into realty only after she began house hunting. Ritu Arora, 52, from Bengaluru came to it 18 years ago, when her daughter’s paediatrician asked if she knew of an office space he could rent for a construction project. “Soon, he involved me in some projects that he began developing,” says the single mother who faced domestic abuse and left her marriage with her newborn, when she was in her 20s. Arora started a gift shop in Koramangala — popular at first, but as that waned, she sold it and concentrated on her real estate company. “I have learnt on-ground, through trial and error,” she says.

It is only now that women are choosing this as a career option. One reason is that there’s more structure, with professionally run firms establishing themselves. And learning is through a system of internship. Corporatisation removes the stigma of being in an unorganised segment, while support from an establishment ensures that women are accompanied to in-progress or off-the-grid sites.

The trade needs certain skills that women naturally have, say the six agents from varied age groups we spoke to, across the country. The common consensus amongst these working professionals is that women brokers are softer spoken, patient, take more time to understand clients’ needs, and are more sincere.

Ekta Ranjan, Neha Tekriwal and Nimmy David

Ekta Ranjan, Neha Tekriwal and Nimmy David

Banking on networking skills

On the 21st floor of Gurugram’s Aralia’s, a housing society that looks more like tropical Singapore than dusty Haryana, Neetu Arya, 43, engages with a middle-aged woman and her teenage daughter. Spread across 9,600 square feet, with four bedrooms, separate dining and drawing spaces, a terrace, and a view of the pool and the golf lake, she says the rent is in the ₹4 lakh range. The person she is showing the house to “is a friend and a client,” says Arya, who works only through references.

Networking is key, something women are natural at. “Women are used to slow and steady interactions, and begin with connecting, explaining contexts and availability clearly,” says Uma Natarajan, 54, who sells and rents residences for Chennai’s Hanu Reddy Realty. Addressing the advantage of being entrenched in a community, she says, “You can make a particular neighbourhood your zone and invest time and years learning everything about that area.”

The profession also offers flexibility. David takes her daughter to many client meetings, while Ranjan initially worked from home, taking care of her twin girls and household responsibilities.

What’s also important is the connection they form with other women who often do the background research for residential properties, whether buying or renting. “Even when a couple comes together, it’s often the women who ask detailed questions about the neighbourhood and areas around,” says Patel, adding, “I try to make it all about them, so I listen as much as I can.”

Strictly business

Arya’s job does not appear like it’s out of a scene from Selling Sunset , a reality TV show based in LA. There, model-like women broker multi-million dollar deals as they work (and party) for a company run by the Oppenheim brothers. Here, the women maintain a strict business-only approach to prevent predators. They also want to ensure the highest levels of professionalism so they’re taken seriously in a business where a client may raise an eyebrow at the unfamiliar experience of a woman showing him land records.

Neha Tekriwal, in her 30s, the only woman partner in Kolkata’s Shri Vriddhi Properties runs the business with family and friends. She tells the story of a client who wanted to buy a house in the ₹4 crore range. “I would send him property details every weekend and he would promise to see them and then wouldn’t turn up. One weekend I told him I wasn’t going to send him details anymore, and he’d just have to come to look at a few houses,” she says. He turned up, and booked houses for four times of what he had budgeted.

Today, women can focus on the joys of the profession rather than its challenges. But Ranjan cautions that it’s not just about getting a RERA (Real Estate Regulatory Authority) certification. It’s really about grooming girls young to move out of the house and take risks, so we don’t limit their career options by telling them to play safe, she concludes.

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