Women in Real Estate Investing: A Mile-high View of the Benefits and Challenges

Bonnie Depasse

Bonnie DePasse,
Vice President and General Counsel of HomeVestors of America

It’s been a couple of decades since I started investing in real estate. And, as I’m sure you can guess, a lot has changed in that time. For one, there were few women who were buying, rehabbing, and reselling or renting out investment properties back then. I often felt like one in a million, which wasn’t always a good thing. Being a professional real estate investor is a risky endeavor to begin with, but being a woman in an industry dominated by men posed its own special challenges that, without the right support, I’m not sure I would have gotten through as gracefully as I did. But, times have changed and so has the landscape of investors out in the field.

More women are in real estate investing than ever before and there’s no better woman to provide perspective on what a career in this industry looks like these days, both on the ground and at the executive level, than Bonnie DePasse. Bonnie joined the HomeVestors® of America, Inc. corporate team, where I’m an independently owned and operated female franchisee, back in 2003 as the company’s first in-house counsel after representing the company in an outside firm for five years. Now, she’s the Vice President and General Counsel of the company, leading the whole legal team. She also trains new franchisees and has moderated some of our annual conferences panels, where women are given the opportunity to voice their experiences and discuss their challenges. And, despite how busy she is helping franchisees navigate some of the challenges they face as professional real estate investors, she always seems to have time for a chat—especially about the subjects she’s passionate about.

What Draws Women into Real Estate Investing?

In fact, when we last spoke, I was curious about the changes she’d seen in the industry over the years and if she’d be willing to share some of her “mile-high” views with me. Of course, she agreed. So, to start, I asked Bonnie how many of HomeVestors®’ franchisees are now women. Even though HomeVestors doesn’t officially keep track, she’s certainly noticed more and more women coming through the initial week-long training program each year.  Bonnie said she estimates that as many as 30% of the students in some of the most recent classes are women. But, more men are joining each class as well.

She attributes a large part of this general uptick in professional real estate investing interest to the growing popularity of real estate-focused TV shows on HGTV and the DIY Network. There, you can find plenty of examples in which it not only looks like buying, rehabbing, and selling houses is a good business to be in, but a fun one, too. “Back when I started with the company in late 1997,” she laughs, “I’m not sure anyone could have told you what a professional real estate investor was.” So, even though we don’t know how many of our HomeVestors® franchisees are women, it’s clear that the numbers and the interest are growing in this industry.

It’s more obvious, Bonnie adds, there are few women who start investing in real estate at a young age and, instead, embark on this career path sometime in their 30s or 40s. The reason for this delay, however, is the same that keeps many men from buying and rehabbing homes early on: they’re usually busy climbing the corporate ladder somewhere else. Whether they’re engineers, team managers, corporate employees, or lawyers, they’ve usually jumped from the college dorm into a desk only to find themselves a decade or so later wishing they worked for themselves in their own independent businesses.

And, not all women who decide that they want a career in real estate come to an investing franchise, like HomeVestors, first. A lot of women don’t even think that a professional real estate investing career is the best choice right out of the gate. Instead, many become real estate agents. Bonnie explains why that might be the case:

I think it seems easier, as a real estate agent, to have a flexible schedule and to work on a part-time basis. If you’re a mom with kids who have to be picked up and dropped off, and you also have to handle dinner and everything else that comes up, then professional real estate investing can look too demanding on your time. And, in some ways, it is.

But, Bonnie adds, it’s not just that the work of a real estate agent seems easier to fold into life as a mom. After all, not everyone is a parent. It’s also that there are significant risks to investing in residential property and that women may relate to risk differently than men. She explains:

In general, I think many women are more risk-averse than most men. Or, at least, they see themselves that way. And, since you do take on a lot more financial risk as a professional real estate investor than you do as a professional real estate agent, a woman’s first instinct may be to nurture and protect, not risk and invest.

Often, however, being a real estate agent allows women to get to know the ins and outs of real estate generally, providing the confidence to move forward into professional investing.

Benefits and Challenges for Women Real Estate Investors

If and when they do become investors, there is an arena where women tend to excel right out of the gate: asking for help and sharing their challenges. And, it is by communicating their needs and seeking support that their learning curve can get shortened. Bonnie has seen this in action at the HomeVestors®’ company headquarters and during the franchisee events held throughout the year. At the 2018 annual HomeVestors® convention, where Bonnie moderated one of the panels on women in investing, the information that women provided benefited everyone in attendance. She says:

Women discussed ways to build confidence in a predominantly male-oriented business and whether or not being a woman actually had its advantages, like when calling on a single woman who wants to sell her home. All-in-all, it was a great chance for women to hear about the experiences of other women in the field. But, the men in attendance benefitted from the discussion, too.

After becoming a real estate investor, many women also realize just how detail-oriented almost every aspect of the work is and that, in many ways, they already excel at this, too. When it comes to working with a rehab budget, managing a crew of people, or staging a home for sale, for example, they already understood—and have frequently mastered—these concepts. So, succeeding as an investor then becomes more about broadening this understanding and sharpening these skills in service of the fixer-upper—something men have to do as well.

Unfortunately, the job of real estate investor poses some fairly unique challenges for women simply because they are women. These hurdles, you’ll note, are the same that women often have to confront in just about any male-dominated industry. Bonnie explains:

Unfortunately, some men don’t trust that female investors know what they’re talking about. Even when they do, they may find themselves tongue-tied when a woman shows up at the door. So, whether he’s a contractor, city planner, or home seller, a woman has to figure out how to communicate so that he is comfortable and confident that she is capable of performing the job just as well as any other professional real estate investor, man or woman. Hopefully, he will adjust as well. And, while it can take time, they do usually find a way to make it work.

Of course, the end result of finding a mutually beneficial way to connect is usually a mutually satisfying transaction. But, for women, this goal has to be balanced with establishing boundaries in order to create a sense of security, too. Bonnie says:

Ensuring their safety is another potential challenge for women, particularly if they’re entering homes alone. It’s an issue that’s always on a woman’s mind—and, it should be. So, women will often take somebody with them, be aware of all exits and their proximity to them, or simply leave if they feel threatened.

Some of these issues, however, can be mitigated by joining a professional real estate investing franchise. When you sign on for a structured business, says Bonnie, “you’re given access to training, advertising tools, and a strong, nationally-recognized brand.” If you’re lucky, you also get a network of fellow franchisees you can lean on for support, a one-on-one mentor, and a corporate team that’ll pick up the phone to guide you through challenges any time you call. And, these benefits are blind to gender—women and men can use them to their advantage equally.

Additionally, Bonnie notes that as women gain confidence in their skills as a professional real estate investor, most of the difficulties they face simply become easier to prepare for and navigate. Those who employ good listening techniques, exercising patience and empathy for homeowners who are struggling with “ugly” situations like a job loss, divorce, or impending foreclosure, often find they even become the hero of the story. And, these attributes already come naturally to a lot of women.

But, in terms of what constitutes a successful real estate investor, generally, and HomeVestors® franchisee, specifically, whether you’re a man or woman really makes no difference. More than anything, it’s a passion for real estate, a strong work ethic, and a high degree of confidence that can make or break an investing career. So, that’s what HomeVestors looks for, and looks to develop, in franchisees.

How to Succeed as an Investor No Matter Who You Are

That gender plays less of a role in determining one’s success as a real estate investor than it might in other fields is what initially attracted me to the industry. Men and women may bring varying strengths and weaknesses to the table but the ability to make a living buying, renovating, and selling houses or holding investment properties as rentals comes down to the individual. Bonnie repeatedly stresses that it’s actually personal and professional goals, passion and excitement for the industry, and the dedication to hard work that set professional investors apart. Gender, she says, has nothing to do with it. “In this day and age, women can do anything they want to do just like men can do anything they want to do if they put their minds to it and are willing to work hard.”

And, working hard is a little bit easier when you are a part of a team that supports your efforts no matter who you are. Bonnie says that is what HomeVestors strives to be for its franchisees and has held that stance as a priority from Day One. As a long-time independently owned and operated franchisee myself, I certainly can vouch for that. Every new franchise owner receives comprehensive training, a network of fellow regional HomeVestors® franchisees, and a personal Development Agent—a kind of real estate investing mentor—in addition to the nationally-recognized “We Buy Ugly Houses®” marketing campaign. Even the corporate office answers my calls and makes themselves available to me whenever I have questions or concerns—every time. And, that is not just because I’m Bonnie’s friend. At that, she smiles:

We’re here for all of our franchisees. It is a part of our company culture. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you call about. If you need help, somebody is here for you—always. By doing that, we hope you will be successful in terms of meeting your own personal goals. Whatever you want to ultimately do in this industry, we want to help you make it the best fit for you.. That’s HomeVestors’ goal, and it’s my personal goal as well.

If you’re a woman and wondering whether you have a chance of making a good career out of investing in real estate, you’re not alone. Join the team whose mission includes supporting you and your professional investing goals. Call HomeVestors today!

Each franchise office is independently owned and operated.

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