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She Wants to Trade Up, Not Out of Profession


After 20 years selling residential real estate, Rona Sacks asked herself, "Is this what I want to do for the rest of my life?"

There have been pleasurable aspects to her work, Sacks said, such as grateful clients and the thrill of closing a deal. But there are stressful elements too: calls at 10 p.m. from clients, wild income fluctuations, monotonous door-to-door solicitations for new listings and playing the role of "unpaid taxi driver" for fickle prospective buyers.

"I do enjoy [real estate sales], but at times I wonder whether I'm staying in it because I'm scared to try something else," Sacks said.

Sacks, 45, came to the United States from South Africa in 1987. She's been selling Westside real estate ever since. In good years, she's earned more than $70,000, but as the market has tightened and competition for listings has grown fierce, the Santa Monica resident's income has fallen by half.

Sacks, who also holds a broker's license, wonders whether it's time to change vocations, or whether there's a way to revitalize her real estate career. For help, she consulted New York career counselor Allie Roth.

Roth had three sessions with Sacks and gave her tests for vocational aptitude and skills. Based on their conversations and the test results, the women concluded that Sacks' life was out of balance. She had been devoting all her energies to serving clients and pounding the pavement for listings, but had been ignoring her personal needs for rest, nurturing and recreation. It was a recipe for burnout.

Sacks would greatly benefit from reapportioning her time so that she could resume her favorite leisure activities, such as hiking, jewelry making, drawing and pottery crafting, Roth said.

"So many people, when they're anxious and in the middle of a career challenge, ignore the things that can nurture them," Roth said. "And that's when they need nurturing the most. Doing what we love energizes us. It's very hard to think clearly and make transitions when we have an empty tank."

Roth encouraged Sacks to read "The Artist's Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity" by Julia Cameron (Jeremy P. Tarcher, 1992) and "Take Time for Your Life: A Personal Coach's Seven-Step Program for Creating the Life You Want" by Cheryl Richardson (Broadway Books, 1998) for inspiration. She also had Sacks set aside time for meditation, hiking and journal writing.

Through the journal writing and guided visualization exercises that Roth provided, Sacks discovered that some of the fantasy careers she'd been contemplating--including becoming a buyer for an exotic merchandise store, an antiques expert, a world-class chef or a children's teacher--weren't as compelling when viewed as full-time occupations.

Sacks also found that as she allotted more time for creative endeavors she became more invigorated about her real estate work. A few weeks after Sacks' last session with Roth, she hit upon a new career goal: transition into the luxury market for multimillion-dollar homes.

Here are some tips from luxury-market experts that may be helpful to Sacks:

* Tailor her approach. Specializing in the luxury niche may prove "difficult but not impossible" for Sacks, according to industry experts. She'll need to markedly bolster her present earnings to afford the extra expenses (such as wardrobe, auto, gifts, dining and memberships) that may gain her cachet with wealthy clients.

"You have to walk and dress and talk as they do," said Marilyn Kaye, president of Prudential MLBKaye International Realty in New York, whose average residential sale is $10 million. "If you don't, they won't identify with you or feel comfortable with you as their agent."

If anything, servicing luxury-market clients may prove more stressful to Sacks than her existing realty work. Wealthy clients tend to be far more demanding than mid-market customers, said Rick Mitchell, manager of Coldwell Banker's La Jolla office.

"They want facts fast," Kaye said. "If you waste their time, they'll drop you in a second."

"You have to call them every day, even if nothing is happening," said Tom Reiser, chief executive of Reiser Group in Walnut Creek, Calif. "If you don't, you've lost them, and they'll go to someone else who can provide them with that level of service."

Luxury-market clients also tend to expect a broader spectrum of services from real estate agents than do mid-market customers, said Rob Levy, a real estate agent with McGuire Real Estate in San Francisco. They may ask for Sacks' help in finding designers, architects and contractors. They may want Sacks to work with their advisors or support personnel--accountants, managers, lawyers, caretakers and personal secretaries--during negotiations.

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