Advice and Opinion

What it is like to be a female in the “man’s world” of commercial property

Renee Kruger, Nina Steininger and Janet Lightbody of Ikon Property Group
Renee Kruger, Nina Steininger and Janet Lightbody of Ikon Property Group

The commercial property world is indisputably a tough one. It can be highly-competitive, cut-throat and it  has been traditionally male-dominated.

Cape Town-based Ikon Property Group found out from three female property brokers what attracted them into the property industry. They discussed the challenges and benefits of operating in this demanding environment – one that is filled with as many triumphs as disappointments.

In the Beginning

Interestingly their respective journeys into commercial property broking was diverse. One of Ikon’s brokers, Janet Lightbody, was offered a scholarship to do BSc Property Studies at UCT. She was one of the ‘guinea pigs’ on a new course offering. She subsequently garnered experience in property management and lending in London and Cape Town.

I was looking to acquire a building to set up my first art academy and a retail space with a coffee shop. It was the delightful Luke Anley-Eyre and Elton Holland (now colleagues) that showed me a property in Buitenkant Street. I haven’t bought a property just yet, but enjoyed the process so much, I started working with IKON a few months after.

– Janet Lightbody, Ikon Property Group

Nina Steininger has a background in Marketing. She initially entered the world of residential property in Knysna and then joined a prominent Property Auction Group. Conversely, Renee Kruger was one of a handful of women who studied BSc.Agriculture (Viticulture and Oenology) at Stellenbosch, where she spent many hours in the field alongside her peers pruning vineyards and scrubbing tanks in the early hours of the morning. She went on to join a property agency as an assistant to a business and property broker. All three of these dynamic women ended up at the Ikon Property Group among eight male brokers.

Residential vs. Commercial

According to Nina, the major difference between these two worlds is the emotional nature of residential property compared with the financial considerations in the commercial property world.

Commercial is about investment, return on investment and engaging with business-minded buyers and sellers. Whereas in residential you engage with families. Despite the differences, both are all about relationships

– Nina Steininger, Ikon Property Group

Commercial property is a numbers game, where the language changes to ‘yields, investment, zonings, bulk ratios and gross lettable areas’. There are a lot more technical variables in commercial. On the flip side in residential you are dealing with aesthetics, accommodation requirements and appeal.

You also seldom get a sole mandate in commercial, so you are competing in an open market

– Nina Steininger, Ikon Property Group

The Challenges

While women are a minority in the commercial property industry, this is slowly shifting with more women coming on board. “You have to overcome the assumption that you are less competent because you are female. I do this by instilling confidence in my clients through my experience, ability and knowledge,” adds Nina. In the past, some developers sent in the ‘mini-skirt and high-heels brigade’ to peddle their properties. This created a misperception in the industry. “The way you look is of less importance, it’s the experience, knowledge and negotiation skills you bring to the table that counts. It’s not practical to wear high heels to commercial sites. I generally dress in trousers. This is not a glamorous industry, so if you are wearing high heels, you won’t blend in,” continues Nina.

Janet specialises in the sale and leasing of exceptional retail and office spaces. She chooses to see the opportunities, as opposed to the challenges. “I choose to be a property partner with my client. Someone they like doing business with. Someone they trust. This is an industry that requires you to be strong and professional and to not take anything personally. It also trains you at being persistent, and picking yourself up after a disappointment.”

I often have to work harder to prove myself. Being too friendly can often be misinterpreted, so finding a balance between being friendly, but firm, can sometimes be challenging

– Renee Kruger, Ikon Property Group

Are there any benefits?

According to Janet, when you have earned the trust of a client, they will generally continue to work with you, regardless of your gender. “That’s loyalty and great for long-term mutually-beneficial relationships. You get to choose who you work with and that’s pure freedom.”

Renee feels that clients are often much warmer/softer when they are dealing with a female broker, especially on the phone. “When male clients under-estimate me, it motivates me to over-perform.”

Advice for newbies

Nina mentions that you must have ‘grit’. “This is a commission-only environment, so your time is your money. You must be self-motivated and driven. You also must know your stuff and your area. The seller will quiz you on the phone before you even get to their door. They have 15 other brokers knocking on the same door.”
The key is confidence on the phone, in your presentations and negotiations. “A strong financial understanding is of great benefit. The ability to nurture good relationships with clients and being able to ask the awkward questions upfront – commission, deposits, background checks,” says Renee.

What makes Ikon a conducive work environment?

Ikon offers a great opportunity to continue growing and working out of your comfort zone, with the support of an engaged Director. We get a lot of opportunities to network and this is encouraged. We meet other property related people, so we have a lot of fun.

We have fun, we laugh, even though it’s not always easy. We tackle things head on with no smoke and mirrors. We have a high energy team with high calibre of skills and there is a wonderful family-like atmosphere of support, sharing and camaraderie.

– Janet Lightbody, Ikon Property Group