CAPE MAY – If anyone is looking for a real estate broker in Cape May, the chances are they are going to find a woman as the broker of record in any of a number of real estate offices.
Homestead Real Estate, Sotheby’s International Realty, Jersey Cape Realty, Coastline Realty, Wilsey Realty, and Coldwell Banker are all either owned outright or co-owned by a woman. Why then are so many women working in and owning real estate businesses?
Dagmer Chew, owner and broker at Homestead Real Estate
For Dagmer Chew, owner and broker at Homestead Real Estate, it real estate was something she became interested in after taking a real estate course to cover a math requirement at Atlantic Community College (now Atlantic Cape Community College).
Chew was actually born into a real estate family – her grandfather was Sol Needles of Coldwell Banker Sol Needles Realty. She was born and raised in Cape May, attended Lower Cape May Regional High School, and never went off to college. Chew said she had been waiting tables at the Washington Inn for 18 years and decided to take courses at ACC. She said it was hard to walk away from the money she was making at the Washington Inn, but she started thinking about a career.
“One of the math courses, it was an accredited course, was a real estate course,” she said.
Chew took the real estate course and decided she wanted to make it a career
“I thought I would become a nurse, but then I thought real estate was something I could do. I thought it was what God wanted me to do,” she said. “Now, I enjoy the business, I enjoy the people, and I’m good at it.”
Chew has had a real estate license for 23 years, and has owned her own real estate company since 1998. She first went to work for three years for Barbara Kopp, who owned Century 21 before Joe Gilmartin.
“She was very good to me wanted me to buy the business,” Chew said.
Instead, she bought her own building on Broadway in West Cape May – a duplex. At the closing she was given the deed, which referred to the property as the “Phillips Farm Homestead.” Her husband Rusty thought “Homestead” would be a good name for a real estate company.
They started with the second floor, and eventually the real estate office expanded to the entire building. Despite being a busy office, Chew said they decided to follow their faith and close on Sunday.
“People said it had to be open Sunday, but we decided to honor God,” she said.
In December 2014, Chew made was she called a ridiculously low offer on the former Wawa property on Bank Street. Her husband told her they already had a great building, but Chew said he trusted and encouraged her all the way. She said opening the new Homestead Real Estate office in Cape May in June 2014 changed the direction of the company, taking it to another level.
Chew said she hires 12 full time agents, eight of whom are women. She said hires full time agents. Homestead also has five full time staff members, and a separate rental department. She said all the agents in the rental department are full time, licensed and salaried.
Chew said real estate can be a lucrative career, but advises it takes about three years before an agent is going to make any money.
“That’s three years working 40 hours a week with the hope you can build a career,” she said.
Chew added that showing a house is just a small percentage of what they do as real estate agents. She said one of her agents was recently working with a first time home buyer on a Fannie Mae foreclosure, and it took 20 to 30 hours of work, and showing house the smallest portion of that time.
“This is really a long term business. I’d say 10 percent of licensed realtors make it in this business,” she said.
Asked why she thought many women enter into the real estate field, either as brokers or agents, Chew said there are not a lot of options in the Cape May area.
“What are our choices for work? You have fishing and the service industry. I think real estate become a natural inclination for a lot of women,” she said. “I think (women) have vision and patience. Also, we are nurturers by nature. The three biggest stressors in life are moving, death, and divorce. When people are moving we have to walk them through the whole process.”
Chew said we are also multitask-oriented. They have to be able to cook dinner while having a phone conference. The job also allow flexibility for mothers who have to get kids to soccer practice while arranging a sale.
Chew said neither of her children have any interest in real estate, and she is grooming another relative, Micah Yerk to eventually take over the business.
Lynn Gleeson, Coldwell Banker Sol Needles Real Estate
Like Chew, Lynn Gleeson was born and raised in Cape May and graduated Lower Cape May Regional. She was also related to Sol Needles whose name is linked to the Coldwell Banker Real Estate office.
Gleeson said after high school she went to a couple different schools, came back home, and got married. She went to work in the Cape May County Prosecutor’s Office for eight years as part of the administrative staff, and then joined the family business.
“I got my real estate license two years after high school, so that helped,” she said.
In 1983, Gleeson became the fourth generation to join the business. Her grandmother Catherine Needles Dougherty and father Barney Dougherty were running the office started by her great grandfather.
Gleeson said her grandmother was a kind of pioneer in the real estate business, being an owner and broker from the 1940s until the 1970s. Gleeson said she and her sister both got licenses.
Gleeson said after Cape May was designated as a National Historic Landmark city the real estate market started booming and her business expanded. She and her business partner Bill Bezaire ended up buying the business in 1999.
Asked why women seem to dominate the real estate industry in Cape May, Gleeson said she didn’t have an explanation.
“It was just a natural thing for me; for the other women, I don’t know,” she said. “They either bought a business or started their own after working for other offices.”
Gleeson said there are about 15 licensed real estate agents in her office, not all full time. She said she has six women as agents. Gleeson said when the real estate market was good, everyone wanted to get a license to sell real estate. She estimates three quarters of them did not keep their license.
“A lot of people who don’t have bread and butter think quick and easy way to get it soon find out. You have to cultivate a customer base,” Gleeson said. “You first establish a good reputation, then all the other factors work tougher.”
Gleeson said the Coldwell Banker office does the most summer rentals of any office in Cape May, and many rental customers turn into buyers.
Gleeson said her niece, Kasey Tomlin, is now the fifth generation working full time in the Sol Needles office. She said Tomlin does administrative work and is also a licensed agent. One of her son’s also has a license at the Sol Needles office. Her business partner’s son, Chris Bezaire, also works there.