OneRoof Interview Why I quit nursing to become an agent
Nursing and real estate may seem poles apart when it comes to careers, but Carolyn Vernon says the skills she honed in health care proved to be very transferable when she switched to selling properties.
She now combines her caring nature with her in-depth real estate industry experience and knowledge, and business acumen to manage Barfoot & Thompson’s Remuera office.
Did you go straight into nursing from school?
I actually worked in a bank for a year first but it wasn’t really for me. I then stumbled into nursing after a friend’s parent said I’d make a good nurse.
That led me down a whole new path. I started off as a Registered Nurse then I became a Charge Nurse, and after completing a Bachelor of Education in Population and Health, I became a Nurse Educator.
I ended up in management and on returning to Auckland after living in Melbourne for 10 years I worked on projects such as the opening of the Manukau Surgical Centre and starting the inaugural Graduate Nursing Programme in South Auckland Health. I worked in health for 20 years and loved it.
“This job can be a rollercoaster – you can enjoy the highs but you have got to know how to navigate the dips. You always have to be looking at the long game, not for quick wins.”
Why did you make the move to real estate?
A big milestone birthday was coming along and I thought I could stay in health for another 20 years and that would be okay, but I wanted to try something else. My mother, Phyllis Brooks, was in real estate and I could see how great it was to have your own business within a business.
It was an itch I needed to scratch so I decided to try it, and I have never looked back.
Quite a few people said to me, “Why would you leave such a respected profession to become a real estate agent?”
Yes, working in health is a privileged position but so is real estate. You are dealing with people at a very important time in their lives – buying and selling a home is a really big deal and something I take seriously as it is a big event in someone’s life.
Did your nursing background help in your new career?
I’d had management and leadership roles in health, which certainly helped, and I think the caring aspect is something that translates from nursing to real estate. It was a privilege to be part of people’s health journey, while in real estate you are part of what is often one of their biggest financial journeys.
You have to treat that with respect and understanding and empathy. There can be a lot of twists and turns along the way but we can help people navigate those challenges. There are a lot of different reasons why people might be selling and we do have to be sensitive to those reasons.
Being a nurse definitely has helped me with the necessary interpersonal and relationship skills, required to be successful in real estate.
Can you remember your first listing?
It was a property in Glendowie. I got it about three months after I started in real estate from doing a flyer drop. When I got the phone call from the vendors I was so excited. But to be honest, I really didn’t know what on earth I was doing.
One of the salespeople in my office, Mark Edmonds, offered to help me out and came along to the listing presentation, which I was incredibly grateful for as I was certainly a novice.
Things were really taking off at that time and I was having 30 groups through on a Saturday and another 30 on a Sunday. The sale went really well and I certainly learned a lot in a hurry. That first house generated a lot of business for me but more importantly it also generated some lifetime friendships.
One was with Mark Edmonds, and the other was with Tracey and Mark, a couple who came to the open home. They didn’t buy the house, but I worked with them later and over time we became firm family friends.
Why did you decide to go from selling to management?
When I went into real estate I always had my eye on becoming a manager of a branch – it really appealed to me as a career move.
So I sold for six years and during that time completed my AREINZ papers and became the manager at the Onehunga branch. I had three years there, and have been leading the Remuera office for the last nine years.
I really love what I do. It’s all about coming up with solutions and sharing my business expertise and knowledge of the industry. I wear so many hats – as a manager you’re everything to everyone. You’ve got to be able to see the big picture as well as dealing with the small details. It’s a huge responsibility but also very fulfilling.
What do you enjoy most about the job?
The people. I’m a people person and real estate is all about the relationships you form with people, rather than the transactions. I get to lead a fantastic team – I am so blessed with the people I work with.
They are successful salespeople in their own right but they work so well together as a team. They not only look after the clients but each other as well. I love seeing the successes my team has and the difference they can make to someone’s dream and their aspirations.
What qualities do you think it is important for people working in real estate to have?
A good work ethic matters – people who are successful work hard. You don’t see the many hours they put in and challenges they circumvent behind the scenes.
You also have to have excellent product knowledge and an understanding of effective marketing as well as knowledge of the legal requirements with a sale, and you need to treat it like a longterm business. And of course caring and empathy are important too.
But I would say the main thing you need is resilience. This job can be a rollercoaster – you can enjoy the highs but you have got to know how to navigate the dips. You always have to be looking at the long game, not for quick wins.
When did you first get onto the property ladder yourself?
I bought my first home with my brother when I was 21. That was a consequence of having a mother in real estate! She said there was this great property in Mt Roskill we should look at and the next thing we knew, we’d bought it.
I was a student nurse earning $3.60 an hour and the interest rate was 27% because we were so young with nothing behind us the banks didn’t trust us and we had to pay the higher rate.
I lived downstairs in the garage conversion and my brother lived upstairs with flatmates. It was tight paying the mortgage but we got gain out of the house when we sold it and that got us onto the ladder for our next properties.
How do you spend your downtime?
We are very fortunate to have a bach at Whangamata so we try to get down there every three to four weeks for the weekend to relax. My goal this year is to try to get more time with my husband Shane away from work, which can be a challenge as the job is all-encompassing.
So this year we are looking at things we can do together, whether it’s touring the country, having fun out on the jet ski or even taking up a new challenge together, like pottery or dancing or just getting fit. Whatever it will be, it will be great to spend time together.
I also love to spend time with my daughter Courtney. She’s 24 now and when she was growing up, the flexibility of selling real estate was really good – I could make appointments around her, so that I could go to things like her sports games. It just meant I then had to work late at night.
She is pretty real estate savvy now with growing up in a real estate family. She and my husband have always been very supportive of me and understanding when I’m on call 24/7, which I very much appreciate, and which has made a big difference in my career.