Real Estate Rock Stars: Women Impacting the Industry Then and Now

According to the National Association of REALTORS®, 67 percent of all REALTORS® today are female. But it wasn’t always that way. In fact, when the association first started in 1908, its membership was entirely male, even though there were 3,000 women working as brokers nationally. Why? Because joining meant you had to have a local real estate board membership which women were not allowed to obtain at the time. In 1910, however Corrine Simpson, a broker from Seattle, Washington became the first woman to join. This year, in honor of Women’s History Month, we are celebrating those who’ve paved the way in real estate and those who are rocking the industry today, like the women on our team.

Women Impacting Real Estate THEN

Corrine Simpson

Before she became the first female REALTOR in 1910, Corrine Simpson has already been a fixture in the Seattle real estate market for years. She was an active member of the National Association of Realtors until 1927, shortly before her death in 1929.

Barbara Corcoran

You likely recognize this real estate mogul from “Shark Tank” and “The Today Show,” but when she started her real estate firm in 1973 with a $1,000 loan from her boyfriend at the time, it was still tough for women to thrive in the industry. She didn’t let that hold her back and eventually sold the Corcoran Group for a reported $66 million.

Dorcas Helfant

The first female president of the National Association of Realtors, Dorcas was elected to the office in 1992. She was also the first woman to serve as the president of her state association. During her tenure, the association’s grass-roots efforts helped get legislation passed that raised FHA loan limits and repealed a closing cost restriction that had cut tens of thousands of potential homebuyers out of the FHA market.

Meet the Women of Merrill Thomas

We caught up with some of the women in our office to learn about how they got started in the business, why they’re passionate about it, and hear some wild stories from their showings.

1. How long have you been in the business?

Leslie Brownell: I have been in the business technically for 32 years and since 1988 and received various titles since, including NYS Licensed Real Estate Broker since 1990. Florida Real Estate Broker approximately 2003-2007.

Jillian Locke: You could argue a couple decades if you count when I would tag along as a child to open houses with my dad. In actuality, I started working on my license my senior year at St. Lawrence (2015). Two weeks after graduation I started with Merrill L. Thomas.

Kelsey Cassidy: 4 years

Jen Ledger: 15 years

2. As a woman in real estate speaking to other women interested in the profession what advice do you have?

Jen Ledger: Just be yourself. Be professional, but be yourself. No one can do a better job at being you, than you. 

Jillian Locke: Have conversations with as many realtors, contractors, attorneys as you can within your area – especially women. Real estate is a collaborative effort and it’s important to have as many connections as possible. Also, don’t be afraid to ask questions- always ask questions!

Leslie Brownell: Speaking to other real estate agents, be safe. If something doesn’t seem right make other arrangements. I also leave a note for my husband every time I go out to show of the name and contact info of the person I’m meeting with, my plan of properties to show, expected time frame and prior to COVID, tried to meet the new client at the office at all times so other co-workers would have a sense of who I was dealing with. I think it made the client mindful as well.

Kelsey Cassidy: My best advice would be not to get discouraged if you need to ask for a lot of help at first. In real estate you learn by doing. After you have a few deals under your belt you will understand the entire process. Also, treat every client like they are a million dollar client, in the long run you will see the returns.

3. What do you love about your work?

Anne Brewer: I love meeting new and interesting people and I enjoy matching their likes and interests to the right property.

Jillian Locke: No sale, rental, or client is ever the same. Every deal you make, and even those you don’t are a learning opportunity.

Kelsey Cassidy: It probably sounds cliché but I love finding people their new homes. The excitement is contagious, it sort of feels like you are buying the house right along with them.

4. What do you love about the adirondacks?

Leslie Brownell: It’s natural beauty, the smell of mud season (when everyone else heads South) and knowing new growth. You can watch the leaves open and the multiple shades of green, in just one day. Here is a tip in Autumn: go stand atop of Whiteface Mt. and view Lake Placid and Mirror Lake… the mountains look like a box of Trix cereal… so colorful and delicious!

Anne Brewer: There are many different things I love about the Adirondacks but a few include the many waterways. I am a paddler and I love that I will be forever exploring new places to paddle and camp. The diverse natural beauty of the Adirondacks is unique and special and I get to enjoy it whether on skis, a bike, hiking or paddling.

5. Who is a woman you admire from history and why?

Jillian Locke: Malala. No questions asked. Human rights. Education for all. Even though her impact is just beginning, she is certainly going to be one of the most revered people of our time. I highly encourage everyone to read: I am Malala: How One Girl Stood Up For Education and Changed The World.

Kelsey Cassidy: Eleanor Roosevelt. I always loved the story of how she realized there were no women journalists being hired by the news agencies of her day so she started holding women only press conferences. As a result new agencies were forced to start hiring women.

6. How has the real estate industry changed for women over the years?

Jillian Locke: Nationally, there are more women in the field than men. Locally, it is incredibly promising to see so many women in our field achieving such incredible success. As a young agent, I take a lot of pride knowing I have the opportunity to fill some pretty big shoes as I further into my career.

Kelsey Cassidy: This industry is super competitive and we are naturally pitted against each other. I like that women are starting to fight back against that. I try to always remind myself that other women’s success doesn’t take away from my own. Now it makes me happy to see other women agents out there killing it. Having this mindset makes the competitiveness of this industry a million times more bearable.

7. What do you look forward to most in terms of your future in real estate and/or the future of the industry?

Leslie Brownell: I love the profession, the architecture, the people but the industry has a pretty solid foundation that can be tweaked here and there but I’m confident in the foundation.

Anne Brewer: This is an exciting time and place to be working as a real estate agent. I am looking forward to learning as much as I can in order to help clients find their little slice of Adirondack Heaven.

Kelsey Cassidy: I think I most look forward to having more people from my generation in the mix. Don’t get me wrong I love being one of a handful of Millennials soaking up all the great advice from the older pros, but I am looking forward to seeing the next generation of agents out there seeing how life changing real estate can be.

8. What is your craziest/funniest real estate story?

Kelsey Cassidy: I don’t think my funniest story is appropriate for this, but I will say, as a real estate agent you see some CRAZY things in peoples houses. I was lucky enough to see my craziest thing to date on one of my very first showings. It also happened to be a video showing so my reaction was caught on film. My clients tell me they still to this day watch it from time to time for a good laugh.

Jillian Locke: A few years ago Nick referred some clients to me. These clients work at St. Lawrence University and he thought it would be a natural fit as an alum. I sold them a beautiful townhome in Lake Placid. After the closing, my clients invited me to a brunch where I met their son… we’ve been together ever since.

Jen Ledger: One summer, I was showing a house to the Commander of the New York State Police Troop B and his wife. We went outside to take a walk around the exterior and when we got back to the front door, it was locked…with the keys inside. I knew the second floor sliding glass door was open because we had walked out on the elevated deck to check out the view prior to going back inside. We circled around to the 13′ high deck realizing that the only way in…was up. The Commander, a 6’+ tall Ironman, looked at me, a 5’1″ 115 pounder, and we made a plan. I kicked off my shoes and climbed on his back. I scrambled to a standing position on his shoulders. Finding the deck just out of reach, I looked down and said, “Chuck, I need a few more feet.” With that he put his hands up, one by one, and I stepped into each hand with my bare foot and (oh and I had a skirt on that day) he performed a standing 2 arm shoulder press with his real estate agent. I scrambled up to the deck and over the railing and that was that – a B and E (Breaking and Entering) with the Commander of NYS Troop B!

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Lifestyle, Meet the Team