Aunts call lured broker from big city real estate jobs to challenging post in Charleston
There’s a certain look about people who know what they want: Outsiders pick it up within a few minutes of meeting them.
Sitting down, their shoulders are back so far their clothes form no wrinkles from a blazer’s lapel collar to the shoulder seam. Their voice is steady and pitch consistent, except when laughing. All this can be detected.
Listening to Arthur Ravenel Commercial Realty broker Philippa Ward, her words have real muster. She looks confident. The Napa Valley, Calif., native spoke recently about her journey to Charleston, what inspires her love of real estate and how she’s succeeded in three different real estate markets.
Ward began her career casually, studying for her real estate license during her free time. It wasn’t until a family member had an impromptu meeting, where Ward was the subject of conversation, that her interest got serious leverage.
“My dad ran into a real estate friend, Jane Garassino, at Sunshine Foods in Saint Helena, (Calif.),” Ward says. “He asked if I could take her out for coffee and pick her brain about real estate,” Ward says. After a brief coffee collaboration, Garassino gave Ward a proposal she couldn’t refuse — a job.
Ward accepted her offer and worked eight years, citing her experiences with Garassino as invaluable, especially one set of lessons about how to build a client base.
“Jane taught me this in the beginning: Don’t focus on the money, the money will come later,” Ward says. “Always return phone calls and always do a better job than expected because people talk about it. And being involved in as many organizations as possible helps people remember your name.”
Ward paid attention to these lessons, applying them to her next gig in New York City where she worked at Stribling and Associates in the luxury Co-op Townhouses sector. She planned to stay one year and stayed two and a half.
However, at that point she was ready to trade cabs and her feet for a new mode of transportation and a new city. Her aunt Heidi Ravenel quickly gave Ward her opportunity.
Like her father’s grocery store run-in with Garassino, it didn’t take much convincing before Ward settled on her next move. In this case, it took one phone call from Ravenel. Thirty days later Ward was living in Charleston, four houses down a gravel road from Ravenel, whom she not only calls a neighbor but a colleague.
“My aunt Heidi was selling real estate when I was a child. She always had appointments and clients, and she’s the person I got my first interest from,” Ward says.
“It’s about helping people and it takes a lot of patience. You’ve got to be able to roll with the punches,” she says. For instance, Ward always thought she would most like to be a residential agent but has found out otherwise: “My interests run the gamut.”
Working with Arthur Ravenel, owner of ARCR, Ward discovered her interest in commercial real estate came with more questions than she encountered from her primarily residential real estate background. But answers are not hard to come by.
Asking questions, often directed at Arthur Ravenel or associate broker J.B. DeCamilla, Ward finds information that she uses as a resource for current clients and future ones, as all deals are different,
The fact that transactions vary is nothing new to Ward. Working with properties here presents its own set of challenges. She had to adapt one of her most reliable sources for guidance, as showing brownstones in Manhattan didn’t prepare her for a newfound experience with Charleston clients.
“Waterfront properties didn’t exist in Manhattan. Deep water, title creek, restrictions with marshes — I didn’t have much experience with that before working in Charleston. I asked a lot of questions. Heidi knows everything to know about deep water property,” Ward says.
Beyond this request, Ward notes there are some aspects of real estate common among all clients, commercial and residential. They want attention. Ward learned how to accommodate this need even before her real estate career began. Watching her parents in Napa Valley run their business, Saintsbury Winery, Ward learned the basics when it came to communicating with clients.
Protecting her clients and acting in a way that benefits them is part of her job, Ward says. As she learned from observing her parents, clients can become more than working relationships if communication is personal.
“The wine business is a social business and so is residential real estate,” she says. “I saw my parents work very hard at that, especially from Dad. The kind of interaction is very similar and you hope your clients become your long-term friends.”
Part of what has made Ward successful, including a National Sales Award winner for Pacific Union GMAC Real Estate Ltd. six consecutive years with her four-person team, is her drive for success. Forming lasting client relationships can help further her career.
“You have to listen to clients a lot,” Ward says. “How do you approach a building, a space, a house?” It involves listening and advanced problem solving, she says.
What separates Ward from her competitors is her ability to anticipate potential conflicts and create solutions. By her gender alone, though, she is a minority in the commercial real estate business. While this fact presented a challenge in California and New York, according to Ward, being a woman in commercial real estate is a non-issue in Charleston.
Tackling challenges and not letting negative circumstances to which she has no control, such as the economy, affect her morale or her approach to doing business is something Ward faced this past year, she says.
Before going on, she tilts her head slightly and lets out a laugh that makes her up-to-then consistent pitch waver.
One way to counteract challenges was to get involved in the community, Ward says, believing that spreading her name to people outside of real estate increases her potential for success when the market recovers.
When Ward is asked what advice she would give to those considering real estate as a profession, the corners of her mouth curl as she rattles off a list of pointers and possibly the secret to her success.
“Make sure you can survive with no money for two years,” Ward says. “You have to really have drive, if not, you’ll feel beaten down. Don’t figure the commission before a deal happens: separate yourself from the money aspect of it.
“And, I’d advise working with someone who is good at their job. It’s more fun to work with others than alone.”