Paving the Way for Women in CRE: Insights From a Pennsylvania Broker

Laura Martin, founder of SVN | Latus, on running a successful shop, the state of the market and breaking barriers in CRE.

Laura Martin

Laura Martin, Owner & Broker, SVN | Latus. Image courtesy of SVN Latus

The status quo in commercial real estate has constantly been disrupted in the past decades as more female leaders made their way to the top of their organizations. Representation continued to be crucial, both for encouraging more women in CRE to advance in their careers, and for tightening the gender pay gap, in general.

One of the women that have made their voices heard is Laura Martin, who leads SVN | Latus, a business with more than 50 years of combined experience in commercial real estate brokerage and advisory services in central Pennsylvania, affiliated to SVN International Corp. since 2018.

In celebration of Women’s History Month, Commercial Property Executive spoke with Martin about her professional path and how women can keep making strides in the industry by supporting each other.

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Tell us more about your story and how the firm grew over the years.

Martin: Before having children, I worked for a local family and ran their real estate department. When I had my first daughter, I went part-time but realized I needed greater flexibility in my schedule after my second daughter arrived, so I started my own firm. It allowed me to devote that important time to my daughters as they grew up.

Over time, we grew due to hard work and never giving up on anything. SVN | Latus has grown through perseverance, and perhaps most importantly of all, reputation. Our clients enjoy working with us and they tell other people about their experience, leading to many referrals. Our reputation is very important to me—that’s really what you have at the end of the day. The SVN International brand also helped give us a national presence, which has been immensely helpful.

Finally, in terms of whom we employ, we recruit good people and we’re super selective. We employ good people who do good things and our clients recognize that.

What is your approach to real estate services and what sets you apart from other brokerage and advisory firms?

Martin: Our approach is very collaborative and that’s unique in the industry. Most people don’t share what they’re working on at a traditional brokerage. But we all work together as a team to help each other. It’s worked well for us. One of the main things that attracted me to SVN International was that they take the same collaborative approach.

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How did that affiliation impact your growth?

Martin: It changed everything—in a good way! We were ready for a change and it’s given us more access to clients and deals in other markets nationally, which has been a huge advantage.

Given your expertise, how would you describe the current state of the commercial real estate market in central Pennsylvania?

Martin: The current state of commercial real estate here remains excellent. Being near the state capital, we don’t see fluctuations like you do across a lot of the country. Everyone in our office is busier than ever and successfully so.

Please tell us more about some recent notable transactions you were involved in. In what way did those deals stand out?

Martin: It’s so hard to say that one deal stands out over another because every deal is truly important to me, no matter what the size of the transaction is.

I will say that we appreciate it when we receive referrals to national clients from other SVN agents across the country. It’s special to work on a transaction where the SVN brand is represented on both sides—I know that we both subscribe to the principles and ideals of the company and I feel good about how we’re guiding our clients.

What are some of the biggest challenges women in CRE face today?

Martin: It’s still a man’s world and I don’t see that changing. Men will conduct business on the golf course or at the club and that type of environment is something women just don’t get access to in the same way. It’s just a fact but I don’t let it stop or affect me. I know women can be successful. A lot of women are successful in this business. Several are in my office.

There are challenges in every industry, but women have fairly high representation in real estate. Women make up most of all realtors nationwide and about a third of commercial realtors, according to CREW Network, a percentage that’s remained the same for about 15 years. So, while there are fewer of us in CRE, we still represent a significant portion of brokers and bring in a lot of business.

If you look at the national awards for SVN, for example, women are doing incredibly well. As a woman, I am proud of successfully competing within the industry for business and for never making anything personal.

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What valuable lessons have you learned throughout your career? What advice would you give to younger women who are just starting out in this field?

Martin: A few lessons I have learned include: Time kills real estate deals, there’s enough business for everyone and you don’t have to put down the competition to be successful.

As for advice, I’d tell women to get a mentor. I started a company without working at a brokerage first and I wouldn’t recommend that—it took longer to get rolling because there was so much I didn’t know and, initially, it was more of a boutique firm with just me.

Are there any initiatives or programs that SVN | Latus implements to support women in the industry?

Martin: In our office, we do encourage everyone to support each other and I don’t think that’s the norm. When women come here from other offices and tell me how they’ve been treated, it’s quite shocking to me. The stories I could tell.

We hire a lot of talented women. We mentor new agents and provide them support as they learn the industry. We take them to conferences such as SVN | Jumpstart, which is a comprehensive training program offered through SVN International. And we make ourselves available to answer any questions they may have at any time. I always want to pay forward the goodwill that’s been shown to me throughout my career.

How do you plan to continue to adapt and grow, both individually and on a company level?

Martin: Stay flexible, listen to the people I work with to make sure we’re meeting their needs and surround myself with good people that are smarter than me.

I also try to do something educational regularly. I think that’s important to stay up with what’s happening in the industry and also just to stretch my mind.

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