WITH women making up an estimated 46 per cent of real estate agents in WA – and outnumbering their male counterparts in property management – it is probably surprising that it was only just over 30 years ago that the brave few forged a pathway to bring gender equality to the industry.
As part of REIWA’s centenary celebrations this year, the industry body has acknowledged the extraordinary women that were pioneers in WA’s real estate landscape in a new book, A Century of Service.
Of them, Lyn Muir was one of the first women in WA to lead a successful property agency – setting the standard for the 535 REIWA agencies today who are owned or co-owned by women – although she seemingly fell into the industry.
“It was the fault of a kangaroo,” Mrs Muir said.
“An early-morning mishap involving a collision with one on the road from Kalgoorlie to Perth resulted in me being picked up off the side of the road and sitting next to a real estate agent in his car for the next seven hours.
“By the time I got to Perth, I’d committed to working for him.”
Mrs Muir said the industry was almost totally male-dominated at the time when she was first registered in 1979.
“I opened the Yellow Pages and I did manage to find two companies with what appeared to be ladies’ names in their titles,” she said.
“That made me feel better about the possibility of having my own agency under by own name – surely, if they could do it, so could I.
“It was not until many years later I discovered that both Hilary Holland and Loris La Ferla were men.”
Today, Mrs Muir is a senior sales consultant with Professionals Prowest in Willetton.
“I enjoy having the opportunity to help buyers make wise decisions on what is often the biggest commitment of their lives,” she said.
Joss Hampson was another trailblazer who began her real estate career in 1976 with Robertson Bros, and obtained a license in her own name two years later.
“I became a real estate agent when my daughter had just started school, and when I looked at the employment market I found it very hard to go back to being a private secretary as my priority was to her,” Mrs Hampson said.
“Real estate gave me the opportunity to work around school hours and at weekends when my husband was home.”
By 1988, Mrs Hampson became the first woman elected to REIWA council, serving for three years.
Her tenure coincided with rapid change in the industry’s gender demographic, with REIWA recording 1500 women registered for 40 per cent of the study courses available back in 1992.
In December of that year, Mrs Hampson sold her share in Hampson Rodin Realty in Duncraig but continued to work in the industry after being persuaded by former clients.
“But I didn’t go looking for business – it just came to me and took a couple of years to run out,” she said.
“Since retiring, I have travelled extensively over the years and have just returned from spending a white Christmas with my family in Europe.
“I am currently the president of Altone Park Social Bowlers, a position I have held for 12 years.”
Mr Hampson’s council position undoubtedly paved the way for many other women in the industry to follow in her footsteps, most notably Kareena Ballard AM.
Mrs Ballard, at the urging of her father, left a successful career in nursing at Royal Perth Hospital to become a property agent.
She attained her real estate license in 1983 and joined Bill Crosse and Co, but continued to work two late shifts at the hospital.
Then in 1996, Mrs Ballard shattered industry glass ceilings when she was elected REIWA’s first female president.
“My decision to run for president of REIWA was initially because councillors encouraged me to aim high and pushed me along – they were all men and it was obvious they felt it was time for a woman to take the helm,” Mrs Ballard said.
“I was well-versed in real estate matters having actively been involved on most industry committees and attending every presentation to members possible.
“I became very well known to members and knew I had the ability to represent them at the highest level.”
Later in 2003, she was elected president of the national industry association, the Real Estate Institute of Australia, but admits she had to become “one of the blokes” to achieve her career goals.
“I was again well-respected on the REIA board and, in due course, felt that with my excellent people skills and encouragement from REIWA past-president and later national president John Franklyn that I could aim for the top again,” Mrs Ballard said.
“I felt I was equal to the job required and I admit I wanted then to be the first female to hold national presidency of REIA.”
With great power came great sacrifice for Mrs Ballard, who admits there were tough choices she had to make.
“My friends didn’t see a lot of me during those busy years nor my husband,” she said.
“However it was his unwavering support that allowed me to achieve my dream of becoming the first female president of REIA, and also that of my business partner Mike Quin, who acted as a private secretary to me ensuring my sales role locally continued.
“It meant I could deal with the press interviews to discuss real estate practice and policy with ease while appointments and appraisals were arranged for me so none of my clients were let down.
“I remained a grassroots agent opening homes each weekend.”
Mrs Ballard said she never felt the real estate industry was a “boys’ club” until a fellow agent suggested she would be better off at home minding her children.
“It was a red rag to a bull and made me even more determined to succeed,” she said.
“I never spent time seeing myself as female versus male – I just knew I wanted to succeed and earn respect for my hard work.
“The only difficulties were when I had to write offers after 5pm or show properties after-hours.
“I lost many enjoyable hours with my family and had many stressful evenings when I was writing an offer and dinner guests were at my home waiting for the hostess and the food, but the payoff was worth it.
“I continue to work in my Como office at Jones Ballard Property Group but have taken some pressure off myself.”
* A Century of Service is available for public viewing at the State Library of WA as part of the public exhibition celebrating 100 years of REIWA service. The exhibition runs in the State Library’s Ground Floor Gallery until May 31.