By Grace Cassidy
Some 30 years since she began her career in real estate, Lena White honestly can’t remember what drew her to the business.
“Directly out of school, real estate has been my sole career,” White recalled. “I really did not even know anyone in real estate at the time.”
The West Virginia native took night classes to earn her license and started out as an assistant to a broker at a local boutique firm.
“By the end of the first year, the brokerage merged with a major franchise,” she said. “Little did I know then my career would be a series of mergers and acquisitions.”
Building on the continued mentorship of that first broker and a pivotal move with her husband to Sarasota, Fla., 25 years ago, White has leveraged those mergers and acquisitions into an impressive career Florida real estate.
Now, as Managing Broker for Douglas Elliman’s recently opened Naples branch office and the brokerage’s Senior Regional Director for Florida – West Coast, White is helping the company to expand its presence on the Gulf Coast. She spoke with Elliman Insider about the importance of being a brokerage that supports its sales associates, the evolution of Florida real estate and lessons learned from 30 years in the business.
Tell us about your new role and how it fits into Elliman’s growth in Florida.
In addition to overseeing the branch operations in Naples, I meet with sales associates and brokerages that have interest in aligning with Douglas Elliman and our unique national platform connecting our clients in all the markets they naturally want to be in. As we build the company’s presence on the west coast of Florida, our focus is not in numbers but rather quality. We are selective, seeking like-minded, experienced professionals in the industry to support our business, referral activity and service the portfolios of our clients in niche markets across Florida.
I firmly believe—and have experienced—that when you, as an agent, align with the right national brand, you can open your business plan to new channels of action that result in potential revenue, from networking with like-minded peers to solidify a referral stream to accessing tools and technology that can take a plan on paper and make it a process with accountability.
These are just a few of the areas of support you receive when you choose the right brokerage that I commonly share with people. Especially now, when the market is challenging overall, the independence of a sales associate grows weary and often those associates want to be a part of something larger and lean toward their brokerage peers.
Brokerages that do not offer associate support are less popular in times like ours.
How have you observed the Florida real estate market changing over the years?
Florida is a vast marketplace and changing all the time. It is a place where people experience life cycles of change—they vacation here, they buy a vacation property, they retire and return as full-time residents, often they transition to assisted living or leave Florida entirely to return to family as their lives require more dependency. Every stage creates change and opportunity for a real estate transaction.
Over time, we have seen more of the coastlines transition to luxury towers, which has made beach access for those not living on the water increasingly challenging. The old Florida, with a slower pace, is somewhat shrinking. Not only have cow fields grown into gated communities, but our feeder markets are changing as well. As COVID locked down our international clients, we also saw it stir clients from California and major cities such as New York, Boston, and Chicago to begin a permanent transition to the Sunshine State. This was a shift from the traditional Midwest client. Many of the businesses that service those Northerners are coming with them, bringing about a slight change in service and retail trends from banks to restaurants.
One thing that hasn’t changed—people buy Florida based on the climate. Our beautiful weather brings more opportunity to live outdoors. Whether that lifestyle is boating, golfing, beach-walking or just being out in the warm weather, Florida provides residents with healthy living options that you cannot get everywhere.
Looking back, can you share any highlights from your career?
I have had many highlights. I have traveled internationally on business and have been fortunate to have worked with some of the best in the industry, from sales to leadership. To choose one is incredibly challenging. I have met incredible people with impressive titles, and I have met brilliant people with no titles. I would like to say I took away a little bit from each to grow in my career and as an individual.
Real estate has grown with me through moving out of state, starting over, raising a family, and other life stages. Thirty years since I worked with that first broker, she is still my mentor and lifelong friend. I consider myself fortunate that she is still a part of my life and distance has not separated us.
When you are choosing a career, there are not many jobs in which you can be successful, help your clients, and control your income—and sometimes, your schedule—as real estate provides.
Some of my experiences have positioned me to be a part of projects that have been leading edge either to the brand I was with or in the marketplace in general. It is nice when you can be a pacesetter and share your ideas to help contribute to someone’s technique, business practice or overall career. There is a highlight itself just in giving back.