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With eyes on much easier living, good schooling for kids, Jaffas jump from the corporate ladder

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When Hamilton real estate agent Megan Smith runs open homes, it’s noticeable how many Aucklanders attend.

They have their eyes on the easier living, reduced commute, good schools for their kids, and Hamilton is proving a drawcard.

Some are families, some are professional couples, and they are looking for affordability and a higher quality of life. “So there’s a lot to be said for the Tron,” Smith says.

In a way, her story is similar. She has made her own lifestyle change, switching to real estate from a high-powered corporate career in Hamilton.

Most recently, she was a general manager at Hill Laboratories, after earlier senior stints including marketing manager at Agrifeeds and CEO at Bowel Cancer NZ.

But something was missing.

“I had been very purposeful about it. But what I didn’t expect was that because I’m a people person, there’s a certain loneliness attached to those roles.

“What’s given me joy in business is customer or client happiness with a service or product, and the further up the food chain you get, the more removed you are often from the end user.”

Smith stepped off the ladder at the end of last year, and had an at-home sabbatical. The dogs were well-walked, after a while the herbs and spices were neatly stashed in alphabetical order and she realised it was time to get back into the paid workforce. “That was like a gap year for working adults. I had a nice time, but I didn’t see it as a long-term gig.”

The switch to real estate was accompanied by trepidation about the likely reaction from friends and contacts. But to her surprise, many of them said they had also considered taking exactly the same step.

Her timing – she got her licence three weeks before this interview – is double edged.

While house prices are booming, it’s not necessarily the easiest time to get into the industry, because of a shortage of properties on the market.

There was also the cost: $1000 to do the courses involved and a further $1000 for the licence. But her husband was supportive and she knew she wanted to be her own boss. Real estate gave her that opportunity, and she could bring her well-honed corporate organisational skills.

“Maybe it’s just the courage to jump and that’s where the angst comes in: ‘Oh my God, it’s a big fat fail if you don’t make it in this, because it’s such a public fail’. But I have to say I find it so invigorating, so refreshing,” she says.

“You’re on your own, you’re really resting on your own reputation to
get the job done.”

She went with family-owned Lodge, partly because its community commitment aligned with her own values – she has been a director of social impact organisation RAW, set up to support at-risk women, and is chair of the St Paul’s Foundation.

What would her advice be for anyone contemplating the plunge?

It’s about building trust, reputation and significant networks.

“Back yourself. Absolutely back yourself. But don’t think you’re going to be making it overnight. It’s hard graft and you must have attention to detail. And if you’re a happy communicator like me, you must remember you’ve got to do more listening than talking.”

It’s also about being bold.

“I’ve been on the phone, I’ve texted, I’ve direct messaged, I’ve used social media, I’ve used email contacts, and, God forbid, I’ve even gone door knocking around my own neighbourhood,” she says.

“You can’t be a shrinking violet, scared to get out there. You’re going to be your own brand so you better make sure it’s one that’s a trusted brand with a good reputation.”

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