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Wednesday, Aug 10, 2022
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Call Coleen Kirnan on a typical afternoon and you’re likely to hear her children squealing in the background. The president of Kirnan Commercial, a retail real estate brokerage in Van Nuys, has woven Hayley, 3, and Sean, 2, into her workday, along with leases and architectural drawings. In fact, Kirnan set up her brokerage a year and a half ago precisely because she wanted to work her schedule around her children. And she makes no excuses for it. “It’s who I am,” Kirnan said. “Anyone always has the right to hire us or not, and that’s OK too.” These days, many women find themselves juggling careers with family obligations, but Kirnan is something of a rarity in the real estate industry. Though the landscape is changing, particularly in the retail sector, few women hold down jobs as commercial real estate brokers and fewer still run their own companies let alone doing it while raising two young children. “You see a lot more women brokers these days,” said Greg Whitney, a senior associate with CB Richard Ellis Inc. “But I don’t know how many women are owners of a brokerage firm in Southern California. Not too many.” Kirnan and a handful of others like her say they’ve chosen to strike out on their own because independence makes it easier to juggle the demands of professional and family life. Independence also provides something else they can’t get within the confines of a large organization: control over everything from their time and finances to decision making. “I think so many times, you’re working for another company and you’re making commitments and you really don’t have control over the direction the company is taking,” said Robin Jordan, president and co-owner of the Real Estate Group, a Los Angeles property management firm. “If we say we’re going to do something, we’re going to do it.” Kirnan made the leap to her own business after 13 years with the Riley Cos. The principals at the shopping center development firm decided to go their separate ways, and Kirnan was able to lure one of their former clients, Valencia Marketplace, to her new venture. By working as an independent, she figured she could save commuting time, and with voicemail and pagers, she would not be tied to the office. Besides, she could catch up on paperwork at home during the evenings when the kids were asleep. “I needed the flexibility, and this allowed me a vehicle to do that,” Kirnan said. Kirnan has since picked up four other clients, and now represents Stevenson Ranch Plaza, Santa Clarita Place, Pomona Marketplace and Mission Plaza in the city of San Fernando, among other shopping centers. She works with one other leasing agent, Shauna Mattis, who came with her from Riley because she was pregnant and seeking a similar opportunity to balance her personal and professional needs. For clients, the arrangement means that Kirnan Commercial is available virtually around the clock. “I call her three times a week starting at 5:45 in the morning,” said Jim Brown, vice president of real estate development for Valencia Co., the Newhall Land and Farming Co. division that operates Valencia Marketplace. “And then in the evenings, she’s there at 7 or 8 at night. So her hours parallel mine, and I find that very unusual with most brokers.” Others who have chosen to hang out their own shingle point out that as an independent, they can make their own rules in other ways as well. When Susan Casamassima, a former leasing agent who simplifies her name to Sue Casa for her business, decided five years ago to switch gears and focus on investment sales of freestanding retail units like supermarkets and video stores, she realized that independents would actually have an advantage over large brokerages. These firms, in essence, charge twice for their services paying a commission on each sale to the broker, and also taking a cut for the house. Casamassima realized that on her own, she could charge a smaller commission because she’s only paying herself, not the brokerage. “I don’t need to take 2 & #733; (percentage) points and give half to the house,” said Casamassima, principal of Brentwood-based SSC Investments. “I get much more access to developers because I’m willing to take a smaller fee. I end up making the same amount, but they’re happier because they’re spending less money.” Most of the women who own their own firms don’t subscribe to conventional wisdom about women in a man’s world. They believe they succeed or fail not by their gender, but by their expertise. And some have carved out specialized niches that give them an advantage. Kirnan’s specialty, landlord representation, is unusual in the brokerage community, in which agencies tend to handle both landlords and tenants. And Casamassima shares her specialty with a small, tightly knit group of brokers who are typically independents as well. “(Clients) are not going to say to me, ‘I’m not going to buy the product because you’re a woman,’ ” she said. “They’re going to say, ‘You’ve got the best product, so I’m going to buy it from you.'”

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