This article first appeared in Real Estate magazine’s special-edition Women in Real Estate issue. View the entire issue here.
Vitals: RE/MAX Integra
Years in business: 40
Total regions served: 14
After starting her career as a top-producing agent in Toronto, Ontario, Fiona Petrie relocated to the U.S., and her career path led her into a bevy of corporate leadership positions, including an executive-level position at Homes.com.
From there, Petrie took on the role of COO at Beazley Company REALTORS®, where she worked to put processes in place to integrate and improve both company and agent practices and productivity.
She joined RE/MAX Integra in 2006 and worked her way up the corporate ladder, spearheading franchise business growth and the expansion of its North American footprint. Today, she serves as executive vice president and managing director of U.S. operations for the company, supporting brokerages in Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Indiana.
What was your company’s response when the pandemic began?
Fiona Petrie: As remote work became less exclusive, and more of a requirement due to shelter-in-place orders, our corporate team, along with our brokerages in the nine U.S. states we serve, were forced to batten down the hatches, so to speak. Luckily for us, we were already prepared for this “new normal.” Two years ago, in an effort to modernize, we transitioned our corporate team members to a completely remote work environment. Given this, prior to the pandemic, we had already embraced and understood the benefits and challenges of working remotely. When the pandemic hit, we felt prepared with the virtual and remote strategies and processes we had already become accustomed to, but faced new challenges.
What sort of challenges?
FP: One of the biggest challenges the RE/MAX Integra corporate team faced amid the pandemic was supporting our broker/owners as they navigated running their offices and leading their agents through the crisis, while figuring out what the new normal was in their markets. Our team took swift action to ensure all RE/MAX Integra brokers, agents and clients were well supported during these challenging and evolving times. We developed an online COVID-19 Resource Hub for broker/owners and agents, which outlined all the need-to-know information for practicing real estate across the U.S., including topics on virtual business strategies, financial relief and guidance, and boosting productivity.
The pandemic did not just require us to work from home, but to shelter in place, which was a new dynamic for all of us. We had to find ways to maintain corporate culture while overcoming cabin fever, and we did so through themed Zoom calls, virtual scavenger hunts and online birthday lunches.
How do you support women in real estate and work to create strong women leaders like yourself?
FP: There are many opportunities to transform the perception of women in real estate. Women can be strong leaders in real estate, and it is important to foster such leadership through female empowerment programs. In 2017, we launched RE/MAX Integra’s Ladies in Leadership program in the U.S., which encompassed biannual dinners adjacent to larger RE/MAX conventions. In 2019, we expanded that to include female agents from RE/MAX Integra’s Ontario-Atlantic region. This forum has become extremely important and popular, as it allows female leaders to connect on a biannual basis across borders.
What is the key to recruiting and retaining strong agents?
FP: The key to recruiting and retaining top talent amid the pandemic has been strong proactive leadership and hyper-communication. Brokers, agents and consumers are all looking for the same thing: a trusted advisor. Brokers that listened to their agents and offered guidance, tools and knowledge to transact real estate in a virtual environment suffered little to no attrition. Brokers who fostered a culture of acceptance and embraced the individual needs of their agents won at the end of the day. Brokers who found shelter-in-place as a time to make thoughtful and caring phone calls to agents outside of their company fared well in growing and attracting top producers.
What consumer trends are you seeing?
FP: As a result of the pandemic, prospective homebuyers’ preferences have changed to meet new living and working situations. Home styles that were considered outdated have seen a resurgence in popularity—for instance, those that have a closed-concept design. In recent years, open concept has been the gold standard. With extended remote work situations and consumers spending more time in their homes, people were looking for homes with enclosed rooms where they can retreat for work, school or relaxation. Therefore, the resale market for homes with closed-room designs has heated up.
What do you enjoy about being a strong woman leader in the field?
FP: One of my favorite parts about working in real estate, and with RE/MAX Integra specifically, is that I am constantly forced out of my comfort zone. In my experience, until you do the “uncomfortable,” you’ll never learn or change for the better.
Keith Loria is a contributing editor to RISMedia.