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Is Her Future as a Fixer Upper?

Contemplating a career change from architecture to real estate

Real Estate Agent Melissa Watts

Poon Watchara-Amphaiwan

For Melissa Watts, could an architectural background make for a smart career change into real estate?

The Worker

After spending much of her career designing broadcast facilities for major media companies, including CNN and NPR, Melissa Watts left her in-house design and construction position at SiriusXM Radio earlier this year. Now, instead of remaining in architecture, Watts wants to build a real estate practice as an agent whose unique architectural background will help clients interested in buying fixer-uppers. "If you want to buy the worst house in a nice neighborhood, I can help," she says. "I can look at that house and tell you which walls are load bearing and how the plumbing is routed."

In addition to taking a real estate course, Watts, who lives in Bethesda, Maryland, has been attending local open houses to get a better handle on the market and to network and meet potential partners. Still, she knows starting over won't be easy, and she wonders how to best build up a client base and manage her time now that she is no longer beholden to a corporate schedule.

The Expert

While Watts' architecture background might be an asset to some clients, Los Angeles–based real estate coach Kevin Ward cautions against relying on it too heavily. "The number of clients buying and selling houses who need an architect is limited, but it does give her credibility," he says. Ward suggests that Watts spend at least three hours each day cultivating a broad range of potential clients by visiting open houses, talking to friends and following up on leads.

See also: Career at a crossroads

The Takeaway

  • When you launch a new career, having a specialty can help you stand out, but you don't want to make your focus so narrow that it limits your clientele and growth.
  • After recently passing her Maryland real estate licensing exam, Watts says she's ready to find a variety of clients, and not just those interested in her architectural expertise.
  • She says she will start practicing her sales pitch, to give to friends as well as prospective clients at open houses, so that she can learn "what to say and how you say it."

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