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Women’s Month: Real estate is their passion

MAIN IMAGE: Chantelle Nieuwendyk, head of client services and Sarah Whitehead, head of sales at PayProp.

Danie Keet

August is women’s month and  there are many women in the real estate industry playing a vital role in building it into one of the corner stones of the South African economy. This month we will focus on some of these women who play an important part in the industry.

Chantelle Nieuwendyk (CN) is the head of client services and Sarah Whitehead (SW), head of sales at PayProp and this is how they regard their roles in the industry:

Where did you grow up and what was your family life like?

CN: I grew up in Paarl, in a single-mom household with my sister who is 8 years younger than me.

SW: I was born on the  North Coast in Umdloti and grew up in a mining community in the North West Province. We have a tight-knit family, filled with strong, cheerful female members starting with our still active 90-year-old grandmother. The values my parents instilled into me form the cornerstone of how I conduct myself professionally today. A solid foundation build on kindness and a dash of humour to help get you through a tough day.

Did your parents influence you in choosing a career?

CN: No, my mother always allowed me the freedom to make those decisions myself. She supported me and guided me, yes, but she allowed me to make my own mistakes.

SW: Encourage would be more of the word I would use. From an early age the sky was the limit and that anything was possible, based on their encouragement. My mother held a sales manager position which I realise now must have influenced me in this direction. My late father, an artist, taught me to love reading from an early age which piqued my interest in a variety of subjects and crafted my personality. I am thankful to have had incredibly encouraging parents who offered me the space to be myself and develop into the person I am today.

Where did you go to school and how did your career path develop after school?

CN: Paarl Gimnasium. My career journey started approximately two years after school when I went for an interview to be a receptionist at an estate agency.

SW: I attended an American curriculum-based private school and obtained a Bachelor of Commerce degree in Economics with International Trade from the North-West University. My first job after school was working with another inspirational female family member who founded one of South Africa’s oldest modelling agencies. I then spent some time working within my field of study in International Trade, before entering real estate, where I found my passion.

Who were your strongest influences in life?

CN: Three amazing women who I worked with at an estate agency – they took me in and gave me confidence, love, and patience.

SW: The people closest to me, who serve as my inspiration. My mom, sister and fiancé remain my biggest cheerleaders and support system. I also look up to businesswoman Sara Blakely, the first self-made female billionaire to sign the Giving Pledge, a commitment to contribute at least half of her wealth to charitable causes. She once shared that the best career advice given to her was to not be afraid to fail – words I have tried to live by ever since.

Why did you come join the real estate industry?

CN: It was not an idea that I came up with, as such. I wanted a change from where I was working and could not afford to go to university at that time. I had an interview, secured an entry-level job at a real estate agency, and then never left the industry!

SW: I have always held a keen amateur interest in property design – architectural and interior. My interest in exploring a career in property came from getting to know PayProp as a company through an acquaintance, and its charitable roots in particular – the founders of PayProp also founded charity fundraising platform GivenGain. I always wanted to work for a company that aims to make a positive impact in the world.

What are you most proud of accomplishing so far in the real estate industry?

CN: My growth throughout my journey – I started at an estate agency as a receptionist, worked my butt off, and am now the Head of Client Services at PayProp South Africa, which is part of a global organisation.

SW: Being involved in revolutionising the way South African real estate agencies handle client money. We want to make the biggest positive impact in the real estate market, and we want to do it the right way: by caring about our clients and showing trust and transparency in everything we do.

What part of your current job do you like most?

CN: The different challenges that each day brings. Figuring out how to make processes better, finding out what is wrong and how to fix it. I enjoy empowering my team to be better as well – to do better, grow and be inquisitive.

SW: The company culture and people I work with. A positive organisational culture is key to feeling motivated and inspired at work. Like myself, many team members have been with the company for years. We are not just colleagues, but old friends.

What are the biggest challenges in the industry at the moment?

CN: The uncertainty when it comes to the regulator / regulations and changes that are not always as clear as they could be.

SW: Not challenges, but two changes I would like to see. I want to see a younger, more diverse generation of entrants starting careers in real estate, and the emergence of new PropTech start-ups with a vision to enrich the industry.

What advice would you give someone who is considering entering the real estate industry?

CN: You have endless possibilities. You will never be bored. You need to love people and challenges. If you join this industry, it will be your love – always.

SW: If it interests you and you love people, go for it. There is great potential in a variety of niches within the industry if you are willing to put in the work.

Trust your gut and always be true to yourself. Embrace the challenges that come along – they are opportunities to grow. And find a mentor: there are so many incredibly inspirational go-getters in this industry.

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