Because buying and selling a home are such personal transactions, many of us get to know our real estate agents very well. But there are some things we may not know, including what they used to do before they were at our beck and call in pursuit of our dream homes. It’s fascinating to discover that most real estate agents entered the field after working in completely different professions. 

Maria Elias, Coldwell Banker Gundaker

    Maria Elias’ resume is as varied as they come: retail buyer, flight attendant, stable owner and estate keeper. And that’s all before she became a realtor, a career she embarked on almost 20 years ago.

    Elias entered the workforce as an assistant buyer for the former Boyds Department Store, but soon took off on another career. “Retail was fun, but it was a lot of work,” she says. “One day, a co-worker mentioned that she had a cousin who traveled across the country, so I went for an interview, and the next thing I knew, I was flying for American Airlines.”

    After working as a flight attendant for five years, Elias got married and moved back to St. Louis, where she and her husband built Town & Country Stables. “I knew nothing about horses, but my ex-husband was a vet, and it was his passion,” she says. “We boarded and trained horses, and I learned through baptism by fire, shall we say.”

    When her husband’s job took their family of four to Chicago, Elias became a stay-at-home mom. But when the kids got old enough for school, Elias took on her ‘most interesting job’ to date: managing an artists’ retreat called Ragdale Foundation. “It was the estate of Howard Van Doren Shaw, a prominent architect in the 1800s,” she explains. “We’d have artists, writers, composers and playwrights stay there for residencies of up to two months. There were no phones or other distractions, so they could really do their work.”

   Another job opportunity brought the family back to St. Louis, and that’s when Elias started to think about getting into real estate. “When we sold our home in Lake Forest, Ill., I got to know our realtor and I loved her,” she recalls. “She got me interested in real estate.”

    With children at home, Elias says the flexibility that real estate offered appealed to her. “It’s something you can go into immediately, it’s very accessible,” she says. “I loved it from day one.” She began her career working for a company as a relocation specialist, and then came to Coldwell Banker Gundaker in 2000 as a full-service agent. “Everything I’ve done has been about service; it’s sort of my specialty,” she says. “I really do love people, and I enjoy helping them and getting to know their families.” 

Wayne Norwood, Gladys Manion

    Wayne Norwood never planned to go into real estate, but after randomly surveying more than two dozen close and not-so-close associates, he decided to give it a try. “I asked 28 people, none of them in real estate, about what I should do next,” he recalls. “Twenty-five of them said I’d be terrific as a realtor!”

    Before real estate, Norwood spent more than 20 years in the apparel industry, 11 of them with May Company. He says a couple of incidents led to his decision to do something different with his life. “I used to travel every week, but after 9/11, air travel became more difficult,” he says. “It also reminded me of the fragility of life, and that there were other things that mattered more.” A second incident involved a missed flight. “It was on a Friday, I missed a flight in the rain,” he says. “I got home at 11 o’clock that night, and it seemed everyone else was already safe at home sleeping.”

    At that point, Norwood says, it came time to re-examine his life. “I was over 50, and I did not want to sit on airplanes for the rest of my life,” he says. “I needed to figure out what I wanted to do for the long haul.” So after the aforementioned advice of friends, Norwood decided to take the plunge. “It was a combination of gut instinct: listening to what people said, and trusting the process.”

    At first, Norwood didn’t think he would make it as a realtor, but all he needed was his first sale. “My first sale involved some really big people on the buy side who broke me into the industry,” he says. “I got a lucky break!” Getting his broker’s license was also a big deal. “When I hooked up with Gladys Manion owner Stafford Manion, he told me to get my broker’s license. At first, I didn’t want to do it, but the moment ‘broker’ showed up on my business card, my outlook changed 100 percent,” Norwood says. “It made me think I could really do this.”

   He says hard work, integrity and a faith-based life have sustained him over the years. “I’ve learned that if I keep my head down and keep my nose to the grindstone, as well as avoid distractions and stay committed to my goals, amazing things begin to happen.”

Katie Kirk, Janet McAfee

    Even though Katie Kirk has been a full-time agent for only two years, she’s been ‘training’ for a real estate career all her life. “I grew up influenced by it,” she says. “My mom has been an agent for more than 25 years, and I also had three aunts in real estate.” Later, Kirk would get her hands-on experience working side-by-side with her mom, Vicki Kirk Holton. “She was getting pretty busy and needed my help on evenings and weekends,” Kirk says. “In 2001, I got my license.” 

     At the time, Kirk worked as director of guidance at Rosati-Kain High School, where she also taught psychology. “I did that for eight years, then I got to the point where I needed to move on,” she says. “When I started thinking about what I might do next, my mom reminded me, You have a license, why don’t you give real estate a try?”

    These days, Kirk, along with her mom and stepdad David Holton, make up the Kirk Holton Team at Janet McAfee. “I really enjoy working with them,” she says. “We know each other well and play off our strengths.”

    In addition, Kirk says her years as a counselor and teacher have served her well as an agent. “Counseling involves listening, problem-solving and people skills, all crossover skills that work for me in real estate,” she says. “Just as when dealing with teenage girls anything can walk through the door, any kind of situation can come up in real estate.”

    And having a background in psychology has helped Kirk soothe clients during what can be an emotional and stressful time. “Instinct and intuition go a long way,” she says. “You pick up on what else may be going on in a person’s life that’s contributing to the stress level, and use that knowledge to help move them through the process.”