In celebration of National Hispanic Heritage Month, we invited Douglas Elliman agents to share their experiences and talk about the role their heritage has played in their real estate career.
Carolyn Zweben, New York City Real Estate Agent
How do you prefer to identify yourself within the umbrella of “Hispanic Heritage”?
I would consider myself Latin American. I was born in the United States, but my whole family is from El Salvador. We make sure to travel to Central America at least once a year with our children to visit extended family.
What aspects of your identity are most meaningful for you? Are there cultural traditions or historic moments or other elements that are a particular source of pride?
My childhood consisted of delicious Central American food, family always around and celebrations of every holiday or birthday, and that to me is what has carried through to my family and children. We have taken on and added many American traditions and certainly Jewish celebrations, but we always celebrate the Central American heritage that is always present.
How did you find your path to success in real estate?
I was in art sales for several years, and I loved it, but the money at the time was not as exciting to me. When I started dating my now husband, we went to an open house before brunch, and like every real estate broker when they start out, I thought, This looks easy! LOL. That was over 20 years ago. My first year in real estate, I made $3,334 dollars; my second year, I made $86,000; the third year, $167,000—and the rest is history. It is the hardest I have ever worked, the happiest I have ever been and the most money I have ever made.
What values or elements of your heritage do you draw strength from in your work as an agent?
I was raised to treat every situation as if it is my own and when you consider people in this way, whether or not they are clients, I find that it is difficult to make mistakes. If you care about a person’s transaction in the way that you would your own, you will always think of them first. My parents also raised me to always find a solution and believe there is always a way to make anything happen. They both came to this country with nothing in the 1960s, and they always found a way to succeed, to get ahead, to pay the bills—and still make time to celebrate everything.
What impact, if any, has your identity had on your experience in the real estate industry? Are there specific moments or episodes from over the years that illustrate that experience?
To be honest, being Latin or Central American has never made me feel less than or better than within this industry. I happen to work for a company that has always been extremely inclusive, and so there is no definition or distinction of race, color or culture at all among our peers that has ever impacted my experience in this industry In a negative way. As far as clients go, I strongly feel my relationship with them and the trust they have had in me over 22 years are based on the hard work we put in to make their experience as seamless as possible.
What would you like your industry colleagues to understand about your experience and what can they do to be better allies of your community?
Truthfully, nothing. I don’t think it should be any colleagues’ responsibility to understand my experience as a Latin woman because that is my own personal experience. If I had ever had any negative experience due to my skin tone or culture, that would be different perhaps, but that has never been the case. I have only had positive experiences with respect to cultural differences in my industry and within my company. Everyone respects one another and is inclusive, and anyone with a great work ethic and pride in working hard would feel welcome at our company.
How do you think brokerages like Elliman can help foster greater diversity in the industry?
In my humble opinion, I believe they are already a diverse company. There is no reason why anyone with a Latin background should feel they couldn’t be successful in this industry or that they would be ignored or left out. On the contrary, they should feel they would be embraced. Anyone who works hard and wants to be successful can do well in this industry.