In the late 2000s, I went to buy a house, and it was not my first time buying real estate. I had a feeling from the first inspection that it was meant to be mine, and I was right.
I went to several inspections, had my name and contact details recorded, and yet had no conversations with the selling agents. I was in my early 30s and on my own. I slipped in and out of the property unnoticed.
On the day of the auction, there was a sizeable crowd, including some rich-looking folk who turned up in their Range Rovers.
I turned up in my grandparents’ old Ford Falcon with a bucket in the back seat due to a bout of gastro. I felt a bit intimidated but I’d been house-hunting for nine months by this stage and had missed out at several auctions so I also had the sense I had nothing to lose.
The auction commenced and I came in towards the end with a few bids. I could see the auctioneer’s assistant frantically going through his list of people who had attended the inspections.
They couldn’t identify me – a young woman on her own, wearing tracky dacks, who looked a slightly green shade of pale. I eventually lodged the winning bid.
The woman I was bidding against was talking to her husband on the phone and had to get his agreement for each bid. I didn’t need anyone’s permission.
When the auction was over, the real estate agents were all over me. They had to ask me what my name was. One asked to give me a congratulatory kiss. All of a sudden I was the woman of the moment.
Inside the house, the champagne was popped. As the documents were being signed, I was asked the usual questions; are you going to live in the house? Are you married? Any children? Did you know you are in the prized school zone?
Fast forward to 2017 and I needed to move again. I am 38 years old this time. I have a very short time in which to purchase a new place to live. Again, I find a place that I think is ideal.
It is very popular during the inspections, so I only have occasional words with the agent during the process. I did, however, ask for the contract which I received. During this time, I have another ‘backup’ property on my radar.
It is my second choice and the auction is scheduled for the week after. I attend the open house one cold evening and only one other person shows up. There was plenty of time to speak to the two young, male agents about the property, and I asked them to email me the contract. Over the next fortnight, I ask for the contract another two times. It never arrives.
I turn up to the auction for the preferred property. Again, I am on my own. I tend to perform better when I don’t have anyone murmuring in my ear to distract me. I have done this before and can hold my nerve pretty well.
I am more frightened of driving through the claustrophobic Burnley Tunnel than I am of bidding at an auction. It is a large crowd with lots of first home buyers and young people being supported by family members. The auctioneer is probably in his mid 30s, with a younger female agent assisting him.
My first bid is at the midway point. The other two bidders are men who are accompanied by their partners. Then it is just me and one couple. The auctioneer makes fun of my funny ‘cat lady’ jumper to the crowd. I smile and laugh along, playing the game.
A few minutes later, when my bid is leading, the auctioneer turns to the male bidder and says, “C’mon mate, knock her off her perch.” There is an audible gasp from the women in the crowd standing near me. I smile in disbelief and shake my head. I knew I had a little more gas in the tank and could keep bidding. The couple pulled out.
At the conclusion, people clapped and I was relieved. I approached the auctioneer and the first thing I said to him was, “you’re a cheeky so and so – what was that about?” He laughed it off. It was all part of the game.
His agent colleague said later she didn’t really understand what he meant. I told her what he meant and she was a little taken aback. He was polite for the remainder of the transaction and helpful in the weeks and months following, but I could not forget the comment – was I an old bird who needed to be taken down a rung or two and put in my place by a man?
Who was this upstart? How dare she confidently bid without having to get on the phone and get approval from another person! How can this crazy cat lady possibly pay for this house?
I relayed the experience to various friends and colleagues. Women were mostly outraged. One friend commented that the agent had made a ‘big mistake’ in making such a comment to me.
Another younger woman at work told me of her experiences in the rental market; in attending inspections and being both ignored and dismissed by male agents, with one even laughing at her after she asked a question. I was horrified and annoyed.
Women being dismissed and mocked by real estate agents seems like a regular occurrence.
Women could not obtain home loans without her husband’s signature until well into the 1980s. Given that was only thirty-odd years ago, and in my lifetime, is it going to take another thirty years for the real estate industry to come to terms with women wheeling and dealing in the property market?
Are some men so easily threatened by the possibility that some women might be able to afford a nicer property than they can?
The problem is good old-fashioned sexism. There is a changing of the guard – women are claiming their rightful place and space in property.
They are not shrinking to make themselves smaller; they are out there, doing what they want and need to do. And this makes some people, in the real estate industry (and other industries of course), very, very uncomfortable.