Reinvent Yourself Richer

Four women who left behind a five-figure salary, took a daring leap into a new career, and now make from $150,000 to $1 million.

By Kate Ashford
Photograph: Illustration by: Darren Braun

Success strategy: "My life became next to impossible. But you can do next to impossible."

Wendy Maitland, of New York City, had been a psychotherapist for more than a decade when her enjoyment of the profession started to wane. In her late 30s and in the midst of a divorce, she wanted to build a foundation for her kids’ future and provide them with opportunities. She also didn’t want to be "at the mercy of my kids’ father," says Maitland, now 44. During her divorce, she bought and renovated an apartment for her family and eventually sold it at a profit. Then she moved to another place and, through a broker, flipped that one as well. Maitland discovered that she "enjoyed the challenge of targeting the right buyer and strategizing," she says. Soon she thought, wow, I can do this.

Maitland continued her psychotherapy practice but began the process of procuring her broker’s license and learning all she could about the business. She attended open houses and noted how people made their living spaces comfortable. Once she had her license, she found a job with Citi Habitats but held on to her practice until she was making more money as a real estate agent than as a therapist, which took two years. On weekdays, she would toggle between her two offices, pick her kids up at school, cook dinner, help with homework, and then return e-mails and calls in the evening. "There were times when juggling my life became next to impossible," she says. "But you can do next to impossible."

Thanks to her experience as a psychotherapist, Maitland was used to listening to people and interpreting behavior, so she found it easy to know what buyers and sellers wanted. She was also good at determining how best to interest a particular buyer. "I’m always thinking about what people need in order to get comfortable with me and with the deal," she says.

Maitland got her first clients through friends and the rest through sheer persistence, placing ads and cold-calling. "I knew I had to pay my dues," she says. "If an apartment had a muddy floor, I’d get down on my knees and scrub it. Nobody could work harder than I could." She persuaded one foreign businessman to let her broker the sale of his $20 million penthouse by selling two lofts he owned for more than $3 million apiece. She also found an apartment for Woody Allen after a friend told her he was looking.

During her first year as a broker, she equaled her income as a psychotherapist. The next year, she doubled it. Today, she’s a senior vice president at Brown Harris Stevens and a managing director of her own division; Maitland is making more than eight times her old salary while devising new business strategies in response to 2009’s bruised real estate market. She recently set the record for the highest price per square foot ($4,000) for a townhouse in Manhattan. Her high-income profession has even helped her love life: The independence is "empowering," she says. "It allows me to choose my relationships from a point of strength and confidence."

Originally published in MORE magazine, March 2009.

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