How a new mindset (and Data Models and Decisions) helped change this realtor’s world

Sarita Dua runs a residential real estate practice in Portland, Oregon and is an industry speaker and coach and is a member of the MIT EMBA class of 2020.

How a new mindset (and DMD) helped change this realtor’s world

When I came to the MIT Executive MBA program, I wasn’t planning to change jobs or industries. As a real estate broker and business owner, it was more about improving my leadership skills and personal growth. What I quickly learned, though, is that this program not only changes how you look at the world, it also changes your world because of that new perspective.

Early in my first year at MIT, a developer announced plans to build a 35-story high-rise on a city block in downtown Portland. It would include retail, offices, the city’s first five-star hotel, and 15 floors of residential co-branded condos. Owners would have access to the hotel’s concierge, fitness, spa, etc. The hotel was looking for a listing broker to sell the condos.

If this project had come up a year ago, I probably would have found it interesting, but not that relevant to me. I have a lot of luxury condo sales experience, yet I hadn’t worked with new construction hotel-branded condos. But as an MIT student, I thought: Why not me? I realized that I could bring a lot of value to this project based on a combination of past experience and MIT knowledge. I decided to throw my hat into the ring for the listing.

Most realtors advertise with billboards and their headshot photos on their business cards. (Think Phil Dunphy from Modern Family.) When we interview for a listing, we talk about how many properties we have sold. But I realized that by applying concepts I learned at MIT, particularly in Data, Models and Decisions (DMD), I could offer so much more.

To prepare my pitch, I analyzed and interpreted market data using statistics to look at pricing, customer segmentation, and competitors in global markets. I did a quantitative analysis on each building over the past four years of sales history. I made my pitch less about me and more about the market, the competition, and our strategy for finding our buyer.

My ability to make sense of the data to create a competitive strategy worked. I got the job as the exclusive listing broker! And I continue to use concepts from several MIT courses for this project.

Organizational Processes (OP)– In OP, I learned about political, strategic, and cultural lenses. The political lens was especially important in this project because the construction would displace a lot of popular food carts that are near and dear to the hearts of Portland residents. The project team needed to tread carefully and find temporary homes for those food carts until construction was finished. That meant conducting a lot of community outreach and listening to people’s concerns. Our overall message was that we are trying to do a good thing for the city. We highlighted how the subsidies from this project would bring in funds needed for more low-income housing. And we would hire hundreds of employees for construction and the hotel. The mayor of our city agreed with the positives, and he stated that “it felt like everyone was sitting at the same side of the table” at the groundbreaking ceremony.

Applied Economics–An important question for the first five-star hotel and condos in Portland was price. I learned in Applied Economics about supply, demand and a consumer’s willingness to pay. Since we couldn’t point to an existing model for pricing in Portland, we analyzed the unique value these condos provide. We highlighted how the price reflects a commitment to luxury and exclusivity. It was critical to understand and embrace the value proposition rather than being fearful about consumers’ willingness to pay.

Competitive Strategy – I learned in Competitive Strategy that the key to having a strategic advantage is knowing where you fit in on the strategy frontier (a framework we learned for market positioning). Are we going to be high price and high value? Or low price and high volume? In this case, the answer was high price and high value. Understanding where the project fits in the competitive landscape was critical as we developed our pricing, finishes, and customer messaging.

I didn’t come to this program expecting to make a career pivot but looking back it seems inevitable. Your personal transformation starts on day one with new knowledge, tools and confidence to tackle challenges.

That growth has extended to my personal life as well. When I came to MIT, I set a goal to lose 50 pounds and complete a half marathon. I’ve now lost 70 pounds, recently walked a half marathon, and am signed up for my first full marathon this Fall!

It’s amazing how much this program changed me and my world. I am so grateful for the lessons I have learned and the people I have met here – faculty and classmates alike. And the coolest thing is that this is just the beginning!