Before her 20 years of success in Nashville real estate, Jessica Averbuch began her career in pursuit of a Ph.D. in primatology. Though the study of primates might be a far cry from her current and highly esteemed position as CEO of Zeitlin Sotheby’s International Realty, she’s infusing the same fiery passion and lighting the way for a new generation of businesswomen — just as her mentor, Shirley Zeitlin, did for her. Please welcome our newest FACE of Nashville, Jessica Averbuch.
Shirley Zeitlin was such a trailblazer in Nashville real estate, having forged a path for so many women who’ve come behind her. What do you perceive is the biggest difference for women working in real estate now, versus when Shirley started the company in 1979?
For Shirley to start her own business during that time, she was in a very small group. Today, there are so many women in leadership and running businesses, who are entrepreneurs and CEOs. Now, as a woman, there’s more of an opportunity to have mentors and mentor people. But that being said, there are plenty of times where, as a CEO, I’m sitting in a room with one of only a few women. So, it’s not that it doesn’t still happen today, but it’s certainly different from when she started the company.
What has been the biggest industry change or shift since the pandemic, for better or worse?
All of a sudden, from a marketing standpoint and how we show properties, we’ve had to entirely rely on technology — especially in the beginning when things really shut down. We’ve always used virtual tours, but suddenly, video, FaceTime, Zoom meetings and interactive floor plans became essential. So many of our buyers aren’t from here, and even if they are, they don’t want to walk into 40 houses; they want to go through a process of elimination. We have to make sure that we provide all of the information they need to feel comfortable moving forward.
Do you have any timely real estate tips to share with our readers?
Number one, there are a lot of preconceived notions about selling — for example, that you’ve got to sell your house in the spring. Of course, our homes look prettier; the curb appeal and the weather are both better. But I think this pandemic threw that cycle completely out the door. Because of our region’s growth over the last decade, people are moving here throughout the year. There’s a very real migration going on right now, so that’s changed the cycle. The old-school “people only buy during the spring” myth was debunked a while ago, but the pandemic hit in early spring, and everyone was on lockdown for a couple of months, so it means that our June was more like our March. Our July, which tends to be slower, was more like our April. Sometimes people feel like they have to wait to buy or sell; right now, with interest rates being so low and our cycle being thrown off, I wouldn’t stick to that way of thinking.
When you’re not working, how do you enjoy spending your free time?
I’m an outdoor person. Before I found real estate, my life’s ambition was to study primate behavior in the wild. It always surprises people when I tell them that, but I was going to be a primatologist, and I went all the way into a Ph.D. program at the University of Texas. I had a colony of lemurs that I took care of and studied. I did fieldwork, archaeology and primatology. So, I have to get outside in my free time — whether it’s walking, running, hiking or biking. I don’t like sitting still; I think a lot of realtors are wired that way. I love running, and most races are canceled right now — they’re almost all virtual — but there’s a trail race I did a couple of years ago in East Tennessee, in Big South Fork State Park, and they’re still doing it this year because it’s a very distant experience. I went miles without seeing any other runners, so there’s a way to pull it off. I love things like that. I love Percy Warner and Edwin Warner and Radnor and the greenways. I’m also a mom. I’ve got two teenagers, and one of the pandemic’s silver linings is we really spend a lot of time together.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
I’m going to give two, and they both came from Shirley Zeitlin. I can’t give her enough credit for the impact she’s had on me. One of the first things I remember her telling me is, “If you have bad news to share or something difficult to do, do it right away.” I think it’s hard to do that, but it takes on a life of its own and becomes so much more difficult when you wait.
The other thing I’ll never forget is that when I got into the business, Shirley said, “Pick 10 people in your life that you respect and admire — they don’t need to be in real estate — just people who’ve achieved success or started a business or done something that you really respect, and nurture relationships with those people.” There are universal truths to being successful, and having mentors that you respect and admire, and cultivating those relationships, is really important.
Outside of faith, family and friends, what are three things that you can’t live without?
Moving. Whether it’s running, yoga or hiking, I can’t imagine not being able to move. Another one is reading — I love to read; I’m not a TV-watcher. Reading is how I stay informed and how I escape, and it’s part of my ritual that’s very important to me. I think the third thing is serving. I love actively being involved and giving back. That sounds so cliché, but it doesn’t matter what you’re stressed out about or what’s upsetting you — when you get into that mode of serving and helping other people, all of those things go away. It’s an endorphin rush like no other.
Thank you for the inspiring interview, Jessica!
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