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Howard Hanna's president and CEO talks gender equality and her advice for success

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As the president and CEO of Allegheny County-based Howard Hanna Real Estate Services, Helen Hanna Casey runs the nation's third-largest real estate company with her brother and sister.
As the president and CEO of Allegheny County-based Howard Hanna Real Estate Services, Helen Hanna Casey runs the nation's third-largest real estate company with her brother and sister. - (Photo / )

Helen Hanna Casey would like to be seen as one of the most powerful people in real estate, not just a woman in leadership.

Reaching a point when someone, man or woman, is viewed as a success because they work hard and are successful in their job would make the difference, she said.

“It would be nice if the world got to that point, not just me, and we weren’t constantly separating women out,” Casey said.

Casey, the president and CEO of Allegheny County-based Howard Hanna Real Estate Services, runs the nation’s third-largest real estate company with her brother and sister. The largest broker in the commonwealth also has eight offices in the midstate.

It’s a family-run company that closed nearly 67,000 transactions totaling $12 billion in sales volume last year. And it’s only getting bigger through acquisitions, including this summer’s deal to buy RealtyUSA, the top broker in the state of New York.

But to hear Casey talk about hard work and success, whether in real estate or another field, everything still comes down to getting out of bed.

“Get up in the morning, put your feet on the floor and live the plan you have for that day,” she said.

And don’t go to bed without checking off completed tasks from that plan.

Casey, who has been in real estate since the mid-1970s, often gets questions from new agents about how to succeed in the industry.

She usually starts with: Listen, learn and educate through preparation.

“Listen and learn, don’t pester people,” she said. “Educate yourself and practice. If you do that, you will do great. Everybody wants instant gratification. That’s the tough thing about the business.”

With all of the technology and efficiency tools available today, real estate is just as much of a brain game as it is a foot game, Casey said.

She sat down with the Business Journal recently while in the Harrisburg area on business. She talked about new challenges in the rising housing market, real estate issues she will be watching next year and running a large family-owned business.

Q: How would you describe the current housing market and how it compares with the last few years of steady growth?

A: If you go back five years, the inventory was much better. There’s been a diminishing inventory.

First-time buyers are having a real struggle to find a place. At the same time, there isn’t enough new construction, so we don’t have the alternative for people who are rightsizing and want to change their lifestyle.

You had a slowdown in the high end of the market everywhere in the country. And I think that’s because of concerns about an election year. There has been a little bit of a pause.

About Helen Hanna Casey

Title: President and CEO of Howard Hanna Real Estate Services
Age: 67
How long with company: 1976
How long in current role: Three years
Family: Married, one daughter
Residence: Shadyside (Pittsburgh)
Favorite places to visit: New York City and Naples, Fla.
Favorite hobbies: Table setting, pulling weeds and musical theatre
One thing most people might not know about you: People are always surprised at how fast I walk and almost always in high heels.

What’s concern about rising interest rates since the election?

I don’t think we will go back to high levels. Of course, we lived through a period when they went from 7 to 19 percent, so I guess it’s possible. I don’t think anybody is predicting that.

I think the assumption of going back to 3.2 or 3.5 percent is unrealistic. We have to assume (rates) are going to be somewhere in the 4s. People that can buy now should be buying now.

I think it will spur the market a little, too, at least spur the business market. When you spur the business market, it also spurs the real estate market.

What’s the biggest issue you will be following in 2017 with a new administration in the White House?

Certainly, (mortgage) rates you have to watch. Credit is going to be affected. To a certain extent, it will be interesting to see if there will be any (Consumer Financial Protection Bureau) changes.

New construction, we think, is going to be the biggest barometer in the market next year. And right now we are seeing that increasing as banks are also lending more to builders.

M&A has been a big part of your company’s growth, especially in Central Pa. Are there still independent companies to acquire?

In many cases, it’s not necessarily what you would consider a big broker, but it’s a broker that is complementary to us. That could be anything from 10 agents to beyond and above any number.

There are still lots of privately owned companies. Some of them are franchises and their franchises are up.

What’s the biggest challenge of running a large family business, especially in real estate?

We’re fortunate to have so many involved that are committed to it and do different jobs. That doesn’t mean sometimes we don’t step on each other’s feet. For the most part, we don’t.

Everybody has to be able to do what they do best. In the end, we all have to have the same vision. You can’t grow this way unless everyone has the same vision.

In the structure of our brokerage market, which is 60 percent of our business, my brother always was the CEO and I was president and then we didn’t have state presidents. As we expanded, we added state president and regional managers.

Each market is different, but we have the same theme and message. But where you advertise and how you advertise is slightly different, what programs work within a market.

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Jason Scott

Jason Scott

Jason Scott covers state government, real estate and construction, media and marketing, and Dauphin County. Have a tip or question for him? Email him at jasons@cpbj.com. Follow him on Twitter, @JScottJournal. Circle Jason Scott on .

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