It’s not often that someone gets involved with real estate by way of raising taxes, but that’s the story for Linda O’Kowniewski, CEO of Leading Edge Real Estate.
O’Kowniewski had no political experience in 1992 when she led an override campaign to raise taxes in Melrose. What she did have were children in the schools and a strong belief that higher taxes were the best choice for the town at the time. As it turned out, the public agreed, and O’Kowniewski led “the single biggest override ever to happen in Massachusetts,” she said.
That’s when the real estate industry came calling. O’Kowniewski’s mother worked in the field, and after the vote, her mother’s proprietor contacted O’Kowniewski and suggested she try real estate herself.
“I said, ‘I don’t sell things. I don’t even want to sell tickets to, like, a YMCA dance,’” O’Kowniewski recalled. “And he said, ‘You just sold this town taxes!’”
O’Kowniewski disliked this framing, insisting that she wasn’t selling anything, but “simply helping the town out.”
“He said, ‘If you learn to simply help people out, you’ll be great [in real estate],’” O’Kowniewski said. “It turns out he was right because I’ve never sold anything to anybody. I’m just trying to help people.”
But when O’Kowniewski entered the field, she quickly realized that standard operating procedure in the industry didn’t always involve doing what was best for clients.
“So, I started doing things very differently,” she said.
She shared her listings with everyone, rather than a select few agents, she said, and was transparent about what was coming out on the market, which were then uncommon approaches. After an open house, she reviewed offers on Tuesdays at noon, rather than right away.
“I thought, ‘Why are we putting a house on the market and selling it in one day?’ Sure, we got asking [price], but what would we have gotten if we’d created competition?” she said. “To me, it was just common sense, but it wasn’t common [practice] back then.”
Today she’s also focused on the “psychology of listings,” and teaching real estate agents how to think differently about pricing and presenting listings to the market.
“I think what I’ve done is [take] the real estate transaction and broken it down into the hundreds and hundreds of little pieces and thought, ‘How can we do this differently? How can we help the consumer?’” O’Kowniewski said.
O’Kowniewski has spoken about changing the real estate business on four continents and runs her own boot camps each year to inspire and train agents.
Her work has earned her the admiration of Christine George, president of marketing and business development at Leading Edge.
“She is always up for a challenge. She doesn’t believe in the word ‘no.’ If you come up against a bump in the road … she always finds a way out,” George said. “She just has such an unbelievably bright outlook.”
O’Kowniewski’s positive attitude and can-do spirit have been especially valuable recently, George said, as Leading Edge dropped its affiliation with RE/MAX after operating as one of its franchises since 1990.
“Anytime we’ve come up against challenges in the last two weeks – which has probably six times a day, at least – she lifts us every single time,” George said.
True to form, O’Kowniewski is “optimistic” about the future.
“Right now, strangely, might be the single most enthusiastic part of my career. [By] taking [Leading Edge] to an independent company, one where I can control all of the brand and deliver services, I think we can really do something unique and fabulous,” O’Kowniewski said. “I’m really excited about the next adventure.”