Thriving Successfully in A Real Estate World

Lori Nettles, right, and Tania Sterling, left, own their own real estate firm, TLC Real Estate.

BY: Holly Boname
When the National Association of Realtors (NAR) was created in 1908 the membership was comprised entirely of male realtors and it wasn’t until the 1940’s when women took a strong role and began to enter the market in force. Here in Northern New York and across the country more than half the real estate firms are now owned by women and they say they love what they do and see great success.

    The real estate market in Norther New York has seen its ups and downs. From Fort Drum’s expansion bringing in surges of new residents, to the economic crash in 2008, women in real estate in the tri-county area say that no matter what the challenge if you have passion for it you will be successful.


Rhonda Roethel, America 1 Realty, Ogdensburg

   Working as a city letter carrier for over 30 years, real estate was something that came later in Rhonda Roethel’s career after attending night school for real estate at Canton ATC, which is now SUNY Canton, over 20 years ago.

    “This was when you actually had to sit in a classroom for hours every week to get your study time in,” she recalled. “Now, you can do your classes over three weekends or even online.”

    She received her salesperson’s license in 1997, and her broker’s license in 2001 and since then has opened her own real estate agency, America 1 Realty. She says that practicing real estate in Norther New York has changed throughout the years, with more firms being male owned then, to now where many women own their own.

    “When I first got into the business, there were definitely more men practicing real estate than there are now. Back then it was a little more difficult as a woman to get listings like farms or hunting land, but now, that is not the case,” said Rhonda. “I think the real estate industry here has changed dramatically in the last 20 years.”

    It’s not only the face of your real estate agent that has changed she says. The values of homes in Northern New York differ dramatically from those seen on HGTV and buyers are becoming savvier to what to look for when buying and selling a home.

    “Homes that would sell here for $150,000 would sell for $450,000 elsewhere,” she said. “I’ve always pounded the premise that honesty really is the best policy, and you do your best to make that happen. It’s very gratifying to see how happy you’ve made someone when you hand them the keys to their first home and knowing that you’ve helped to make that happen.”

    Real estate is an industry that she loves and says that other women in the area can benefit from entering the industry as an entrepreneur as well, but says it is not always an easy profession.

    “The advice that I would give to any women thinking of entering real estate here in Northern New York is to really assess what you’re hoping to achieve from becoming a realtor. It’s not an easy profession and you have to be willing to devote the time if you want to succeed,” she said.

    She continued that it takes nights and weekends, showing properties and doing listings when buyers and sellers are available.

    “It’s not a get-rich scheme but, if you work hard and stick with it, practicing real estate can really pay off,” said Rhonda.

Debbie Gilson, County Seat Realty, Canton

    For life-long St. Lawrence County resident Debbie Gilson, real estate came later in her career, similar to Rhonda Roethel. When she and her late husband were married they had the opportunity to purchase “Smiths General Store”, a little mom-and-pop store in the community where she was born and raised. They purchased the store in 1982 and closed it in 1998 when she decided to make real estate her full-time profession.

    “In 1990, there was an advertisement on TV for courses being offered at Canton ATC. One of the courses was the real estate salesperson licensing course,” she recalled. “It was something that I was always interested in and thought it would be something I could start out doing part-time, as I was self-employed at the time and had a flexible schedule.”

    It turns out that real estate was a perfect fit for her and as she gained momentum, she opened her own firm with her husband after leaving Segar Real Estate, where she began her career. Gilson says it was a challenge at first, as many things can be, but since she began she has accomplished many great things.

    “I am a graduate of the REALTOR institute and have also earned designations as a Certified Buyers Representative and in Short Sales and Foreclosures. In 2006, The St. Lawrence County Housing Council awarded me with the “People who Make a Difference Award” for outstanding dedication sharing their vision, and I also served as the St. Lawrence County Board of REALTORS president from 2016 to 2018,” she said.

    But the biggest accomplishment that Gilson speaks passionately about happened only two years ago when she purchased a foreclosed property in the village of Canton, along with an adjacent property that had been subject to a fire.

    “I completely renovated the foreclosure inside and out and demolished the “eye-sore” building, providing plenty of parking. No expense was spared as I worked with contractors to complete four offices, an enclosed porch and kitchen. Not only did this provide me and my agents with a beautiful office to conduct business, but also provided a one-bedroom income-producing apartment upstairs. I am very proud to invest in my community and the response from my fellow neighbors has been wonderful,” she said.

    She continued that everyone has been pleased to see such an improvement in a property that is highly visible in the village, and that in 2017 County Seat Realty was honored as Canton Chamber of Commerce Member of the Year at its annual chamber dinner.

    With all these successes, the greatest challenge that Gilson has faced is one that has affected the industry as a whole since its start in 1908, technology.

    “When my career began, an agent would list a property and would type the information on a form and attach a photo of the property and mail it out to area real estate offices. Buyers could drive around and look for real estate signs in the yard or they could sit down with their agent and go through the listings in person.  Now, most, if not all, listings are online through the Multiple Listing Service or and buyers have information, photos and maps right at their fingertips. Real Estate agents in some ways have shifted from the keeper of the information to the facilitator of the sale,” she said.

    Even with the changes over the years Gilson says that you get what you put into the industry and that communication with customers is key, along with patience and persistence.


Tara Marzano, Marzano Real Estate, Watertown

    For entrepreneur Tara Marzano, being a women in business is not a new venture. In Jefferson County many people are familiar with Marzano Paving Inc., a business venture that she owns with her father and not the first of a long line of family-owned businesses.

    “For me to be on my own is the most rewarding thing because I come from a history of family owned small business. Growing up, I watched my parents and their strong commitment to family, my neighborhood, our town, friends and this unshakable loyalty that in my opinion you don’t see anywhere else. Every working relationship I have continues; it does not end when the transaction is over. It’s a lifetime reward that never goes away. There’s nothing better than that,” she said.

    Marzano first entered the world of real estate in 1999 while she was working with her husband and his land company, VandeWater Land Development. The company specializes in recreational land development, which she says was a great way for her to get started. It wasn’t until 2002 that she got her first taste of a real estate agency when she was approached by Lori Gervera, who at the time was looking for an administrative assistant.

    “I worked as her assistant and obtained my license to best serve that role until eventually going into sales full time. I stayed with Lori Gervera Real Estate until 2013 when I went on my own. I think starting out the way I did gave me a really good foundation for understanding all the facets of what a “typical” real estate transaction looks like, and that foundation, combined with my husband’s and Lori’s mentoring, is what gave me the confidence to start my own business,” she said.

    For Marzano, she is used to working in businesses that are strongly male-dominated, just as the real estate market used to be. She doesn’t feel that any industry is truly a women’s industry, but that any sector comes with its challenges.

    “As people we always face a challenge, that’s just a basic fact, but the only challenges I focus on are the ones I put on myself,” she said. “Some of the best brokers I have had the privilege of working with are women and I know for myself, when I first got into the business, I had two major challenges: my age and my time. I was much younger then and had a young son, so I had to prove that I actually knew what I was doing while still being able to be the mom I wanted and needed to be.”

    She says the greatest advice that she can offer to anyone looking to enter real estate is to first think it over, that it’s not an easy industry to get in to and you have to really understand it can be “feast or famine.”

    “It’s cut-throat at times and you need to have thick skin. It is a service oriented business in many ways; success comes from experience and reputation, repeat business and referrals. It takes time and it’s hard. Every success and every failure ultimately ends with you, and there is competition everywhere and you need to find your niche,” she said.

    Marzano feels that she is fortunate to have found her own niche. Her business has turned into a steady one based on referrals and repeat business.

Amanda Miller, Lake Ontario Realty, Chaumont

    Lake Ontario Realty, owned by Amanda Miller, is one of the top real estate agencies in Northern New York. In fact, the agency has been the number one office in the tri-county area over the last two years and their biggest feat has been being named the number one firm for sales volume. But success for Amanda Miller hasn’t always been easy, and getting her start in real estate came with heavy burden to start with.

    Miller had just turned 20 when she obtained her real estate license in 2003. She began working for a local firm owned by a gentleman in the Chaumont area which was ideal for her, she says, as she was a single mom. Just graduating from Jefferson Community College, Miller knew that she enjoyed sales and working with people, so when the opportunity to work at this firm presented itself, she jumped on it.

    “The biggest thing that I learned in my two years working at my first firm was everything not to do actually. It was a disaster for me. If you could paint a picture of the absolute worst way to start a real estate career, this was it. No training, no support, no office hours, no website, no one answering the phones,” she recalled.

    She had to continue waitressing and bartending, while taking care of her son and trying to launch her career as a real estate agent. She says she went into debt, felt discouraged and started questioning whether or not she had made the right decision.

    “I couldn’t get a client to save my life, everyone I was going to talk to had already talked to well-established agents in the community. They were not willing to take a chance on me and finally I had a client stolen from me right out of my parking lot,” she said.

    But out of the negative experience there was light at the end of the tunnel that launched her into the great success she sees today.

    “I had my mother’s house for sale. She had it with other brokers and about 14 months into the process I was about ready to quit. But then my mother’s house sold and I got my first commission check,” she said. “It was pretty awesome!”

    From there she had a taste of success, had learned everything she didn’t want to do and quickly realized she needed to be the broker and started Lake Ontario Realty in Chaumont.

    “It means everything to me to own my own business,” Miller said. “I came from a very traditional family that was all college, college, college. You rack up student loans and debt because that is what you are supposed to do. But for me to walk out of a two-year college experience that was very affordable, I didn’t go into debt and it got me started with what I needed. And then to be able to go into something that I found along the way, that I loved, and be successful and support my family and stay in the north country is amazing.”

    Miller now is dedicated to running a business that her employees are proud and happy to be a part of, has gained high regards and recognition throughout the industry and continues to thrive working day in and day out along side of her staff.


Lori Nettles and Tania Sterling, T.L.C. Real Estate, Gouverneur /Carthage

    For T.L.C. Real Estate team Lori Nettles and Tania Sterling, owning their own real estate agency has paid off in many ways, from financial success to what they say is the most rewarding: helping people.

    “I entered the real estate market to help buyers and sellers achieve their real estate goals. My partner Tania and I began TLC to guarantee our clients and customers receive the attention they deserve and to be treated with integrity. TLC is an acronym for Trust, Loyalty and Commitment, which is not just a slogan, but words by which we live,” said Nettles.

    The team met through another real estate agency. Sterling was an agent for reality company in Ogdensburg and then they added Nettles, which is where the two met.

    She said the office was struggling at the time and the owner wanted to know if she would come and help rebuild the business.

    “It was in Gouverneur at the time, but I was in Carthage and didn’t want to make the drive so he let me run it from there. And that is where I met Tania. It was then sold and we decided to work together and start our own,” said Nettles.

    But the team wasn’t always involved in real estate. Nettles got her start in marketing and sales, working for WWNY early in her career. She started in real estate only when her children were out of the nest, with the youngest in high school.

    “It’s funny because I always was interested in real estate even as a little girl, but I always thought typically they were middle-aged women. And as a child I always wondered why. It’s very time consuming and that’s why,” recalled Nettles.

    For Sterling, her career in real estate started when she was buying a home in 2001.

    “I had fun looking at homes,” she said. “so I said to the broker, ‘If you ever need help in the office let me know,’ because I had office manager experience.”

    After four years of working for that agency, and not being allowed to get her own real estate license, she was introduced to the agency where Nettles was already working and the rest is history.

    The team has won awards and recognition for their business. They work tirelessly to ensure that they are providing the best quality and services they can.

    “If you are going to do real estate,” said Nettles, “you have to be committed to the time and you have to work hard. And if you work hard, it will pay off in great dividends.”

    The women have won Small Business of the Year 2010 (Carthage Chamber of Commerce), Top 20 percent Producers in JLBOR, and Sterling won Business Woman of the Year in 2009.

    Since the two started together they say that many things have changed, including the market and technology, but that they continue to stay on top of it all. Specifically, they offer a special service to those real estate agents who don’t have the time to dedicate full-time or who are looking to retire.

    “One thing that we do differently is that we have a referral arm. If someone doesn’t have the time to dedicate your entire day to real estate, for one reason or another, we have a solution and allow people to keep their state license and you don’t have to pay board dues. You can send us a referral and we pay you when the transaction happens. We pay 25 percent to those agents. They can be as involved or uninvolved as they want to be, which is nice for agents who are transitioning,” explained Nettles.