A rebel of the residential real estate world has carved out her own niche in Brooklyn, after eschewing the traditional culture and norms of the dominant firms for her own alternative vision.
Victoria Hagman started Realty Collective when she was just 24 years old. A decade later, the boutique residential brokerage that specializes in Brooklyn real estate has four offices and a roster of 20 agents.
A self-described “punk rock kid” from suburban New Jersey, Hagman came into the business via the art world. She studied art history at Pace University, followed later by a masters degree from Pratt University in historic preservation and urban planning.
“I never thought about real estate growing up,” she said. “I was into music. I grew up in old houses, I like old houses and I loved looking at architecture. I thought maybe I’d go into architecture somehow.”
She was still an undergrad when she first started working in real estate, after coming across an ad on craigslist for a small Manhattan real estate firm. She also had gigs as a waitress, and at a ‘zine, a small-circulation, self-published magazine that usually focuses on topics outside of the mainstream.
After graduating from Pace, she knew she didn’t want to work in the art world after getting a taste of real estateʼs flexible scheduling, the chance the meet new people and to see new architecture.
“I had a car, and I got to drive all over Brooklyn,” she said. “I loved it.”
Unsatisfied with the structure and values of their firm, one of her colleagues suggested starting their own company that had an atmosphere that fit them better, that was “a little bit alternative.”
The two started their brokerage firm in DUMBO in the summer of 2005. Then, just three years in, the financial collapse hit and the market collapsed, but they were able to keep the company going by focusing on rentals in the Brooklyn market.
“We had an idea that we’d employ the people that want to live in the communities; the artists, the people who live there, wanted to be there, so they could be part of building the community,” she said. “I do still have a lot of agents that participate in the arts.”
Hagman said she was inspired by the author Elizabeth Gilbert, who wrote “Eat, Pray, Love” and the lesser known “Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear,” in which she advocates artists shouldn’t totally rely on art to pay the bills, because it takes away from the creative process.
“It really felt like that’s what we were doing here — paying the bills, but not in a 9-to-5 structure to follow aspirations outside of that,” said Hagman. “So we have a decent amount of people doing other things here.”
Hagman herself spends a lot of time doing consulting work for preservation and urban planning, something she doesn’t get paid for, but enjoys doing.
“I have lots of crazy ideas and it’s so fun to be in a room with other people volunteering, thinking outside the box, and challenging the status quo of New York City departments, and working with the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) and the sanitation department on that stuff,” she said. “I think it’s the responsibility of citizens to say something.”
She’s also on a local committee that is part of the NY Rising Community Reconstruction Plan, formed by the state following the devastating destruction left by Hurricane Sandy.
The committee just hosted a four-series workshop called “Liveable Neighborhoods” that helps engage local residents on how to participate with government to get things done in their area.
Hagman has lived in Red Hook since 2010. The neighborhood has been an artists’ haven for many years, a perfect fit for her and Realty Collective; one of its offices is located on Van Brunt Street, the main drag of the neighborhood.
“Brooklyn is our brand and niche, that’s what we do — we know it in and out,” said Hagman.
“People are really starting to push out of the mainstream. Sunset Park, Midwood, Crown Heights, Bed-Stuy — not as many people are looking for the so-called safe neighborhoods, like Brooklyn Heights. People are really interested in exploring what the rest of Brooklyn has to offer.”
The first line that greets visitors on Realty Collective’s website is “we believe Brooklyn is the greatest place to live, to create, and grow.”
Hagman’s firm is in the midst of a push to hire experienced agents — but they’re not just looking for anyone.
“It’s really important to hire people who are like-minded,” she said, stressing that the job is about good customer service and helping people through a stressful process, and realizing that just because a client has signed a lease at the end of the day, doesn’t mean the relationship ends.
“Everyone here shares and works together, it’s not competitive, I don’t want people fighting over clients, that’s not an environment that’s sustainable. We’re just a cog in the wheel of New York City and are here to help people find their homes.”
Hagman’s business ideals were formed through observing not what others did right, but what others did wrong. She recalled her earliest days in the industry, before she launched her own firm, as a time when it felt like there were no rules.
“I learned by watching other people make mistakes,” she said. “There’s no reason to put your own values and ethics aside to make a deal. At the end of the day, you want to feel good about what you do.”
Now at the helm of her own firm that she formed on her own terms, Hagman is looking to open two more offices in the next five years, in underserved areas of Brooklyn.
“As a small company, we’re the firm that has established that we know Brooklyn and we don’t need to re-invent ourselves. We already have a stake here, an expertise, and we’re going to focus on that.”