Telling D’Leanne Lewis she can’t do something is like waving a red rag in front of a bull.
She will prove you wrong.
But unlike a bull, which only knows to charge ahead at full tilt, D’Leanne takes a more holistic approach to achieving success.
After 29 years in real estate, the Laing + Simmons Double Bay principal has learnt “the loudest voice is not always the strongest”.
“What I’ve learnt as I’ve gotten older is that I don’t need to talk about my results,” D’Leanne explains.
“I just need to achieve them, and then those results will speak for themselves.”
And achieve them she has.
Widely considered one of Australia’s best real estate agents, D’Leanne has won the Real Estate Institute of Australia award for residential salesperson of the year.
She’s also taken out the corresponding gong for the Real Estate Institute of NSW multiple times, and she’s been Laing + Simmons top income-producing agent nationally for the past two decades.
That’s not bad for a girl who never intended to be a real estate agent.
Born in South Africa, D’Leanne moved to Australia with her family in 1982, when she was just 10 years old.
“I never made a conscious career choice to be a real estate agent,” D’Leanne recalls.
“I went to a Seventh-day Adventist school, and the plan I think my parents had for me was to marry a Seventh-day Adventist pastor and become a Seventh-day Adventist minister or something like that.
“But that was not my plan and I’ve gone a completely different way.”
FINDING DOUBLE BAY
Once in Australia, D’Leanne grew up in Blacktown and says she had never heard of Double Bay until she applied for a job with Laing + Simmons as a 20-year-old.
“I was a legal secretary and I answered a little ad in the Sydney Morning Herald for a personal assistant to the director of sales at Laing + Simmons Double Bay,” D’Leanne says.
“I didn’t even know where Double Bay was.”
For the first six months, D’Leanne was little more than a glorified taxi driver running her boss from appointment to appointment, but as a year with the agency approached, she started to learn a lot more.
Back then, there was no formal training, no internet courses, coaching or official mentors.
The phrase “sink or swim” was an accurate description of how things were done.
“It was pretty much dog eat dog and a lot of scrapping,” D’Leanne says.
“It was just like the Wild West, but I learnt a lot. I learnt what not to do as well as what to emulate.”
HITTING A HURDLE
A couple of years in, D’Leanne decided she wanted to go into sales, and it was then she first faced a hurdle that she’d have to jump multiple times in her career.
“My bosses told me that I was too young and that girls don’t do this kind of job,” she recalls.
“So I left and went to work for another agency and, after a couple of years, they (Laing + Simmons) asked me back.
“About five years later I was made an associate director, and then 15 years ago I bought the company with my business partners Steven Zoellner, Danny Doff and Sally Hampshire.
“In March, I, along with Leanne Pilkington and other Laing + Simmons shareholders, purchased the whole corporation. That was pretty cool.”
A PERSONAL JOURNEY
D’Leanne has also been named as part of the new Laing + Simmons board along with Leanne Pilkington, Paul Abassi, Peter Green, Tolly Saivanidis, and Joe Sita.
The irony that a girl from Blacktown, who was told she couldn’t make it, is now part-owner and on the board, is not lost on D’Leanne.
She knows she’s made people eat their words, but she’s sincere when she says that was never at the forefront of her mind.
“My journey is my own,” D’Leanne says.
Part of that journey has included overcoming the misconstrued opinions of some in the industry that female agents couldn’t keep up with their male counterparts.
D’Leanne says this was most noticeable in 2015 when she was pregnant with her first daughter.
“I’d go for a listing and my male competitors would go up against me and say to owners, ‘she’s pregnant, she’s not going to be able to keep up,’ or ‘what happens if she goes down?’” she says.
“I remember selling a development site in Hamilton St in Rose Bay, and I was heavily pregnant, and I remember the developer said to me, ‘we have scaffolding up and you’re going to have to show people what the view is like. Are you going to be able to do that?’
“I was like, ‘Absolutely!’
“My male competitors were saying, ‘she’s not going to walk up that scaffolding,’ and I said, ‘oh yes, I am!’
“As women, sadly, we have to work 10 times as hard to be taken just as seriously.”
But rather than focus on the negatives, D’Leanne used those hurdles as positive fuel to enable her to grow and evolve as an agent and as a person.
“I got to a stage where I was like, ‘I don’t care what these people think. This is my journey’,” she says.
“From that moment on, I’ve not worried about the white noise; I’ve just focused on having the best business I can and on being the happiest version of myself.”
The pathway towards becoming a happier version of herself included leaving her husband when she was six months pregnant with her second daughter and, to this day, means putting her girls and herself first.
D’Leanne takes every Thursday and Friday off work for what she affectionately calls her “mummy days” with her girls, now aged five and two.
She takes them to swimming lessons, gymnastics classes and focuses on having quality time together.
“I used to think that it would negatively affect my business, but all of my clients know that I work hard, I make things happen and I don’t miss a beat,” D’Leanne says.
“I still do what I need to do, but it does mean I work long hours on other nights.
“On Monday nights I’ll work until 1am or 2am, and the same on Wednesdays, but I get so much done in that time.”
TRAITS THAT MATTER
D’Leanne still remembers the first property she sold, a little unit in Curlewis St, in Bondi, for $118,000.
The homes she sells now are worth many millions more, but she says the fundamentals of selling are the same, and her advice to new agents is simple.
“Be genuine. When you make a promise, keep it. And don’t be a wanker.”
D’Leanne says there’s no secret to success or a magic wand agents can use to propel them to the top.
She says sacrifice and hard work will win out over flashy cars and suits every time.
“You’re only as good as your last sale and your results from 10 years ago don’t help you today,” D’Leanne advises.
“What people care about is how you treat them, your results today and how you carry out your promises.”
One of the key things D’Leanne has learnt over the years is the best way to handle mistakes and disappointing clients.
Rather than trying to cover things up, she says it’s best to own up straight away.
“We all mess up; we all make mistakes,” D’Leanne says.
“I think the secret of being a better human is putting your hand up and going, ‘you know what? Sorry, I’ve messed up. That’s on me’.
“You’re showing a level of vulnerability and honesty that is so rarely found.”
As she’s gotten older, D’Leanne says she’s learnt to listen more and talk less.
She’s gotten into meditation and says it has changed her life, both at home and at work.
“When everyone is going fast, slow down and take a moment,” D’Leanne advises.
“Even when I’m negotiating, I sit with things for a moment, work out my strategy and really take things in.
“Don’t just listen; you really need to hear what people say.”
A ROLE MODEL
The Luxe Listings Sydney star enjoys her position as a role model for women in the real estate industry, and while she’s the first to admit she doesn’t always manage the work-life balance perfectly, she wants to shine a light on women doing well.
“We go to work and then we come home and we’re taking care of the kids, we’re cooking, we’re cleaning,” she explains.
“Sure, the guys come home and they help out with the kids or the chores, but the difference is it’s not their main job.
“With us (women), we’ve got two main jobs.”
D’Leanne says supporting women in the industry shouldn’t come at the expense of men, and she’s steadfast in her belief that feminism shouldn’t rule at all costs.
“I just want us to have an equal conversation on the same playing field,” she says.
“Even when I’m asked to speak at conferences, if I’m on an all-female panel, I will say, ‘I don’t compete with all females in my industry … shouldn’t we have a mixed panel?”
D’Leanne says the more female role models women can see in the industry, the more they will believe in themselves and their ability to succeed in their careers.
“The only person that limits us is us,” she says.
“I think that’s probably one of the hardest things because a lot of girls come to me and say they’ve gotten married, they’ve had kids and they don’t believe they can do both.
“But I say, ‘of course you can. Why can’t you?’
“There are constantly people in this business who want to diminish what you do.
“My lesson is don’t listen to the white noise, keep on going, focus on the good stuff, stay positive, stay authentic, be real and be the best version of yourself.
“Everything else will follow.”