NAWRB’s Diversity & Inclusion Leadership Council brings you the story of NAWRB Certified Delegate Spokeswoman, Laura Harbison. With our Story Tree, we want to showcase the ups, downs, and in-betweens of our team’s careers and lives. Help us grow our tree by sending in your own leadership stories!
Laura Harbison, Broker/Owner of Realty Executives Southern Nevada Properties, does a fantastic job of managing her very busy life, as a successful business owner and the matriarch of a family of nine. She has compiled an impressive list of real estate accolades during her three decades of experience and now, in partnership with her husband John, is one of the most successful Real Estate Brokers in Southern Nevada.
But it wasn’t always a seamless journey.
For someone who is so obviously adept at the business of real estate, it’s surprising to learn that Laura started out in college at UNLV with dreams of a different kind. Originally majoring in Computer Science Engineering, and then switching her major in her junior year to Quantitative Management Systems with an emphasis in Operations Research (with core study in finance, marketing, and statistics), Laura saw herself entering the corporate world after college graduation.
During her first year at UNLV, one of Laura’s sorority sisters (Delta Zeta) was working at a real estate office and suggested she apply to be an assistant. Flexible jobs were hard to find, and this company needed help seven days a week, at all hours of the day, so it was an opportunity to be employed full time while still being able to work around a heavy class schedule. It wasn’t something she had ever considered doing, and she had been keeping busy and paying the bills with a variety of odd jobs prior to that. However, she applied and started the following week. Soon she was working in varying capacities at the company, sometimes performing receptionist duties, other administrative and clerical duties, and eventually working as an assistant to the top agent in the company. By the time she completed her degree, she had also obtained her real estate license. While there, Laura took the opportunity to learn as much as possible about the business and gain all the experience she could. She said she initially thought real estate would be a stopgap until she got around to her “real” career.
In the meantime, Laura had fallen in love with the industry and came to the realization that she wouldn’t face the ‘glass ceiling’ in real estate that she might encounter if she took a different path.
As she would eventually discover, three decades ago, real estate was also a challenging career for a woman looking to excel. That didn’t turn out to be 100% true though… After she had been with that particular company for a period of years and was one of its top producers, Laura became pregnant. That pronouncement earned her a 30 percent decrease in her commission split, and she saw that less qualified males were receiving preferential treatment. Instead of doing the expected thing and quitting her job, Laura stayed at the company, following through on a vow to herself to become the number one agent in her office and one of the top ten agents in the company overall.
Two years later, while standing on a stage at a company awards ceremony, Laura had what she described as an epiphany. She was receiving multiple awards, among which were being the top producing agent in her office and the ninth highest producing agent in the company overall (out of over 700 agents with the company at that time). She had kept her promise to herself, and NOW she could leave.
That was about the time that representatives from the local Realty Executives franchise had begun to speak to Laura about coming to work for them. The company was female-owned, and Laura was intrigued by the idea of working for a woman-owned company. Laura looked at other real estate companies as well but felt her possibilities for success were much greater at Realty Executives, and she made the final decision to make her move. Her former employers didn’t make it easy for her, but the worse their behavior got, the more assured she was that she made the right choice. She walked away from her last 7 closings and took a leap of faith. The previous company was so bitter over her exit that they actually sent her 7 checks for $0.00 (as each of the 7 sales closed), among other antics.
Besides the idea of working for a woman-owned company, one of the things that most attracted Laura to Realty Executives was the freedom she was given to put together a team and run her business as she felt it had to be run. By her second year there, she was not only the top producing agent in the company but also the top producing agent worldwide for the franchise system.
The advantages of working in a positive business environment cannot be overstated. Open communication, employee engagement, and the collaboration and sharing of ideas are some of the basic tenets of good business practices and Laura says these were all present in those early days at Realty Executives. From the very beginning, she just put her head down and did her job, and that type of work ethic was appreciated by her new company. Her entrepreneurial spirit was embraced and encouraged.
Laura is not the type of person to bounce around from job to job. She considers herself a nose to the grindstone kind of person, a hard worker who just wants to perform well for her clients. But that doesn’t mean she doesn’t have ambitions. After some time with Realty Executives, she asked to open up her own satellite branch, which she did with great success for many years. Then in 2016, she was offered the opportunity to become the Broker/Owner of her own franchise, and she jumped at the opportunity.
Realty Executives was also a company that supported her personally as well as professionally. They did not consider her (large/growing) family as a hindrance, but rather an asset. In addition to running her office and managing her employees, Laura also made time to start a charity (A Touch of Home, that benefits Title One Hope – the Homeless Education Division of the Clark County School District), be a Girl Scout Leader for 9 years, and has been a Catechist teaching 7th grade for her church parish for the last 16 years (a position that she still holds today).
About 16 years ago, Laura’s husband John joined her in the business. In the early 90s, Laura had encouraged him to get his real estate license, but he wasn’t really interested at the time.
Eventually, he changed his mind and went to work with her. Now he is an integral cog in the company’s wheel, handling what they like to call “Field Services”, which includes a lot of the marketing functions (such as photography, video, 3D tours) and property management functions such as weekly property checks, walk-throughs, attending inspections, etc. Their partnership works so well because while John is out making sure all is well with the properties, Laura sticks close to the office, ensuring that things are running smoothly there. Together, the two of them manage to make the business side of their relationship work with the personal side, which is quite demanding.
The Harbisons are parents to seven children, ages 31 to 12, and four of them are still living at home. As anyone who has ever been a parent to more than one child can attest to, one of the most challenging things to accomplish is time management, especially with the young ones. Homework has to be completed, play dates have to be made, and sporting events need to be attended.
Last year, in 2019, John and Laura experienced every parent’s nightmare, when they lost their oldest son to a very aggressive cancer that had been detected only 12 months prior. During that prior 12 months, they worked together to keep the business afloat, while dealing with doctors and treatments (much of that out of state due to the rare type of cancer), and while taking care of their other 6 children’s needs (physical and emotional). While many families are torn apart by these types of events, it has brought the Harbison family closer together.
Over her 30 years in the industry, Laura has obtained many professional designations — ABR, AHWD, BPOR, BS, CDPE, CRS, DRB, GRI, PSA, RSPS, and SRES. Among her many other accolades, she has been named one of the top 100 agents in the country by the Wall Street Journal and has been Realty Executives’ #1 Team Worldwide 16 different years.
Laura says she also sees strength in numbers when it comes to staffing her office. Her goal is to continue to foster a workplace climate that encourages team collaboration and success. Being in a position to create that kind of workplace for herself and her employees is surely one of life’s highs.