You can’t keep a good woman down

Recently named National Property Practitioner of Year for the second time by Jawitz Properties, Deena Pitum is the epitome of what an ambitious, ethical person can achieve.

Success didn’t come easily to her. She worked as a conveyancing secretary for 26 years, tied to a salaried job to support her daughters after their father deserted the family. In what spare time she had, she pursued side hustles like selling jewellery and cosmetics.

“I had to support my kids and give them what they needed,” she says. “All those years I worked for a wonderful man, Richard van Schalkwyk, and I was lucky enough to get remarried.”

Deena’s new husband brought two daughters of his own to the family. With a large family to support, she realised she needed to earn more.

Just at that time, one of her conveyancing clients (a property company) asked her to take on the role of sales manager. She jumped at the chance, and within two years had been named national sales manager. But despite her success, she found she was actually working harder and earning less.

She got permission to work part-time as an estate agent and found she had a knack for it. However, the dual role was too radical for the company, so she had to leave. She tried again to combine the roles of sales manager and estate agent at a second company, but again she ran foul of the established way of doing things. She had to leave the second job.

Feeling somewhat bruised from these two false starts, and without a job, she was invited for coffee by Joel Harris, the sales manager at Jawitz Properties Bedfordview. He offered her the chance to become a full-time agent and with a choice of good areas to work in.

“That was in October 2019, and in March the following year we went into lockdown,” Deena says. She was well and truly stymied but kept in touch with her clients and worked on her database. When lockdown ended, she came out with guns well and truly blazing, and in 2021 was named Jawitz’ National Sales Agent of the Year—the first time an agent who had recently joined the company had ever scooped the award. The following year she was runner-up but scooped the top place again this year.

Secrets of success

Clearly, one of the reasons for Deena’s success is her love for property coupled with a strong work ethic and ambition to succeed. Despite two bad experiences early on in her career, she persevered.

She’s also a strongly empathetic person, and that’s important in a profession that is more about people than it is about bricks and mortar, she says. It’s important to understand both the seller and buyer because both parties need to be satisfied for a deal to hold. A good estate agent is really a matchmaker at heart, she says.

Of course, even if both parties are happy, many deals still don’t hold water because they are poorly structured. Deena’s 26 years in conveyancing also give her an edge when it comes to crafting a contract that is watertight. “I do my homework, pre-qualify my clients with the finance houses, and think about how to make it work better,” she says. For example, if she learns that a buyer is planning to demolish the house, we can negotiate if an electrical certificate of compliance is necessary—a saving for the seller and thus a way to sweeten the deal.

She also believes that joining the right real estate brand made all the difference. She calls out the company’s strong code of ethics, its firm sense of priorities and its willingness to recognise every agent for his or her contribution. “They know what’s important and they spend money on that,” she says. “It’s an honour and a privilege to work for them.”

Deena’s success has given her the financial independence she was looking for. “Both my girls are studying overseas—and I can go and visit them when I want,” she says. Thinking back to the miserable years spent in the “grey corridors” of the maintenance court, she says that one day she realised that she simply had to take control of her life. “That’s the day I resigned from my conveyancing job, which ultimately led me to where I am today!”