Written By: Susan Cushing
“Learn from everyone and every experience,” says Patty Zuzek, “other REALTORS®, clients, friends and family. Take something away from every experience, then look back at yourself and make sure you’re asking the right questions.”
Recent past-president of the Minnesota REALTORS® Association, 2018’s Minnesota REALTOR® of the Year, avid volunteer and self-made businesswoman, Patty Zuzek surrounds herself with like-minded professionals who come from a veritable smorgasbord of backgrounds. With a rich heritage and deep roots in Hastings, Minnesota, Zuzek has always put family first, and these days the definition of family extends to her team members, friends and treasured clients.
Together with husband David Pope, she has built Zuzek Pope Home & Land Specialists, a thriving business known for the all-encompassing customer service experience as much as the impressive 50 years of combined real estate expertise. Though quite different in personalities, the couple share an unwavering belief in enriching their lives and others through giving back, volunteering at local, state and national levels of real estate and more. Their education and depth of knowledge goes well beyond just a simple transaction, but rather is utilized in ensuring clients achieve their goals by listening and educating them through every step.
Grabbing life with both hands, Zuzek has an unquenchable thirst for knowledge, seeking life lessons from every experience. Never satisfied with the status quo, Zuzek returned to college despite the fact that she was already a very successful business owner.
“I wanted to set a good example for my two daughters,” she says. “I graduated the same time as one of my daughters was also graduating from college and the other from high school. Learning is a life-time pursuit, you’re never to old and should never become complacent.”
Learning is a life-time pursuit, you’re never to old and should never become complacent.”
BUILDING BUSINESS SAVVY
Challenges came early for Zuzek, who cut her entrepreneurial teeth working her way up in a busy trucking business. Building on her vocational training, Zuzek steadily developed and augmented this knowledge over the course of some 15 years, eagerly learning every aspect of the freight/shipping business. As she grew in experience and competence, so did her responsibilities, finally culminating in her assuming the role of manager.
Time and circumstances however can play havoc with even the most desirable of vocations. So it was with Zuzek. Her “perfect storm” materialized with a series of life’s surprises, none of them being particularly pleasant.
“My father had passed away and my mother who was legally blind, needed me to step in and help. She was very active within the community and obviously I felt the need to assist, serving as her eyes, wheels, whatever she required,” she says. “My daughters were still quite young, so it was apparent that I needed to find a way to support us that would also offer enough flexibility for me to be there for everyone. I also wanted to be in a position to give time to my community and be an active part of my children’s lives including at their school. It was tall order, but I was determined to find a situation that would work.”
She studiously researched various possibilities, eventually eliminating them one by one either by virtue of the nature of the job or simply because it could not offer the flexibility she so desperately required.
“I really did a very thorough search trying to find something that would work with my lifestyle,” says Zuzek. “I knew I was a hard worker, was very community driven and had community support in whatever I did. Although I considered many different industries, when I hit upon real estate it was almost like one of those cartoons where the light bulb lights up. I thought, ‘I can do that!’”
Although I considered many different industries, when I hit upon real estate it was almost like one of those cartoons where the light bulb lights up. I thought, ‘I can do that!’”
An unwarranted comment from the first broker she interviewed with, could have squashed her enthusiasm. Ironically, it had precisely the opposite effect.
Zuzek recalls: “He said, ‘I hope you have a lot of money saved, because you probably won’t succeed for a while.’ What he didn’t know is that when someone tells me I can’t do something, my brain automatically responds with, ‘Oh yeah? Wanna watch?’ That first year I not only did very well, I actually outperformed nearly everyone in the office.
“It was a very different time back then,” she continues. “Nearly everyone in the office was male. I think there were only a couple women and the whole operation was very old school, very man’s world.”
REACHING IN-REACHING OUT
Even after determining that real estate was the right choice, Zuzek continued to examine all facets within the industry, gradually discovering what methods worked best, and even, what brokerage might be the best fit.
Initially, she was affiliated with the small, local real estate company. Soon, however, Zuzek and a business partner opened their own WHY USA franchise. As her experience and knowledge grew, Zuzek began seeking a brokerage that more closely matched her goals and philosophy. It was then she decided to purchase her own RE/MAX franchise.
This proved to be an auspicious decision as demonstrated by how Zuzek seemed to blossom, her already significant skills growing exponentially over the 13 years of being involved in her own franchise. Unfortunately, just when it looked as though it was going to be smooth sailing, the country was hit by one of the worst recessions in history. Timing couldn’t have been worse. In addition to all the responsibilities she was already shouldering, Zuzek had the added pressures that come with divorce. It became an emotional rollercoaster ride as she valiantly struggled to adjust to her new role as a single mom. Naturally, this was only exacerbated by the obvious threat to what been a very lucrative income.
“The market tanked,” she says succinctly. “It seemed like a cruel twist of fate after all the hard work, to be hit by something that was so completely out of my control. It was a difficult decision, but I sold while I was able to. My franchise was purchased by a wonderful person who, to this day, still operates RE/MAX Professionals.”
Most people would be tempted to throw in the towel or, at the very least indulge in an extended pity party. But that’s just not Zuzek. Perhaps what is most impressive, is that she not only brushed herself off, regrouped and plunged ahead, she took a route that is impressively altruistic. When most people were focused on frantically trying to save themselves, Zuzek was looking outwards, actively seeking ways to help desperate homeowners.
“I started a group called Hope for Homes,” she explains. “It was a group of people who were going through a lot of transition with home ownership. They might have been in foreclosure, trying to do a loan modification, a short sale or some other type of issue, but they were all struggling and scared. So, I put these people together with attorneys, counselors and faith-based people and created a support group. When I started this, there was no one out there helping people who were going through this loss.
“Psychologically, the head of household was going through tremendous pain, insecurity, sense of failure; it was a terrible time,” Zuzek continues. “The suicide rate skyrocketed mainly because they had no one to turn to or talk to about what they were experiencing. This pain and insecurity inevitably trickled down to the kids. It was horrible to watch-and I just couldn’t anymore, I had to do something.”
Hope for Homes proved the saving grace for hundreds of homeowners and their families, continuing as an active group well into 2011. Perhaps the most incredible by-product was the fact that those who themselves found help and hope with the organization, felt compelled to turn around and help the next person. Not only did Zuzek create a resource for those floundering in the throws of the devastating market crash, she joyfully witnessed a resurgence of the kindness and giving nature that may lie dormant, but happily still resides in the hearts of most people. A self-perpetuating phenomenon, Hope for Homes remains one of Zuzek’s proudest achievements.
Putting people first certainly sounds like a trite slogan, but for Zuzek it’s actually how she operates her business and her life.
“I think a large part of my success is because I don’t think ‘commission’ when I’m working with a client,” she says. “I know that if I do a good job, make sure the people I work with are happy, and give the best I have, then the money will follow. It shouldn’t be the other way around. Never want the transaction more than your clients!
“Truthfully, I couldn’t have stayed in this business for as long as I have if I was motivated by money,” Zuzek adds. “Relationships and helping people realize their dream of home ownership, those are the things that drive me. This brings me back to my mother’s philosophy of life. They are just very simple suggestions, but when applied they can make a world of difference.”
Having not only survived but flourished, Zuzek arrived on the other side of this financial morass with an even bigger and healthier business.
“Though it wasn’t my plan, a delightful by-product of forming Hope for Homes was that when these same people were once again solvent and ready to purchase another home, they came to me,” she says with a smile. “But truthfully, the most important aspect for me was knowing we had done the right thing.”
The year 2012 proved to be most auspicious for Zuzek. Not only did she acquire the perfect business partner for her new Coldwell Banker team, she found the love of her life. Amazingly, it was the same man, David Pope.
“I’ve been able to leave the management side of things with Coldwell Banker Burnet,” she says, “and focus on things that I really love, such as helping clients and coaching agents. Watching a new agent succeed or a client get what it they are looking for is like watching your child take their first steps. Sharing knowledge and encouraging others to succeed is such an invigorating and rewarding experience.”
Time is still a premium and it takes a lot of skillful juggling, but Zuzek still finds time for the most important aspect of her life, which is family. “We are a happily blended family,” she says, “and it really doesn’t matter what we do- playing games, hiking, fishing, walking or just talking-we try to do it together and enjoy one another. The recent loss of my mother it reminds me to bring me brings me back to the basics.”
Now with five grandchildren and two on the way, Zuzek and her husband David manage their thriving business and still find ample time to play grandma and grandpa. “He’s the yin to my yang,” she says with a happy grin. “He’s very quiet and analytical where I tend to be more spontaneous. We’ve found that this works great when meeting clients, which we try to do together. We each bring something different to the table, plus it’s nice to have two sets of eyes and ears. I love the fact that he adds to my residential business and I add to his agriculture real estate.” It’s a perfect combination.
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