Driving & Driven

Esther Lotz’s office is on wheels, but she helps her clients get fixed in place

by Kinsey Labberton

Esther LotzTwenty years ago, Esther Lotz had an “Aha!” moment when she was inspired to go into commercial real estate. For 18 of those years, she worked for someone else. Two years ago, she left to open her own shop, Esther Lotz Commercial Real Estate Broker.

Estherlotz.com features an image of two boxers preparing to duke it out. The caption reads: “You’ll never be blindsided by Esther beating you to a sweet deal. And your property will never have to compete against a listing owned by Esther. So, the next time you need a commercial real estate broker, give Esther a call. She’s in your corner.”

Esther Lotz does not invest in property. “That’s one of the things that set me apart from my esteemed colleagues,” says Lotz. “The big bucks are in investment and development, and you have to love brokerage and be very diligent and committed to do it the way I do. It’s a big way for me to be unique in the market as a commercial-industrial broker.” 

Lotz says she believes there is an inherent conflict of interest in owning inventory that competes with a client’s inventory. “My clients will never have to compete with a listing of my own.” 

Although many women work in commercial real estate, says Lotz, “they also handle residential/multi-family properties and/or operate part time as office assistants or on salary. To the best of my knowledge, I am the only woman in this market — and in the state — who does strictly commercial/industrial real estate brokerage.”

“I love it! I love what I do!” she exclaims. Her enthusiasm for her work is palpable. “I was sitting here trying to think what makes me different,” she says, “and that’s when it came to me: I just really love what I do.” 

Epiphany moments like this have guided Lotz before. It was a similar instant 20 years ago that triggered her decision to switch careers from the fast-food industry to real estate. 

Lotz grew up in downtown Burlington, having been moved here “before I could talk and say it was too cold here in the winters,” she jokes, adding, after a pause, “I could never live anywhere else now.” Her first entrepreneurial venture was as owner of a Domino’s Pizza franchise. 

“That gave me the respect and admiration for the courage and the work that an entrepreneur puts into a business.” 

After 20 years in the business, she says, “I woke up one morning and decided, ‘I want to go into commercial real estate.’” Not one to brush off her instincts, she quickly sold her business and took a position with Dave Kelly at HighPoint Realty in Winooski. 

“I knew it was what I wanted to do, so HighPoint took a gamble on me.” Lotz decided  to bypass the salaried job as an assistant that many women choose when entering commercial brokerage. “From day one, I never operated as an assistant on salary, but was on straight commission.”

That move spawned an 18-year career with HighPoint, but it was an audacious choice. Like anyone who’s made a giant career change, Lotz remembers the adjustment as an incredibly trying time. 

“Transitioning from fast-food to real estate was unbelievably brutal,” she says. “It took every ounce of courage and guts I could summon.” 

Her perseverance has become legendary and is tested time and again, especially over the last year and a half, since she decided to roll the dice again and go solo. Friends have referred to Lotz as a pit bull, she says, with a hint of pride. “A pit bull with a wagging tail,” she adds, amused. 

“I was getting a lot of encouragement to go out on my own. I was ready.” 

She left HighPoint and started her own company, Esther Lotz Commercial Real Estate Broker, and hasn’t looked back. 

Lotz can’t explain all these risks, gambles, and chances except to point to Yankee ingenuity. “Every day I get a new course in business, and I love learning and growing and meeting new people,” she says. She would have to, as placement of a business with an office or warehouse space is a long-term relationship. Initial inquiry to final sale or lease can take upwards of 12 months. “It’s a long process,” Lotz says. Not to mention long distance. “I really work throughout Vermont, so I’m constantly driving.” She logs about 200 miles a day, five days a week. 

Thanks to the beauty of technology, though, she’s essentially in an office on wheels. She credits the Internet for allowing her recent employment independence. “The Internet is a great leveler. I can be in an office of 20 or an office of one,” she says. With her Unicel HTC cell phone computer and her HP-12C financial calculator handy, she’s constantly connected to clients in her rolling personal headquarters. 

Even with the cost of fuel and the recent real estate downturn, Lotz appears to be thriving. Though businesses across the board are struggling, she says she has felt little on her end. 

“It’s true,” she says, “that dollars are being spent much more cautiously.” However, she adds, what that amounts to is a tremendous amount of activity in the marketplace.” Businesses looking to move to cheaper locations, move to smaller spaces, or renovate to be more energy-efficient still means business for the commercial real estate professional. 

“People call me and say, ‘Esther, we want to lease out half our building; we’re downsizing.’ Whether the economy is moving forward or backward it doesn’t matter. I can be of service, which I love, and I can earn a paycheck, which I love. There’s an opportunity.” 

That opportunity of late has been mainly through small warehouse spaces. Locations around 1,500 to 2,500 square feet tend to fill fairly quickly, according to Lotz. However, she’s also done many larger deals, including her point of pride, the Green Mountain Coffee Roasters K-Cup manufacturing space in Essex — “My biggest deal — 87,000 square feet — and I have the testimonial, telling the world that I was responsible for putting together that space,” Lotz crows. 

Most of Lotz’s clients come through referrals, though more and more are finding her on the Internet. She has done work for the likes of Haun Welding Supply, Recycle North Appliance Division, and Benefit Group of New England. 

“Esther was truly a pleasure to work with,” says Deb Loughlin, managing partner of the Benefit Group of New England LLC. “She’s diligent and kept us on track throughout the process. We looked at a lot of spaces.”

Lotz, Loughlin continues, was an apt advocate and made sure all questions related to the company’s needs were covered. “We’re now in a space that is perfect for our people and has all the elements we needed and desired — I hadn’t thought we’d get all that.”

As an independent business owner, Lotz is a woman possessed. She explains, with unrestrained passion, “When you own a business it’s your whole world; you think about it constantly.” She doesn’t lie. Continually connected, Lotz answers e-mails instantly and follows up with phone calls almost as fast. She’s plugged in and at her clients’ beck and call around the clock. 

This passion carries over into her personal life. When Lotz isn’t cruising Interstate 89 en route to a meeting or logging hours on her HP12C calculator, she can be found at the gym. 

“I do body building,” she says, nonchalantly. 

That’s a bit of an understatement. Lotz is a champion body-builder and won the women’s Grand Master Division during the 2008 Vermont State Open Raw Bench Press competition, held in July at All-American Fitness. “It’s a beautiful, beautiful trophy,” she says, adding, “It’s hard to put in the hours at the gym. I spend most of my time working 12 hours a day.” 

Lotz wouldn’t share her winning bench press weight, but one thing is perfectly clear: Working for the deal or working out, Lotz is a competitor.•

Editor's note: corrections posted 10/9/2008