From the ground up: Marina Constas on bringing women in the property industry together

Written by Editor

Feb 1, 2022

Marina Constas is the founder of Women in Sectional Title (WiST), an organisation working towards supporting women in the property by connecting and sharing information. We find out more about the attorney’s work, what inspired her to form WiST and what she thinks can be done to bring more women into the property industry. 

 

Please tell us a bit about your background – how did you get to this point?

Property Law was my favourite subject when I studied at Wits University, and this passion led me to specialise in the field for the past 20 years. I have trained an exceptional team of specialist lawyers and consultants at BBM Law who work with me in our Sectional Title Department. Our aim is to provide good quality, easy to understand advice to enable the lay person to satisfactorily resolve their sectional title or community schemes problem or dispute.

The changes in the Community Schemes legislative environment have had a huge impact on the industry, and I strive to be at the cutting edge of developments, to best serve my clients. This has included sitting on the board of the Community Schemes Ombud Service (CSOS) and pursuing a mediation accreditation from The London School of Mediation.

I am proud to have co-authored Demystifying Sectional Title, the first consumer friendly South African book on sectional title property issues, and to have founded Women in Sectional Title (WiST), a platform for women in property to network, learn, share knowledge, collaborate with and inspire each other, while gaining access to the resources they need to succeed in this field

I present local and international workshops and seminars on sectional title matters. I am pleased to be a regular contributor to magazine and newspaper columns, and appear as a guest on radio and television shows.

I was honoured to be recognised by The Lyceum Club of Greek Women for Excellence in Law.

 

Why do you believe it is important to empower women in the sectional title industry?

Women are reportedly the largest group of property buyers in South Africa today. They are, however, underrepresented and largely unacknowledged and unheard in the property sphere. Women may be snapping up properties, but they are still being left out in the cold when it comes to holding leadership positions and having their voices heard in the property sector.

I am regularly consulted about conflicts in which women involved in different aspects of sectional title – from tenants and owners to trustees – are ignored and even bullied in what is still a largely male-dominated industry.

By creating awareness of sectional title and the opportunities therein, and making it more accessible and appealing to young women, Women in Sectional Title’s goal is to build a skilled, representative sectional title community that is enriched by diversity and in which everyone can thrive and advance. 

 

What challenges have you faced as a woman in the property industry and how have you overcome them? 

As with many other industries, the property industry is dominated by men. Often, women in this industry feel as though their voices are not heard. Ideas that are presented by women are often shot down or overlooked. There have been a few times where men in the industry have been condescending towards me or have felt as if they know more than I do. In order to overcome these obstacles, it is imperative to understand what value you add to an organisation or community. When I have had ideas that have been overlooked, I have simply become more persuasive and improved my argument. I also want to empower women to understand their full potential and to ensure that they are educated about the property industry. The more you know, the more confident you will be when presenting your thoughts and ideas. Knowledge is power and I am always trying to learn as much as I can about property and the laws which are constantly changing. 

 

What can be done to get more women in the property industry? 

It is imperative to encourage more women owners to participate in their Body Corporate and to nominate themselves and other women to become trustees. There is definitely power in numbers so the more women that participate and actively play a role within bodies corporate the better. I host a “Women in Sectional Title” webinar once a month in order to educate and empower women in the property industry. More initiatives such as Women in Sectional Title are a key component in ensuring that more women enter the property industry. Women also need to take initiative and encourage and educate other women around them. We are so powerful and can learn significantly from one another. 

 

How did the COVID-19 pandemic affect your work and how have you adapted? 

As a result of the stringent and necessary measures that were put in place to contain COVID-19, in person meetings and AGMs were no longer an option. I had to start making use of Zoom for all my consultations and bodies corporate have also had to make use of online platforms to host their AGMs or any other meetings that need to take place. Voting on decisions within bodies corporate has had to be effected using online platforms such as SurveyMonkey or using built-in polling features on apps such as Meeting Pal. In a way using these platforms has made the property industry work in a more efficient manner due to the fact that meetings now have to be completed in a certain amount of time and votes cannot be disputed as computers are now doing all the work. Consequently, human error does not play a role. It was an adjustment, not being able to meet with clients and trustees face-to-face, but I think we have all had to get used to this new ‘normal.’ 

 

Where do you see the sectional title sector, and the property industry in general, going in 2022 and beyond? 

Sectional title and property laws are constantly changing and the industry is always evolving. I foresee that as the property industry becomes more buoyant, many more schemes will be developed, particularly as urban densification is the order of the day. CSOS plays a crucial role within the industry and the hope is that, over time, rulings will be given in a shorter amount of time and the organisation will continue to grow from strength to strength. More people need to become involved in the industry in order to ensure that their interests (as owners) are being put first and that Trustees are complying with the Sectional Title legislation. Encouraging more people to participate in the industry is one of my main goals.

 

What advice would you give to young women who want to get involved in the property industry? 

It is crucial to be knowledgeable about the industry and to keep up to date with the changes that constantly come into play. Participating in events such as the “Women in Sectional Title” webinars is a wonderful way to learn and ensure that they know about changes and how to deal with them within their own bodies corporate. Attend all meetings and do not be afraid to put your thoughts and opinions forward at these meetings. It is imperative to become an active participant within your own community and doing so at a younger age will certainly give you an advantage. Network, network, network and have the courage to ask the women you admire in the industry for advice.

 

 

What are your plans for the future – personally and professionally?

On the personal front, I will be adding impetus to the work that I do for my community. I co-founded Community Hours, an award-winning online portal that facilitates community service for teens, schools, active citizens and accredited non-profit organisations. I served as chairperson of the Bedfordview Community Policing Forum for 10 years and am currently the chairperson of the Bedfordview Residents Action Group (RAG) and Better Bedfordview, a non-profit initiative working to make the suburb safe, clean, green and beautiful, to benefit all.  I have recently qualified as a BASI Pilates Instructor and teach from my studio at home in the evenings and on weekends. I thoroughly enjoy walking marathons and hiking with Jeppe Quondam Athletics Club and always enjoy a good biography. Entertaining friends and family is high up on the list and I love cooking Greek food on the weekends.

Professionally, my aim this year is to focus on transformation in the sectional title space. I would like to see more black women making waves and having an impact in this space, linking them up with training opportunities and bursary programmes. To this end, I have been invited to join Women Property Networking forums where I can hopefully contribute to meaningful change.

 

 

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