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Winter Park-based Realtor Mixes Business with a Passion for Pets

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Managing the work/life balance can be a difficult prospect but real estate agent Christine Elias has successfully combined work with her personal mission.

As team leader of The Urban Dog Group at Coldwell Banker Realty in Winter Park, Elias focuses on the needs of her clients and their pets while donating a portion of the proceeds to the Pet Alliance of Greater Orlando. She credits her dog Ripsy, who she lost in 2020, for the inspiration to help fellow pet owners find the perfect home.

“I can identify with homeowners who love their animals, they’re part of the family,” she said. “And I want to give back to the animal rescue community because I know what they do is so important.”

A Florida resident since 1996, Elias hails from eastern Long Island and grew up around her family’s construction and engineering company. Her work ethic grew from watching her father run the business, but her creative spirit began with help from daytime television.

“When I was a little girl, my mother would watch soap operas,” she said. “She told me that, when the theme music would come on I would get up and spin around, so she put me in the local dance academy.”

Her artistic side would dominate her childhood but her entrepreneurial spirit, and the lessons of her father’s business, would guide her into the spotlight of the corporate sector.

“You know, there’s 13,000 Realtors here in Central Florida,” she said. “When I finally decided to go on my own, it was it was go big or go home.”

Here, Elias discusses how she managed to go big while following her passion.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

I wanted to be a Radio City Rockette. I was a dancer from the time I was four, I danced competitively, the ballet was my love. But when I was 19 I realized I wasn’t going to be a Rockette. I just got burned out.

How did you go from dancing to real estate?

My father was a mechanical engineer, he built houses and commercial buildings, so I was around construction my whole life and I knew the real estate end. After I moved to Florida with my family, I spent 15 years doing marketing and business development for various general contractors in the Orlando area. I was horribly unfulfilled, yet I was very hesitant of being my own boss. My mentors were Dale Donovan, the managing director of the commercial division of Keller Williams Realty, and Susan Morris, who was a vice president at Colliers Arnold. I knew them through the Commercial Real Estate Women Network, and they said, “you’ve got to do this, we’ve got your back, anything you need.”

What inspired your love of animals?

I was never the kind of person who would ever buy a dog because I saw so many homeless animals. Back in 1999 I met a woman named Diane Jones, she was an animal rescuer and worked with Orange County Animal Control. She was able to get Orange County to provide free spay and neuter services, and she was one of the most passionate people I’ve ever met. I started to embed myself in the animal rescue community and was lucky enough to go along with Diane and her husband and learn how to trap strays for the trap-neuter-return program.

Was it a challenge to merge animal welfare into a real estate business?

It’s about matching people with a property that’s going to be beneficial to them and their pets, and people appreciate that. It’s a genuine passion that we share with our clients. We were the first real estate group to get a booth at Paws in the Park and I’ll never forget this woman, she said, “I’m looking for a rental for me and my four dogs.” And I said, “Ma’am, no landlord wants you and your four dogs. You need to get yourself in a financial position to own your own home, so let’s help get you started.” Right then, I realized this is what I was meant to do.

Aside from helping the animal rescue community, what is the most rewarding part of your job?

I love working with single women, single moms, and helping them gain an investment through owning real estate and making smart decisions. Because you always have to look at real estate as an investment. It is an emotional purchase, but you have to look at it as something you could parlay into a family legacy.

How difficult is it to find homes for people with several pets, or exotic animals?

Having worked for developers I know about building and zoning codes, how many animals you are allowed in certain areas. For instance, the city of Orlando allows you have chickens, but not a rooster. You have to know different communities and homeowners’ associations.

Are there any changes coming in the local real estate market?

I had between six and 10 closings per month last year. It was just insane, and the prices went up. And this year we don’t have enough inventory. COVID changed everything because everybody can live and work where they want now. When people come here and see how nice it is, they figure, why not work where there’s no state income tax, homestead exemptions, and the weather’s great. We are just a desired area, in general, and I just don’t see that changing anytime soon.

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