The Business Magazine’s “Risking It All” section highlights entrepreneurs who make sacrifices to build their businesses in our region. This month, we sat down with Sue Sutto, a member of the Association’s Board of Governors and president and owner of Sue Sutto REALTORS Inc. in Erie, to talk about the risks and rewards of going into business for herself.
Like many successful business owners, Sue Sutto didn’t set out to be an entrepreneur. The former Villa Maria Academy history teacher got into the real estate business by happenstance when, after three years of teaching, she met an influential businesswoman by the name of Jane Theuerkauf, president of Jane Theuerkauf Realtor, who recruited Sutto to join her firm.
“Initially, I was somewhat reluctant,” Sutto recalls. “It was a big step leaving something that was pretty much day to day and going into a business that was commission driven. But I did finally make the decision about a year after she offered me the position.”
After working for the agency for approximately 15 years, and approaching her 40th birthday, Sutto felt it was time to make another career move — this time to go into business for herself. “It was a big deal, because at that stage in my life I was either going to continue being an agent for the rest of my career, or I was going to strike out on my own,” she says.
Believing she would be successful and knowing she was ready for the responsibility that would come with being a business owner, Sutto got the support of her former employer and set out to start her own firm. With that, she opened Sue Sutto REALTORS Inc. in December of 1986.
It wasn’t a big operation in the beginning, but Sutto had many decisions to make, from where she was going to locate her operation to hiring staff to help her get the business off the ground. Within a few years, Sutto found that she needed to expand from her leased office space to her current headquarters, located right next door on West 12th Street and Powell Avenue. She purchased the property in the spring of 1992, renovated it, and moved into the building that November.
Since then, Sutto has experienced the many challenges and costs that come with operating a business, including the impact that stricter mortgage guidelines have had on her industry. Due to the tidal wave of mortgage fraud cases that unraveled in 2008 and 2009, these guidelines now change about every six months.
“Ten or 12 years ago, it would take one piece of paper for an agreement of sale,” says Sutto. “Today, it’s 20 to 21 pages. We’ve seen tremendous interference from the legislature and regulations that stand in the way of trying to facilitate an agreement between a buyer and a seller.”
Still, Sutto’s agency — with its nine full-time agents — is positioned to make each real estate sale a positive experience. “We’re involved with people who are making one of the biggest decisions in their lives — and one of the most expensive,” she says. “The agents are here to serve the public and because of the complexity of what is going on today, it is full-time dedication.”
It’s that kind of commitment that Sutto believes future entrepreneurs need to have before they go into business for themselves. “If you are going to start a business, do it in a business that you know, or figure out a way that you can learn that business from somebody else,” she advises. “You need to have enough planning and the financial resources to cover yourself, because there may be a period of time when you don’t have the income that you expect and you’re funding the business yourself. And you have to have the stamina to do it.”
“People often say, ‘You have your own business, you can do whatever you want.’ Well, no,” she continues. “It’s always your responsibility. It’s your name. It’s your business.” For Sutto, owning her own real estate agency has been extremely rewarding. “In the real estate business, you see instant gratification,” she says. “You’ve been working with someone who has been looking for their dream home for forever, and you’re a part of that.”
For more information about Sue Sutto REALTORS Inc., visit www.suesutto.com.