Yolanda Robins is a former investment relations and corporate communications executive turned real estate entrepreneur who has made a life for herself in Paris. She moved to the French capital in 2004 after a careful, three-year selection process during which she investigated living in Rome, London, and Paris.
Yolanda was inspired to change her life on September 11, 2001, when she was on a flight from Hong Kong to New York. She was accumulating wealth from a financial perspective but not growing from a personal perspective. The terrorist attacks on the U.S. were the impetus she needed to decide to make a change. They made her realize that life is very precious and that "you really have to enjoy all aspects of what you're doing."
Yolanda was working at Pegasus Communications when she had this epiphany. She continued to consult with the company for a period of time to help them transition while traveling around the world for eight months to see different kinds of people and experience different cultures. She visited Vietnam, Cambodia, North Africa, and Europe. She returned to the U.S. to work on the then and former Pennsylvania governor's campaign and then made the decision to "test" the idea of living in Rome, London, or Paris.
Though she is a city girl, Yolanda found that the areas of Italy that appealed to her most - Tuscany and Umbria - were not urban centers and therefore would not support her in her professional endeavors. She thought London would represent the "path of least resistance" because there was no language barrier, but she found that it was not the kind of city that interested her.
Then she went to Paris, a place that she had visited many times before in her youth and as an adult. Despite not speaking the language, she felt that the pros outweighed the cons for relocating there. She packed up and moved in January 2004.
Yolanda came to Paris as a student. She attended the Sorbonne for a year and a half, taking French language, French history and art history courses. She found this to be extremely challenging, in part because she was twice the age of her classmates.
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Being in Paris alone was also a challenge. For the first few months, Yolanda was very isolated. But even though it was "excruciatingly painful" for the people with whom she conversed in her very basic French, she persisted in communicating in French - even when people detected her accent and responded to her in English:
I kept doing it. When they responded to me in English I responded in infinitives, but I kept doing it until they realized she is not going to stop speaking no matter how terrible she is speaking. After I would say probably about, I would say, about six to seven months I made myself understood. I understood things because I watched different films, I watched different television, I went to cafés, I went to performing arts and did everything in the language in the country where I had decided to live.
Yolanda began her career in real estate after attending a seminar organized by a person who was in the process of redefining her focus and creating a practice in real estate. She and Yolanda partnered in the new business venture. Then, after some period of time, Yolanda was approached by the agency that rented her apartment she found when she moved to Paris. They thought she was a dynamic person and though they understood what her level of French was at the time, they wanted to bring her into their company to create a practice that was aimed at helping non-residents purchase property in Paris for investment or personal use.
She spent time interfacing with banks, which was easy because it was part of her financial background. She also worked with French notaries who speak English. (The notary in France is somewhat to an attorney because they oversee the real estate transactions in France.) She worked with builders to renovate the properties as well. Within the agency, she put together a package of services that met any and all client needs. She specialized in properties in the Marais (3rd and 4th arrondissements) and targeted a niche of clients with non-conventional lifestyles - mostly same sex couples. She was the sole Anglophone within the agency and established a loyal, satisfied clientele. Having a financial and communications background and being well versed in Anglophone culture gave her customers a sense of ease and solidarity.
Yolanda started her own real estate business, Paris Mac Immo, in 2010. Once again, a personal defining moment was behind her decision - her mother became very ill and Yolanda spent a lot of time going back and forth to Philadelphia to care for her. She opened her business after her mother died and splits her time between sales and renovations. She works on interior design projects as well and finds it all very rewarding work.
Images from Paris Mac Immo Web site
When asked what she finds different about working in France compared to the U.S., Yolanda replied that it is challenging because in French culture, lifestyle takes priority over business. She finds that she can work at half the capacity that she did in the U.S. and get far more results because her American work ethic is more determined, more focused. This allows her to get things done quickly and efficiently. Bringing all of those skills, she is able to attract not only not only non-residents clients, but also French clients because they want the same level of service.
Regarding the real estate business itself, Yolanda informs her American clients that the process of purchasing property is completely different than in the U.S. It’s not an intuitive process and you need someone to help you navigate through the challenges. In the U.S. you can see a property, make an offer, and once it is accepted, you can close within two weeks - including the financing. In France, this process takes three months and people are very surprised that there is no prequalification for financing. It can take 90 days or even more from signing an initial offer to closing. Yolanda spends a lot of time notifying her clients of the process here.
Yolanda amassed a good deal of wealth while working in the U.S., so she was able to live off of savings during the three years that she spent traveling and selecting the new city that she would eventually call home. When she decided to move to Paris, she was offered an opportunity to do almost the same work that she had done in Philadelphia. But she had made a conscious decision to reconfigure her life, so she set out to do something different. She started her real estate activities as a consultant with the understanding that she would be able to serve the client base she developed once she created her own business. This allowed her to establish a successful practice quickly.
Running her own business, Yolanda is able to make lifestyle a priority while maintaining a competitive edge through her American work ethic. In her corporate position in the U.S., she wouldn't think anything of working 14- to 15-hour days and she often found herself traveling 15 days a month for work. Her eating habits were extremely poor.
Now she works eight hours a day and only works on weekends when it is necessary. Because she found herself surrounded by physically fit people in Paris, she began to run or work out everyday and has lost 50 pounds because of this new habit. The quality of her life has markedly improved.
For women who are thinking of relocating to France and running a business in Paris, Yolanda has the following advice:
I would say that first of all you have to expect the unexpected. You should not be deterred by the challenges. You should not be deterred by the cultural differences. You should not be deterred by the language. All of these things can be used to your advantage to help you excel at what you want to do because if you have the basic instincts to succeed you can do that just about anywhere.
What's also helpful for women, for Americans in general, is to be a generalist, to be able to do many different things. I am a person who adapts to change very easily and I do that by being a generalist. If you have all of those skills and if you're not deterred, then that’s my advice. Just enjoy the experience because there are things about the city that cannot be experienced anywhere else in the world.
Paris is a place that is full of life, full of happiness, full of joy, full of opportunity. It’s really a great environment or a great backdrop to create a life, to create work, to create just how you want to be.
Read Part 2 of Yolanda's profile, where she talks more about the lifestyle she enjoys in Paris.
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