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Close-up: Penny Nathan

Ethics, relationships core of Ascent Real Estate team

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Staff photo by Michael Countis

To ascend implies to go up, above and beyond, to have higher standards and raise the bar.

The word frames the philosophy behind the nearly 10-year-old Ascent Real Estate Inc., a metro San Diego firm co-founded by Penny Nathan.

“We wanted to be able to know that that was our core value. Our mission statement speaks to it, so we could help change the perception of the real estate industry. That real estate salespeople are highly ethical and highly skilled professionals,” Nathan said.

Ethics and relationships are core to Ascent’s team of 160 agents, and to the company’s name, which ranks among the top five in the county for certain criteria, including units and volume, Nathan said.

This year has been a stable one and 2015 should remain so, offering an opportunity for people again to face the fundamentals, Nathan said.

“We need to save, we need to be prudent. Yes, we can buy homes, no, they’re not ATM machines. This is our housing, this is our shelter, it’s a long-term investment,” Nathan said.

Nathan has lived in San Diego for 35 years and hails from the Chicago area.

She was a regional operations and sales director for Pilkington, which produced glass for vehicles and buildings. That job required frequent travel to manage warehouses, requiring her to be on the road or in a plane up to six days a week.

Fueled by an entrepreneurial attitude, Nathan started to write a plan to combine business and real estate. But knowing the derogatory stigma attached to car dealers and Realtors in the late 1990s, she wanted to change that mold.

She entered the field in 2000, working for a local franchise broker, and aimed to open her own brokerage. In her first four years, she grew a team of six people.

“I set a milestone that I wanted to be able to earn a certain amount of income. So I knew once I opened my company that I wouldn’t have to have a sale, I wouldn’t have to hire anyone, that I could build my company based on ethics and serving clients, and holding certain standards,” Nathan said.

In 2005, Nathan partnered with longtime Realtor Ken Pecus to found Ascent Realty, and they focused on going above and beyond the level of service they say exists in residential real estate. “Even though we are a locally owned company, we are able to provide global reach and levels of service equal to the national companies,” Nathan said. “We started out as a small company and we didn’t want to make excuses.”’

The company grew to about 30 people in the first year and has since grown by leaps and bounds, with 160 licensed agents, 20 of whom are staff. Staffing levels have been consistent for about three years.

Agents focus on metro San Diego, a decision based on data for aggregate sales and Nathan’s previous real estate experience. Ascent now has seven offices -- in Bankers Hill, North Park, Kensington, Mission Hills, downtown, Point Loma and La Jolla -- and an additional storefront space in Coronado.

A long-term goal for the next 10 years is to expand into San Diego County and beyond.

Nathan is proud of her team and said they take her mission of running an ethical company to heart. She especially enjoys teaching and coaching them, and has trained 40 percent of the team in both real estate and running their business.

“They recognize that we serve the client first. Everyone deserves to get paid for a job well done. We want to do a job well, and then, get paid. That’s how we approach our work,” said Nathan, whose hobbies include reading, cooking and walking.

Ascent was a $15 million company this year in terms of its gross commission dollars.

Running Ascent has been a labor of love, Nathan said, especially during its first few years.

“If you’re going to make it through the growth of a company and build, it takes more than just money. It takes more than moxie. It takes a true dedication and passion. In some ways it’s like raising a child.”

Ascent opened at the peak of the market in 2005, when real estate was a buoyant market. For consumers, the downturn signaled how agents differentiate themselves, Nathan said.

Many consumers were in distress and needed to know if they could trust an agent, and if they could get support and guidance. No longer were homes a place of joy; they instead became a source of distress. Those agents that held the line offered a tremendous service, Nathan said.

More than 70 percent of Ascent’s business is repeat clients and referrals thanks to the company’s focus on relationship selling, Nathan said.

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