- We can all tell stories of our life’s challenges, but few would have had a more difficult start than award-winning agent Jessica Chea, who arrived in Australia as a refugee from Cambodia post the horrific Pol Pot era. Just eleven years old and with no English at all, Jessica was determined from the first day to not only survive but thrive.
- A hairdresser for 18 years once she left school, the move to real estate was a radical change in direction, but despite all odds, Jessica topped the state for total sales in her first year and has regularly been awarded the honour of being among the Top 50 Women in Real Estate by Real Estate Business Magazine.
Start With One Step
Coming to Australia as a Cambodian refugee in the early 1980’s, eleven-year-old Jessica Chea knew real fear first-hand. She and her family had fled a brutal regime and widespread famine, able to rely only on each other.
Suddenly presented with a roof over their heads, clean clothes and three meals a day, Australia seemed too good to be true, a dream they’d soon wake up from. While amazing, it was tough and with no English between them at all, they struggled to adapt to this new reality.
For Jessica, starting school in year four already well behind the other children and unable to understand her teachers, she struggled to catch up but never could. After school when other children had time to study, eat and sleep, she went home to work until midnight or even later, helping her parents and sister sew to make enough money for the family to live.
Eventually leaving school in year nine, Jessica’s goal was to study hairdressing, but she found the course was expensive. Showing similar determination, her mother and older sister worked even harder to pay for it, with Jessica doubling down on her studies to ensure their efforts weren’t wasted. Finishing the course as Student of the Year, a job offer at a key city salon was supposed to be hers automatically, but when the salon manager met Jessica face to face, the offer was withdrawn.
Unable to find work, it was back to sewing, with Jessica’s strong work effort seeing her open a small factory sometime later in partnership with a friend, which housed up to 30 makers at any one time. But after a couple of years, Jessica’s mind turned back to hairdressing and she started again applying for roles.
Setting her sights on one well-known salon, she applied her relentless determination and after 26 attempts, the owner finally relented, allowing Jessica to work unpaid shifts in order to learn. His glowing reference eventually saw Jessica obtaining a role as a teacher at a hairdressing college, working a second part-time job in a salon on weekends and servicing private clients at home in the laundry at night.
It was now 1994, and the new dream was to open her own salon before getting married and starting a family. She found premises and worked out her costs, figuring if she could make $60 a day, the business would be viable. On the first day she made $63, and the doors would stay open under Jessica’s ownership for the next 18 years as she worked seven days a week building the business up, eventually employing seven other hairdressers.
Meanwhile, Jessica’s husband Thomas had opened his own real estate business along the way, First National Real Estate Waverley City. Watching Thomas and his team at work, Jessica began thinking about whether she could also work in the industry as she’d become thirsty for a new challenge. It took a couple of years to find the right buyers and gradually exit her business as Jessica’s strong client base had become like family.
Nevertheless, the plan had been hatched and Jessica pushed forward. Still struggling with academia, she studied day and night to gain her certificate, a process that took almost four years and six failed attempts before she achieved success.
Still showing her trademark determination, Jessica decided to start work with an independent agency rather than just being given a role with her husband as an unproven agent. Taking to the industry immediately, she surprised everyone including herself with how quickly she began listing and selling and a short time later, she joined the First National Waverley City team. Her success only continued to build, with Jessica awarded the top agent in Vic/Tas for the First National Real Estate group in her very first year.
“Whatever it is, I always think everyone else is amazing and I can never do it, but I also think if I start just with one step and do the little things, maybe I can,” says Jessica.
“I thought real estate would be so different to hairdressing and much harder, but I found it was actually the same – it’s talking to people, building relationships, finding out what they want and then helping them.”
“It’s not easy but it is simple. I still find texts and emails hard, but I just keep working at it, talking to people and helping them.”
“Even before I joined First National, the group made me feel very welcome. It’s like a family, it’s fun, there’s no judgement and everyone helps one another.”
“There’s constant training and with the support from everyone around me, I feel I can succeed. I have found my home, and I’m so proud to be part of First National Real Estate.”
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