Many New York sales agents have come to the business of real estate from a wide range of other professions. In an ongoing series, TheRealDeal.com will profile brokers for whom selling properties represents a major career transition.
Now an agent at Bond New York, Lora Dettinger is a nomad and a “chameleon.” She started out as a commercial fisherwoman on her family’s boat in Alaska, then became a screenwriter in Los Angeles, owned a restaurant in Phoenix and worked in a tackle shop in rural California. In an interview with The Real Deal, she plumbed the depths of gun-toting customers, working with Kevin Bacon and growing up in a town of 2,000 to end up in New York City.
We’ve heard of many brokers with interesting past lives, but so far, a commercial fisherman, or woman, is unique. How did you end up fishing for a living?
It’s a family business. I was born in Cordova, Alaska, a little fishing village which you can only get to by plane or boat.
How many people live there?
Your family owned a boat?
Yes, for salmon fishing. I was eight years old when I first started on the boat. My dad also started when he was eight, and was given a fishing boat. Times are different now — my dad never gave me my own boat, but he did put me to work as part of the crew. It was me, my mom and dad, my younger sister, and my uncle. We would go out for at least a week at a time in the summer. I spent my winters in Oregon and summers in Alaska fishing until I was 17, until I could make decisions for myself [laughs]. It was hard work; long hours.
Is it dangerous?
It can be, but our dad didn’t take us into 40-foot waves or anything. As far as on the boat, it is [dangerous], but you are taught from a very young age not to touch that, or not to touch that while that is moving. But also, I didn’t know anything different. Everyone and everyone’s parents were in the fishing business. My dad was a crab fisherman in the winters, [and we] fished salmon in the summers.
What did you do next?
I went to college at the University of Southern California. Then I spent 15 years [in Los Angeles] doing movies. I started a production company that did music videos, and then I did some [script] writing and worked on some films. They were not very successful, but I did work with Kevin Bacon! It was a movie called “Pyrates.” This was years ago.
Why did you come to New York?
I married a New Yorker. I was living in Arizona, where I owned a restaurant with my sister. I also had a not-for-profit animal rescue and a Mexican restaurant. I’ve had many past lives. I met a New Yorker on Match.com. He’s a corporate bond broker, and lived there [in Arizona], but all of a sudden he needed to be back in the office [in New York]. So I decided to come here. I wanted to try something new and different, like I do, so I went to real estate school.
Why did you move to Arizona?
Because my sister moved there and we wanted to run a business together. I’m not really sure how we chose a restaurant.
A notoriously difficult business! How did you like Arizona?
The first time you see somebody with a side-arm [gun] it’s pretty disturbing. And I’ve lived a lot of places with a lot of gun racks. And they are just walking down the street, and they aren’t a police officer.
You’ve lived a lot of places.
I have — I lived in Palm Desert, Calif., and in June Lake, [Calif.], where I worked at a tackle shop. I also lived in Orange County, and then moved to Oregon, where my sister and I were going to open a doggie day care, but we ended up opening the restaurant instead.
Do you miss the movie business?
I will always wonder [what might have happened]. I was really happy when I was making movies. I know I could start over, but it’s really, really hard. I’m not sure I want to say ‘I don’t have it in me,’ but I don’t know that I want to [return to the movie business]. I don’t need to hang out all night with entertainment types.
Do you miss owning a restaurant?
Uh, no. When you’re working with the public, it’s not always that pleasant, and I don’t mean that to sound like I’m not grateful for the business. But you put a lot of hours in, and you’re there till the floors are mopped [at night]. It’s a lot of work and a lot of it is thankless. Fishing is a lot more solitary and introspective.
And maybe the work you put in correlates more directly with the amount you make?
Well, you can get skunked too. There is a lot of luck in fishing.
You think that’s similar to real estate? To make a very obvious and convenient connection.
[Laughs]. Yes, I suppose it’s similar. That one who makes up their mind in 15 seconds makes up for all the others.
Have you carved out a niche in New York?
I have specific neighborhoods where I love to work; Noho is a favorite. I like the Financial District. I work in sales only. I have a $10 million listing right now, at 26 Bond Street. It’s a townhouse between Lafayette and Bowery.
Do you still go to Alaska frequently?
I don’t. My dad sold the fishing boat and bought a bowling alley. I worked in the bowling alley for quite a while too.
Do you mesh well with Manhattanites, given how different your background is?
I don’t think it really matters to them that I had all these other experiences, and it might help. I can get along with everybody.
Is it a competitive environment at Bond?
I try to stay out of the drama. I do not want to be involved in it.
Where do you live?
111 Fulton Street [in the Financial District].
You’ve had so many careers. Any others we’re glossing over?
Well, I put myself through film school by working as a paralegal. That’s useful because you can always get a job anywhere. My mom calls me her little chameleon, because I can always fit in anywhere. I’m happy everywhere I go, be it fishing, restaurateuring …