Diane Ramirez is not your traditional grandmother. She is the president of Halstead Property, a company in the top tier of independent residential real estate firms in New York City, with 600 agents, 11 offices, and more than $1 billion in sales annually. Ramirez is also active in several philanthropic organizations, including The Valerie Fund and the Neighborhood Coalition for Shelter. She recently won the Real Estate Board of New York’s Henry Forster Award — the organization’s highest honor for lifetime achievement and charitable giving. Grandparents.com spoke with the real-estate maven about what matters most to her — family. And with a husband of more than 40 years, two children, and five grandchildren, the 61-year-old has a lot to say.
Grandparents.com: How do you have time for it all — a high-powered career, a slew of philanthropic activities, a husband, two married children, and five grandchildren?
Diane Ramirez: When you love what you’re doing, you find the time. I am very focused, and that is how you have to be. I am really so blessed because my family is absolutely my number-one priority — which is probably why I am still delightfully married. I give 100 percent of each second of my day to what is supposed to be my focus for that time, so neither job nor family suffer. At work, I have a special phone line my family can call me on, so they know they can always reach me if they need to. But I’m not alone; I know there are a lot of people who do as much as I am [doing].
GP: How do you think the current housing-market crisis will change the way future generations, like your grandchildren, buy and pay for their houses?
DR: I think it will be back to business as usual, actually. People are going to continue to take mortgages out on their homes. But I think my grandchildren will have more reasonable guidelines in place. The problem right now is in the market for mortgage products. I think that after all this, what will probably be gone will be the risky products, because this is about people who probably should not have had a mortgage in the first place. Mortgage money was too easy and cheap, and people who could afford a home at a very low rate couldn't afford it when the rates went up.
GP: What advice are you going to give your grandkids when they’re looking to buy property?
DR: I'll tell them to buy where they want to live, and only when they have the money to afford it, not to think they’re going to "time" something. You should buy the best you can afford at that time, and then hope to have it for a long time. If you need to move on, move on and hopefully make a little money to buy the next place as your family gets bigger. A home is the most special thing you own, because you create it and make it the place where your family grows up and makes their memories.
GP: What went through your mind when you first found out that you were going to be a grandparent?
DR: I’ll be honest, my first reaction was: "I'm too young for this!" But I got over that very quickly ... my grandchildren are just so delightful and delicious.
GP: What do you enjoy about being a grandparent more than being a parent?
DR: We don't have any of the same awesome responsibilities of parents — the day-to-day duties. Our only responsibility is to love these dear children to death. That’s all the relationship between grandparent and grandchild is: pure joy and unadulterated love.
GP: How is your relationship to your grandchildren different from the one you had with your own grandmothers?
DR: My grandmothers were so kind and sweet, but they were the typical older ladies with the white hair, the big shoes, and that matronly look, and when I went to their house, the crystal candy dish always had a special treat. They were just as loving and giving as we are, but we are a different kind of grandparent these days. We are not necessarily younger in terms of years, but we are more physically active and interactive with our grandkids. I get down on my hands and knees and do imaginary play with the kids, and I could never imagine my grandparents doing that. But you know, I actually have my grandmother’s crystal candy dish — the same one — and my grandchildren come over and know there are always treats in it for them.
GP: How are you sharing your passion for philanthropy with your grandchildren?
DR: My husband and I have been very fortunate, and we have instilled a sense of charity in our children, so now they are instilling it in their own children. My grandchildren know that we have many blessings, and their parents show them that they have lots of things other little children might not have. Each family, in their own way, will wrap up toys and bring them somewhere for less fortunate kids, or they’ll save their coins and give it to the church and know it’s going to Brazil, where my daughter-in-law is from.
GP: What advice have you given to your son and daughter about raising their children?
DR: They're great parents. I think the one thing I tell them all the time is: Make memories with the kids because they’re only young once. Day-to-day parenting is a huge responsibility, but when you play back life, what comes up are the memories. So my children consciously try to make my grandchildren’s childhoods memorable and happy so they have great times to look back on.
GP: What challenges do parents face today that are different from ones you faced?
DR: I raised my children in the era of the "supermom": the woman who could do everything. I look back and I definitely tried to be a supermom, but even with trying to do everything — a job, family, class-mom activities at school — I still don’t think I did the multitasking that parents are doing now. Kids are exposed to things sooner these days, and are experiencing everything younger. The interest between boys and girls comes earlier now, and stuff like that is incredibly challenging. Even though it was 30 years ago, I think it was a bit slower back then, and the fast pace is a huge challenge for parents today.
GP: In an interview with The New York Sun, you said that "running a company doesn’t mean only increasing its revenues. Equally important, it involves building the staff, listening to your colleagues, and helping them to develop their careers in a way that meets their personal aspirations as well as the company’s objectives." How do your business and family philosophies influence one another?
DR: Honestly, I think that it's a life philosophy ... at least for me it is. In everything I do, I try to be the best I can be and to bring out the best in everyone surrounding me. I can only be accountable for myself, but any way I can help someone be the best they can be, that is what I hope to bring to my business life. And it's the same philosophy we’ve tried to instill in our family. Whether that is by being a mentor, or being truthful, or letting someone know when they do a great job, the rest follows.
GP: You like new technologies and gadgets — have you found any great ones to use with your grandkids?
DR: As far as gadgets go, everything that I like is geared toward saving time. I don’t worry about the fun features. I just want what will get me to get the job done quickest. But my grandchildren will often take my Blackberry and [play] the games, or take a picture of themselves for the caller ID, or change the wallpaper on it — which I love. They want to have fun with the gadgets I have. It’s amazing how they look at technology as fun, whereas for me, it’s just to save time. However, my oldest grandson does have an Xbox that I play with him, but he absolutely kills me.
How well do you get along with your grandchild and other family members? Want to know if your personalities mesh?Find out here.