Elaine Northrop is late.
It's not that she's being fashionably tardy, or that being a tad overdue affords her the opportunity to make an entrance, though it does. Rather, Elaine Northrop, who is one of the top real estate agents in the region, is extremely busy and often not on time.
When she does arrive, the presentation is one of success and power.
From the white Lincoln Town Car with vanity plates that read "List It," to the coordinated business suits that are often purple, Northrop -- and no one disagrees on this point -- is driven to be the best.
Last year, while the real estate market languished in recession, Northrop had the best year of her career. By the time it was over,she had been involved in more than $20 million in residential property sales.
At 50, with nearly 20 years in the business, Northrop isyouthful-looking and striking, with a shock of white-blond hair and the air of a former beauty queen.
She can cut off a caller she doesn't want to speak to with stunning, even brutal, force.
But she can also dissolve into tears as she recounts how her first husband left her suddenly with two small children and a mortgage so that he could run off with her best friend.
It was the event that forced her into real estate, although previously she says she wanted only to be ahelpmate to her husband.
She tells the story of her failed marriage often to friends and clients. It is offered up, seemingly, as an explanation of how she got from there to here. But it also reveals what she calls her "tender underbelly" -- proof positive that she is notthe tough, even nasty, businesswoman that so many think she is.
"I pretend to be tough on the surface," Northrop admitted recently from her office at Coldwell Banker in Ellicott City. "I have trouble showing the softer side. But I've made it a point never to hurt anyone because I've been there myself."
Hurting someone intentionally and simply ignoring them are two different things, and Northrop said she does have a tendency to do the latter. Critics say that tendency comes off as arrogant and aloof.
"It's true that I don't stop to chat with everyone as I go through a day of trying to get to where I want to be," she said. "Obviously, if you did that, you'd be popular but not very successful."
And she is successful.
At Coldwell Banker,she was recently named the firm's top residential broker in the nation.
Firm has heavy volume
She accomplished that at a firm that claims to conduct one out of every nine real estate transactions in the country and ranks itself third in sales volume among all firms.
Sally Bielaski, manager of the Coldwell Banker office in Ellicott City, said Northrop's $20 million total last year was determined by adding up the the value of all transactions Northrop had a hand in last year. Transactions where Northrop was the listing and selling agent are counted twice, which is standard practice in real estate.
Bielaski said the key to Northrop's success has been perseverance.
"She's a very hard-working, diligent person who seizes every opportunity," said Bielaski. "She's a woman who works 60, 70, 80 hours a week, whatever it takes."
Dick Purvis, president of the Baltimore and Washington region of Coldwell Banker, said he would place Northrop in thetop 1 percent of all real estate agents nationally.
With such a reputation, Northrop commands respect among her colleagues. Although some had harsh words for her off the record, none would criticize her openly.
Said one agent, "In this business you never know when you're going to be selling someone else's listing, or they will be selling yours. It just makes for a smoother transaction when you all get along."
In Howard County, other agents point to two other brokers asbeing at the pinnacle of the profession along with Northrop.
Theyare Joan Cochran, of Long & Foster Realtors, who declined to releaseher sales figures for last year; and Paul Duncan, president of American Properties, who said his 1991 sales record stood at $18.5 millionworth of properties.
Cochran described Northrop as someone who "works very hard, is very good at what she does and is very attractive."
"I have had only good relations with her," said Cochran.
Duncan had less to say.
"I'd consider Elaine Northrop and Joan Cochranto be my chief rivals," Duncan said. "If you're doing anything closeto $20 million in this market, you're doing very well."
How she does it is a source of disagreement. Some say her determination comes across as arrogant and harsh. Others, however, say a man with Northrop's personality would be lauded, while she is criticized.
"I know there are agents out there who think I would run roughshod over anyone to get what I want," Northrop said. "But look, they're my competition. A lot of people look at my success and resent it.
"But the people who don't like me, don't know me," she said.
Jeanne Lanciotti,who hired Northrop to sell her home and find her a new one seven years ago, said her experience with the agent was a little like going toa doctor or dentist.