As an Asian immigrant, Michelle Yu had to go through a personal transformation when she began selling real estate 17 years ago. Born in Taiwan, she was raised in a Confucian culture, which is different than American culture. She noted that they don’t talk about money in the same way as in this culture; rather, their main form of currency is gaining knowledge. “Scholars have the highest rank and are the most prestigious people.”
So in the beginning of her career selling homes, she went through a period of self-adjustment where she had to get comfortable and unlearn some of these psychological blocks. This phase would not last long. “Very quickly, I felt so proud when I became capable of making money with my own hard work while helping people at the same time.” Being assertive and using her voice to help uplift others and break down some of these cultural barriers was actually what led her to and through this personal metamorphosis.
In 1985, Michelle moved to the United States. She was a career diplomat and already had her master’s degree in international law and diplomacy. She attended the University of Maryland for her Ph.D. When she was 30 years old, she had her first child and, over the course of six years, had three girls. At 36 years old, she finished her second master’s degree and all her Ph.D. courses. “After struggling for a long time, I decided I didn’t want to hide in books.” This admission opened up a new door for her.
Michelle began volunteering locally and getting involved in her community. She began teaching at a Chinese school and also joined the PTA, where her daughters went to school, becoming the PTA president there. She did a lot of community events and noticed that some immigrant parents had a hard time integrating into the culture. “They think they are contributing by simply sending their kids to school but, actually, it’s not enough. You have got to come out and let people see you.”
Eventually, she became president of the Montgomery County Council of PTAs, as well as the Montgomery County Public Schools’ parent community coordinator. She is just as comfortable working side by side with the superintendent of schools and principals as she is with local parents. In fact, this work taught her so much — how to hold press conferences, how to handle questioning, how to negotiate and be more self-assured.
Through it all, Michelle found a new desire to serve. “That made me realize that I need to do more work to get more parents out — to participate and to feel comfortable…they have got to speak up.” She ran free workshops for parents as a volunteer and connected with many of them. “I invited speakers to talk to parents and teach them how to help their children succeed in this country. And then I’d tell them, go home and tell your children: ‘I love you.’ It’s very simple, but there is this taboo in our culture.”
Shifting Her Focus
For 13 years, she touched many lives and was a force as a community leader and volunteer. However, when she got divorced, her survival instincts kicked in. She needed to make money, as her oldest daughter was in 11th grade and there was college and graduate school to consider, times three. Meanwhile, in all that civic service she did, she had established her own network. Her positive energy and professionalism were on constant display.
When a friend recommended real estate to her, she immediately got to work. At 48 years old, she got her license. Her first client was a Chinese school teacher who reached out asking to help sell her house. She recalled, “I said, are you sure you want to be my experiment? I trust you, she said, even as a volunteer you were already passionate. I was so blessed and lucky…I got tremendous satisfaction from [selling that house].” Since then, Michelle’s drive has only grown stronger. “I used to advocate for parents and children. Now I advocate for my clients!”
Today, she operates out of Long and Foster at the Park Potomac office. She runs a team of eight, six of whom are actively selling, while all eight are licensed. She is beyond grateful for their hard work and dedication. “All are strong, independent women who also share the same passion for real estate and are as dedicated to their careers and families as I am. They understand this career is 24/7 and have been able to succeed in the field and beyond,” she says. Last year, they did a total of $78 million in sales. They have received numerous awards, are consistently recognized in the Long and Foster Top 100 Club, and maintain a track record of top 1 percent in sales in North America.
For fun, Michelle loves to practice yoga and enjoys listening to music and operas and going to concerts. She says her greatest gifts are her three daughters. “Although they all live in different places, I treasure the times when we can get together.”