Practicing Professionalism in Polarizing Times

Those who know me know all too well that I have been a very active and engaged participant on social media almost since Facebook’s inception. So, it was shocking to some to discover that I abarepublican-versus-democratndoned Facebook back in September because I found much of the content that I was reading to be more of an irritant than a joy. Yes, I’m referring to the polarizing forces in our current political environment. I am definitely a sufferer of election anxiety and many of my friends and family share my pain. “So what?”, you say? This current dilemma has me asking myself, my family, friends and agents: How exactly do we continue to behave in a professional manner and do our jobs while maintaining and holding true to our personal convictions? Is it possible to maintain a level of professionalism and support a business or person who is so diabolically opposed to your fundamental beliefs?

I have worked with countless people over the last quarter of a century. Most of the people I have helped have been interesting, intelligent, sophisticated and pleasant. Some, not so much. But I never chose not to work with someone based on their personal views or beliefs. In fact, some years back, I was the real estate agent for a very prominent campaign manager who is currently front and center in the news. We definitely did not see eye-to-eye but in the many months in which I worked with this person, we shared a mutual respect and sometimes heated yet comical banter over significant political issues. Our inability to see ey
e-to-eye did not cause either of us to waiver from our convictions. Unfortunately, despite having a contract in hand for a gorgeous Manhattan home, a mansion in the suburbs trumped city living (see what I did there?). That said, there is a very fine line that determines the ability to tolerate the person whose views are so diametrically opposed to your own. For some, it is simply business and anything goes in the name of making a buck. For others, differing opinions on topics like abortion, immigration, and women’s and minority’s rights, make the prospect of working with someone absolutely unpalatable.

The one thing I think we can all agree upon is that, while difficult at times, rising above is the only way forward.


Meaningful Connections

Last week, I had the privilege of sitting on a panel at the NYC Real Estate Expo with some of my esteemed colleagues from other firms. The topic of discussion was how to be a world class connector. Buzz words like authenticity, transparency, trust, high energy, clarity, sincerity and purpose were discussed as all of us shared anecdotes regarding the meaningful relationships we have forged in both our personal and business lives. Here are four important takeaways that I so graciously received from my fellow panelists:

  1. Be the “connector.” – Chris Schembra, the Founder and Curator of the 747 Club, the only non-real estate agent on the panel is doing just that as his dinner club brings together complete strangers to participate in evenings of “authenticity, empathy, vulnerability and safety.” In short, consider hosting events to bring the “right” people together to make meaningful connections with each other and you will surely be remembered as the catalyst for those relationships.
  2. Social media is but a tool – Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, LinkedIn nor any other of the online platforms that allow you to “connect” with others are NOT a substitute for genuine person to person connections. Face time, and I’m not talking a video screen on your phone, builds meaningful relationships.
  3. Listen – Let me repeat that in case you missed it. LISTEN. It is no secret that most people like to talk about themselves, so ask questions and then just hear what they have to say. And oh yes! Don’t forget their name!
  4. Be yourself – Sounds obvious right? Don’t make yourself out to be someone you’re not. Be authentic. Be genuine. Be enough. But if you are going to seek out real connections you must also be interested in them!

The below quote, shared by Chris from the 747 Club, sums up the afternoon beautifully:

“Don’t worry about knowing people; just make yourself worth knowing.”

Be the person that other people would want to know, remember, recognize and appreciate. That will most definitely help you to forge meaningful connections and relationships.


Hudson Yards on Voice America

This morning I was live on Good Morning New York, Real Estate talk show with CORE agent and co-host Vince Rocco. Vince and I discussed Hudson Yards, the largest private real estate development in United States history. In the interview, I described the ways in which Hudson Yards will not only completely change the face of the west side of Manhattan, but will also influence the entire city. Take a listen and find out what is in store for NYC!

Click here to listen to the full interview: Learning about Hudson Yards in Manhattan

Marketing Your Home in a Shifting Market

I have been writing for my True Gotham blog since April 2006. The very first broker blogger in New York City, I have spent the past 10+ years making every effort to be of service to the consumer and the industry in hopes of raising the bar for everyone. This blog post from May 13, 2008: Marketing Your Home in a Softening Market is a perfect

skyline-2example of the cyclical real estate market and how we must shift strategies as market conditions change:

Other than the media coverage of both the ultra-luxury slowdown and the hyperactivity in the sub $2M market, there is no solid indication yet from actual numbers as to which direction the Manhattan real estate market is heading. That said, top producing real estate agents seem to be quite busy as marketing and selling a home in today’s market requires experience that transcends simply picking any price, sending out some postcards and waiting for multiple bids.

Those who regularly read True Gotham know my feelings about accurate pricing no matter how the market is behaving, but when buyers have more inventory to choose from, accurate pricing becomes even more of a priority.

In addition to proper pricing, here are some important factors to consider when selling in today’s real estate market:

  1. Hire a “genuine” real estate professional with experience and knowledge: By genuine I don’t mean properly licensed (that’s obvious). I am talking about someone who doesn’t over promise and who can be trusted. Don’t hire a “buy now, real estate prices always go up” kind of agent. Remember that the prospective purchaser is forming an opinion of your property through the representation by your agent.  Don’t let an agent make a bad first impression.  It’s an uphill battle if a buyer doesn’t believe what your agent is “selling.”
  2. Seek both quality and quantity through transparency: Make sure that you are pleased with how your property is being represented to both the public and the brokerage community. It should be displayed as beautifully as possible without misleading a buyer. This will insure that buyers who take the time to visit your home will be pleased and not negatively surprised (e.g., don’t be afraid to highlight how quiet the place is despite the lack view…a prospective purchaser who expects a view and discovers none is NOT going to buy your home).
  3. Change your marketing strategy: What works during a housing boom doesn’t always work in a more “normal” or declining market. Don’t be afraid to suggest “out of the box” marketing ideas to your agent. Discuss the marketing strategy regularly and determine whether changes need to be implemented. We at CORE believe we are a marketing company that specializes in real estate. That translates to creativity and success for our customers.
  4. Know your competition: Make sure your agent is informed of comparable properties that are currently on the market and that she/he can support the reasons for your price.
  5. Prepare your home for the market: It doesn’t hurt to visit comparable properties at open houses to see how your property is perceived in the marketplace. Touch up paint and declutter at minimum. At CORE, we offer our agents staging services via our CORE Styling program which insures that your property is presented in the optimal light when coming to market.
  6. Be patient: Over the past decade, properties have sold moments after hitting the market despite inexperienced agents and/or ridiculous pricing. The buying frenzy, although still occurring in some segments of the market, is less common and patience is a necessity in today’s marketplace. Choosing the right agent who stands by you throughout the entire process is critical.
  7. Don’t be stubborn (too patient): Trust that your real estate professional has a firm grasp of market conditions and listens carefully when they suggest marketing changes or price adjustments. Don’t get caught chasing the market down by resisting the lowering of your price. The best strategy to ensure an efficient sale is to adjust your price ahead of the competition.

Those are just some things to consider if you’re a seller in today’s real estate market. All of this said, there is no more important factor than trusting the real estate professional that you hire. If you don’t have faith that they know what they are doing, you may just get bitten in the asking price.

It is remarkable to me how on point this advice from 8 years ago is in our current real estate market. Isn’t it interesting how the more things change, the more they stay the same?

The Evolution of the Real Estate TEAM

One of the most enjoyabmcdonough_hershkowitz_team_2016_weble and stimulating parts of my job as CORE’s Sales Director is the business development meeting. Several times per year our marketing, PR and management teams sit down with our agents individually to discuss current business and the ways in which we can creatively expand their productivity. We also are always cognizant of maintaining a focus on work-life balance. I’m continuously amazed by the level of professionalism exhibited by our agents and one such meeting was the impetus for this blog post.

With nearly 25 years in the Manhattan real estate industry, I have seen a plethora of ways in which agents structure their businesses. The TEAM is nothing new to the industry. Once upon a time and still all too frequently, a team is a gentle way of letting the consumer know that the person that they hired will often be hands-off throughout the transaction.  In some instances however, the TEAM structure has evolved to provide a level of service to the consumer for which I had once only hoped to see. Enter Heather McDonough and Henry Hershkowitz, fondly and professionally referred to as the H & H Team at CORE. They have built one of the most premier real estate teams that I have seen anywhere and at anytime in the past 25 years in Manhattan and beyond. Here’s how they master the art of team management:

  • Henry and Heather are total and complete business partners handling their own accounts/clients and supporting each other when needed. They also share marketing and team administrative duties.
  • Account managers are assigned to specific listings and handle all things administrative with a strong focus on client services.
  • A separate marketing and business development manager who develops, executes and manages marketing timelines and initiatives.
  • Multiple sales agents who act as sub-agents to Heather and Henry and while serving their own pool of buyers and sellers, they too receive the support of the team and simultaneously carry out assigned team duties.
  • A designated sales agent who is also a new development specialist at Zaha Hadid at 520 West 28th.

This is just a snapshot of their team structure. I can also tell you that when they arrive to their business development meetings, they have a very well thought out business plan to review and marketing strategies to bring to the table. It is professionalism like this that makes Heather and Henry an unparalleled asset to their customers and an absolute joy with which to work.


The Olympics, Real Estate and Avoiding Distraction

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 09:  Michael Phelps (L) of the United States leads Chad le Clos of South Africa in the Men's 200m Butterfly Final on Day 4 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Olympic Aquatics Stadium on August 9, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  (Photo by Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images)

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – AUGUST 09: Michael Phelps (L) of the United States leads Chad le Clos of South Africa in the Men’s 200m Butterfly Final on Day 4 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Olympic Aquatics Stadium on August 9, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images)

Occasionally I have a novel idea that I share through my blogging. This is not one of those times. As part of our continued efforts to support our agents at CORE, our marketing, PR and management team meet with individual agents regularly to discuss business development and marketing strategies in a very bespoke fashion. Yesterday at one of these meetings, one of my sales managers (full disclosure that he is also my best friend), David Innocenzi made the analogy between distraction among real estate agents and the competition between Michael Phelps and Chad Le Clos. Needless to say, Michael Phelps has proven that his laser focused efforts both in preparation for and competing among a world class group of swimmers results in winning. Alternatively, Le Clos has spent a great deal of his time both in and out of the pool preoccupied with Phelps even gazing at him during the actual race. Didn’t work so well for him in the end.

I’m not suggesting for one moment that real estate agents should be given gold medals (maybe some should) nor that we all can’t continue to learn from one another, but it has been my experience that the real estate agent who maintains laser focus on their customers throughout a transaction, from the first meeting through the closing, is indeed worth their weight in gold! I’m sure Le Clos is learning always from his observations of Phelps. But when an agent or even a brokerage firm becomes so preoccupied with what another is doing, the distraction becomes a liability and everyone in the transaction pays the price.

Agents Seeking Substance From Brokerages

Once upon a time not that very manhattan-at-night-color2long ago, a real estate brokerage opened that offered its agents massages at their desks, use of a car service, fancy candy (yes, fancy candy) and even a program that promised to match an agent’s personal charitable donations up to a certain amount. Needless to say, the bells and whistles proved to do nothing for the success of the real estate agents and even less for the consumer who chose to work with these agents. No surprise, this structure also contributed in large part to said brokerage operating in the red since inception.

In recent months, it seems the tides have changed. Agents whom I meet from this particular firm and other firms who share a similar “smoke and mirror” style are seeking a drama free environment with business development and marketing support that will help them better serve their buyers and sellers and, in turn, increase productivity. As an agent’s productivity increases, so does the profitability of their brokerage which creates a positive cycle that contributes to innovation and growth for everyone. Additionally, wise agents seem to have discovered that with this increase in their business production, massages, car services and even fancy candy is constantly at their disposal.


An Excellent Real Estate Agent Is Worth A Multiple of Their Weight In Gold

I have been blogging since 2006 in an effort to raise the bar in real estate and to dispel the used car salesman stereotype of real estate agents. Despite my efforts, I am still shocked by some of the incompetence I witness in the industry. Thankfully, the industry continues to make great strides with the overall quality and intelligence of my current day colleagues vastly improved from 25 years ago.

As the Director of Sales of CORE, I have a different and more objective perspective of the real estate agent. Although rarely an intimate player in the transaction, I’m often sought out for advice, direction or simply approval regarding certain aspects of the deal. Because of my involvement from pre-listing to closing, it is easy for me to appreciate the agent who rises to the top by providing a level of professionalism, insight and knowledge that makes them a true asset in any transaction.

Here are just a few of the things that contribute to an agent being an asset in your transaction:

  • Being of Service – The better real estate agents understand that they are there to serve and assist you.
  • Excellent Communication – This means LISTENING to the consumer but also communicating effectively and HONESTLY about market conditions and all things real estate.
  • Staying Out of Their Own Way – The best agents constantly check themselves to make sure the consumer’s best interest is always primary.
  • They Don’t Sell – Hard selling rarely aligns with the consumer’s best interest.
  • Excellent Navigators – In an information rich world, making sense of and navigating the information is key.

Agents who practice the above and constantly try to frame themselves as an asset in the transaction tend to indeed be worth more than their weight in gold.

Culture Fit Directly Impacts Consumer

There are many factors that determine the success of a real estate agent and in turn the success of the real estate transaction. Some of the obvious internal forces are charisma, professionalism, emotional intelligence (EQ), negotiating acumen and overall real estate knowledge. And of course the obvious external factors are the tools and support provided by the agent’s firm. But many agents and consumers alike underestimate the role that company culture plays in the nurturing, support and success of the real estate business.

Think about your favorite job for a moment. Perhaps it was last year or maybe even decades ago? Perhaps it is the job you currently hold? Now consider what makes/made the experience so positive. A proper culture fit is likely to blame. I can tell you from 25 years of experience in the NYC real estate business that when the culture of a company matches that of the real estate agent, the results are astounding and resonate beyond the agent’s business into every aspect of the real estate transaction. Imagine the real estate agent who is happy, positive, feels supported and nurtured and has an overall optimistic outlook of their business and the upshot of that on each and every real estate transaction that he or she touches.

In an effort to determine if a culture is the right fit for you as an agent, consider asking yourself these questions (via Katie Bouton of Harvard Business Review):

  • What type of culture do you thrive in?
  • What values are you drawn to and what’s your ideal workplace?
  • Why do you want to work here?
  • How would you describe the company’s culture based on what you’ve seen? Is this something that works for you?
  • What best practices would you bring with you from your previous organization? Do you see yourself being able to implement these best practices in this new environment?
  • Think about a time when you worked with/for an organization where you felt you were not a strong culture fit. Why was it a bad fit?

Finding a good culture fit is key to business success, and agents who love the culture in which they work are more successful and better equipped to serve their buyers and sellers.

Spring Inventory Climbs but Summer Looms

For buyers of New York City real estate, any report of expanded inventory is welcome news to say the least. It is surely music to the ears of many buyers that Manhattan inventory has indeed increased by 52% since the first of the year (via UrbanDigs). It may be equally as exciting to buyers to hear that although the number of contracts signed has increased by 6% in the same time period, the year over year comparison shows a 13% increase in inventory and a nearly 20% decrease in contract signings. But this is what has happened this spring. What can we expect going forward?

Summer tends to be a more historically predictable season with both contracting inventory as well as fewer signed contracts. If we look at the past 4 years of inventory and contract signings, the patterns are quite predictable:

Sales Inventory

Contracts Signed

If history is any indication of what summer will bring, it is safe to say that inventory will contract by approximately twice as much as contract signings. Our market will remain tight as it continues its search for equilibrium.