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5 Tips for Getting Your Start in Real Estate

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Getting a start — and getting ahead — in urban real estate requires several business and emotional skills that aren’t taught in the licensing exam. I’ve been fortunate to get to know all sorts of people in my career, from politicians and celebrities to business people and families. To be a successful realtor for all these types, you have to adjust to account for their personal communication styles while also making sure they get the home they want.

This is harder than it might first seem, because people aren’t always clear even with themselves. Here are five tips for aspiring real estate professionals to get their foot in the door, both metaphorically and literally.

1. Read beneath the surface

When your clients say they want a particular style of home, or a certain area of town, don’t take it at face value. If you simply follow instructions, you’re eliminating a lot of potentially suitable properties and not really serving your client’s needs. I get to know people and their preferences while also intuitively sensing what they want. What they think they want and what they are really asking for might be very different. You may hear clients say they must have a unit on a high floor, only to later hear their fond memories of living in a brownstone with a garden. Keep your ears tuned for these details.

2. Learn how well they know the city

People who are new to a city are clearly unaware of most of the neighborhoods where you might find a fit for them, but longtime residents can also be shockingly insulated. Often, the times change faster than people’s perceptions. I remember when cabs would refuse to go over to Brooklyn from Manhattan, because they didn’t think there would be a fare for the return! Now Brooklyn is full of nightlife, restaurants, and excellent properties. It’s your job to know the neighborhoods, but don’t assume everyone else is as aware.

Similarly, be sure to scrutinize why clients insist on certain areas. I’ve spoken with home shoppers who were certain they wanted to live on a certain block, only to realize they had never been there but had seen a TV show or movie based in the neighborhood.

3. Be prepared to educate clients on condos, co-ops, and condops

The last thing you want is a client who falls in love with a co-op only to be denied by the board because of a pet or other restriction which you could have seen coming. Here’s a quick breakdown:

  • Condos: A condo has a board, which can review a potential buyer but can’t refuse them unless there’s a problem during the sale. The board determines the rules and regulations which apply to all condo owners. Management fees and building maintenance costs are divided among owners, with taxes being applied to each owner individually.
  • Co-ops: A co-op also has a board, which exercises much more power and can decline a buyer without any stated reason. A potential buyer will almost certainly have to conduct a in-person interview with the board, and be prepared to answer questions on their financial health. Owning a co-op is actually owning shares, not the physical unit. Co-ops charge maintenance fees and often have a sales tax.
  • Condop: Condops are much less common, but in New York it’s possible to find them. A condop is usually a co-op for residents and a condo for commercial businesses on the ground floor.

4. Set a pace

People can be overwhelmed by the size of a city like New York, and can exhaust themselves running across town to see potential properties. While it’s imperative to act quickly on unique or well-priced opportunities, it’s also important to know when clients need a break. I see to it that clients have all the services and amenities they need, which can include making sure they’ve eaten!

5. Don’t give up

Real estate can be a seasonal business, or it can change overnight. It’s important to stay true to yourself, while at the same time honing new skills. Part of why I love being a city real estate entrepreneur is the thrill of the hunt. You might spend months searching for the perfect unit for a client, and just when you think you’ve exhausted the supply, a perfect gem comes on the market. If you’re ready and aware in that moment, it’s hugely satisfying to finally get the right place under contract.