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Market competition creates brokers who are much more than just door openers

With more than 30,000 active real estate sales agents and brokers in Manhattan alone, it’s a difficult task to stand out in the crowd of go-getters looking for the next big deal.

But more and more, brokers are putting to good use their previous skills and experiences to help them stand out and better serve their clients.

People frequently come into the brokerage world after switching careers and find out that they can apply their past knowledge to help them sell and buy homes. From musicians to developers and interior designers, brokers in New York City offer a variety of unique trades and skills.

A report issued last year by the National Association of Realtors found that 82 percent started their professional career doing something outside of real estate. Real estate is more often the second career for females (51 percent) and the third career for males (36 percent).

Dottie Herman was a teacher and a financial planner at Merrill Lynch before rising to the helm of one of the city’s biggest brokerage firms; Robert Reffkin was a banker with Goldman Sachs; Diane Ramirez’ first job was with the company that made Pond’s cold cream; even Louise Sunshine didn’t enter real estate until she’d done a stint in state government.

“The quality of brokers is becoming more sophisticated and maturing, at least from what I’ve seen in the past two decades,” said Brendan Aguayo, a senior vice president and managing director at Halstead Property Development Marketing. “I think the successful brokers are wearing more hats and can speak to different facets of a project.”

Aguayo himself was previously a developer before he stepped into his current role at Halstead. His nearly two decades in the development world spanned several residential projects along the way, including Haus 96, the nation’s first multi-family passive house project.

Aguayo said his developer days are on the backburner as his hands are full at Halstead working as a consultant for developments from the ground up and leading the Aguayo Team. But explained that his previous experience has given him a better perspective in his current role.

“First and foremost, it’s given me a real depth of respect for what our clients have at risk, what they go through, and how complicated and risky the process can be,” Aguayo said.

“It definitely takes a certain type of personality and understanding of all the different facets and being a developer helped me in my consulting side.”

And it’s not just individual brokers and agents who are looking to market themselves as more than just a sales person.
Earlier this summer, Halstead Property Development Marketing (HPDM) added new team roles to deepen the firm’s resources in architecture, planning and design, as well as luxury branding and sales.

Caroline McDonald was named vice president, brand strategy, bringing 20 years of experience positioning luxury brands to her new role overseeing luxury brand positioning for HPDM properties.

She previously worked on marketing and event strategies for American Express Publishing, Esquire, Conde Nast Traveler, and Vogue as well as brand marketing and public relations for the New York Times Style Magazine.

Whitney Kraus was also promoted to director of architecture and planning.

She previously served as a project manager with HPDM, and before that, as a project architect for Selldorf Architects.
A registered architect with a U.S. Green Building Council LEED-AP certification, she graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in architecture from the University of Michigan and received a Master of Architecture degree from Yale University.

Nikki Greenberg, project director, also joined to HPDM from Greenland Holding Group in Australia. Prior to Greenland, she worked in architecture and urban and interior design with industry leaders Lendlease, Buchan Group and Koichi Takada Architects.

Announcing the appointments late May, HPDM president Stephen Kliegerman said, “We are excited to expand the expertise we offer. Our goal is to provide another layer of support to our clients, some of whom do not have internal teams focused on new development within the New York Metro area, and others who are looking to complement the teams they have in place.”

Elsewhere in the sector, more and more brokers are leveraging past skills to set themselves apart.

Ali Sherbach, a Citi Habitats broker, previously worked as a feng shui consultant before transitioning into the real estate world last May.

Feng shui is the ancient Chinese practice of finding harmony between an individual and an environment’s qi and Sherbach received her certification as a consultant after six months of classes.

“People reach out to me when they have an issue in their home or life and I come in and look at their apartment ,or house, walk with through the space and talk about what’s working and what’s not working,” Sherbach said of her practice.

But she quickly discovered that instead of helping people fix spaces they don’t like, she could work with clients to find a harmonious space from the get-go.

She quickly moved into becoming a real estate broker and eventually landed at Citi Habitats in May. As for her mystical teachings, she feels it helps with connecting clients and listings.

“It helps me with how to envision a space,” Sherbach said. “A lot of it has to do with how your furniture lays out and getting a good flow of energy in the space.”

And more than just the physical, Sherbach learned through her time with feng shui that it’s important not to judge someone’s living space.

“We often walk into spaces and immediately judge whether we like it or not,” Sherbach said. “Training with feng shui has taught me not to do that because I’m not the one living there, it’s the client. So, I need to find out what they like instead of what I like and go from there.”

As Sherbach is focused on the energy of a space, others bring experience in dealing with the physical interiors and design.
Andrew Appell, a Corcoran agent for more than two years, was an architect for nine years, working at Issac & Stern Architects for a majority of his former career. He worked his way up from a draftsman to a project manager and was involved in several projects in Brooklyn Heights, Boerum Hill and Lower Manhattan.

His transition to real estate came about when he moved to Mill Basin and his next-door neighbor was a broker. Exposing him to the industry, Appell realized many of the skills he learned as an architect directly applied to being a broker.

Appell explained that his role at Corcoran and the Fernandez team involves the branding, marketing and sales of new development, which relates to his time as an architect designing all the facets of a building.

“Going into it, I thought real estate was you sell property and that’s it,” Appell said of his start as a broker. “I didn’t think there were so many specialty niches and I just so happened to be in the same exact niche that I was in for architecture.”

As his two professions were closely related, there were several times where he was able to assure his clients with particular knowledge.

“Sometimes buyers will ask why something is designed a certain way, and I know it’s for code, for egress or for handicap accessibility that’s mandated by code,” Appell said. “And of course, people have questions about planning and layouts and the average person won’t be able to quickly suggest alterations.”

As Appell realizes how his previous career helps him now, he added that it’s a common thread where brokers often have certain skills that elevate them past the competition.

“Whether it be design related or in an advertising capacity, there’s definitely this entire package now,” Appell said. “It’s not just presenting a piece of property and sell it as a salesman. It’s about creating an experience and bringing a knowledge set that can tie it all together.”

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