I recently had the opportunity to interview Robert Nelson, the newly appointed manager of Brown Harris Stevens
at his office in Southampton.
How long have you been a real estate agent, Robert?
I've been an agent for 31 years. Like many who were new to the business, I started out as a rental agent in Manhattan, because you could get a commission faster than waiting for a sale. It was also a good way to learn. One of the things I learned from my mentor was, don't ever get your calculator out to calculate the commission. It makes no difference if it's $1,000 or $50,000, and when you get those clients, hold on to them and don't let them go. She was in the business until she was 80 years old, and I never forgot that advice.
How long have you been with Brown Harris Stevens?
Two and a half years. I was a typical city dweller who came out here on the weekends and made the transition to full-time resident.
Did you buy through a real estate broker?
Oh yes! I would never represent myself. You need that buffer between you and the buyer or seller. The worst thing for a broker is to have the seller at home when they are trying to show the property to a buyer. They say all the wrong things and distract the buyer's attention from looking at the house in all its glory.
How many agents do you have under your supervision and how do you keep your agents apprised of what changes are taking place with respect to laws and regulation and other changes in the market?
I have about 100 agents. I hold weekly staff meetings where we go over the topics and I encourage all agents to participate, to use the time to their benefit. Some agents are more comfortable than others in doing that, but eventually, they do participate.
What do you find particularly challenging about doing business in the Hamptons?
Well, lots of things, but primarily, the diversity of the types of clientele we deal with. These are people who are very successful, but not always for the same reasons. They are used to knowing things about their businesses better than anyone else and that can pose quite a challenge to a broker who is trying to counsel them. It's a fine line between showing them respect and presenting them with the facts of your expertise.
You have been in sales for over 30 years. Now you are entering into a different facet of the business.
RN: Not really.
I have developed properties, managed a business. The reason I took this job was because I get to apply all that knowledge and share it. It allows me to suggest to my agents that perhaps if they considered the issue from another point of view that might achieve a better result. I stress that to have a successful transaction, all of the parties have to be happy. So that's would attracted me, solving problems. I thrive on attacking problems and solving them.
How are you able to respond to problems that come up and still follow your own agenda?
I have office meetings three days a week in Westhampton, Sag Harbor, and Southampton. In those meetings, I have my agenda, which is to do a little bit of education, of reviewing problems I have witnessed which I think could be of benefit to a number of agents.
Could you give an example?
Yes. There were sellers who thought that the open listing gave them more options than an exclusive because they didn't understand that exclusive didn't mean only one firm could show the property. Properly explained to them would counter that. Every week I try to raise issues that have become a trend.
What is some of the advice you give to your agents in order to prevent problems that could adversely affect the transaction?
I tell them to go to the Town Hall before taking a listing and find out as much about the property that is a matter of public record, for instance, does the property have all of the necessary certificates of occupancy, what the full taxes are on the property, are there any moratoriums on construction, these are important issues to a smooth transaction.
What is your attitude regarding teams?
I leave that to the agents. I have been part of a team, but I think we will have to see how the team approach to doing business develops. I do believe that new agents do have to have a mentor otherwise you are not going to succeed.
Is there a particular time frame for a new agent to succeed?
No, I don't think so. It depends on your individual work ethic. The better organized you are, the greater the investment of time you make, the greater the chances of success. You also have to enjoy real estate and have fun with it. You have to remember that the sellers and buyers we deal with are optimistic. The sellers want to sell and the buyers want to buy. You just have to find the proper matches.
John is a St. John's University graduate, licensed Real Estate Broker, DOS Certified Instructor, and real estate consultant. He previously taught at NYU, LIU, and The Cook Maran Real Estate School, which he helped found.