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Espousing the Luxury Lifestyle

Whenever I utter those words, I'm a luxury real estate broker, they always elicit a reaction. But the reactions differ: excited curiosity, desire for the salacious and titillating, condescension as they envision me the perfect cliché, and so on and so forth.

I love this emotionally charged, data-driven, and demanding career path. The daily journeys are exhilarating, challenging, often inspiring, sometimes debilitating but never, ever boring.  

Achieving success as a Manhattan real estate broker takes more than a snappy suit and a charming smile. You need the hide of a rhinoceros, the energy of a marathon runner, plenty of patience, and the gift of gab that would make a politician blush. And let’s not forget the need for unyielding dedication and resilience, as well as a unique set of skills.

The industry is very much image-driven – you, your properties, your office; all of it – but it’s not enough to win the image contest. An agent must continually deliver superlative service – even if they’re already winning at the luxury image and branding game. Why? Because Manhattan is the heart of New York and one of the world’s most competitive and dynamic real estate markets – and the game and its players – are ever-evolving. 

But I wouldn’t change a thing. I love it and live it. How do you start? I’ll get to that. But starting is just that, a start, a beginning. It’s all about finishing (deal after deal) and enduring (building a long career). Many, many aspiring brokers “start.” Who actually makes it out of the gate, sporting their Sunday best – and not tripping? Passing the requisite tests is one minuscule step in the journey. You sit through onboarding at your brokerage of choice, and believe you are savvy enough to network with your fellow “new agents,” vowing to study and tour inventory together. 

Suddenly you’re out in the real world.  You send handwritten notes out to everyone you can think of to let them know you’re now a real estate agent in Manhattan, naively awaiting the enthusiastic responses laden with support and referrals. The expected referrals from family and close friends rarely materialize. The weeks start to drag on. You attend every company event, looking to make friends with your fellow agents. You eagerly post other people’s listings on your social media anticipating the buzz they’ll create. Maybe you even pay a photographer to take eye-catching photos of you around town. You post them, only to receive a few polite compliments and some DMs from social deviants asking to buy your worn shoes and commenting on your lovely feet. 

Gradually, new agents change course, get a “side hustle,” move in other directions – Darwinism in its purest form.  The vestiges forge ahead, undeterred, if a touch jaded. We stop watching the glamorous real estate reality shows, except maybe for comic relief, and relinquish most hope of ever being in our own such show; all new Manhattan agents entertain those thoughts at some point. The day I sat on the floor at a rental unit’s bathroom, trying to un-install the tenant’s self-configured bidet, was the day I relinquished my Selling Sunset fantasies. As the water sprayed me in the face, in my mind's eye, I watched my yellow Urus drive away filled with the Louboutin platforms in which I had envisioned myself marching around beautiful listings. These are the same listings that were going to sell in less than a week for over ask… as they all seemed to do on Netflix. 

As I sat through open houses alone, eating the bowl of chocolates I had out, listening to my self-curated Oscar Peterson playlist, I stayed hopeful and optimistic. I staged apartments myself, enlisting my daughter and her friends to help me hang pictures, paint trim, clean kitchens. I once spray-painted an entire refrigerator, dishwasher and wall trim in an estate sale white. I did such a good job, that at the first showing, the client said, “What a beautiful white kitchen!”  

Personal Branding 

A broker’s ultimate goal is the sale or purchase of a piece of real estate. You are a huge part of the process. In some cases, you’re selling yourself as much as you are that great apartment or townhouse. Closing the deal on a transaction is all about branding, perception, and cultivating a relationship. You’ll charm clients with tales of the best coffee shops, trendiest bars, and the hottest yoga studios in town. You’re not just selling a property; you’re espousing a lifestyle. Potential client must sense that you understand, value and possibly even share in their elite lifestyle, or that you embody the lifestyle they are hoping to gain buying that spectacular property you’re about to find for them. 

Manhattan real estate is as much about emotions as it is about bricks and mortar.  An agent must be a confidante, therapist, and sometimes the scapegoat. You’ll need to counsel clients through what is often the most important financial decision they will ever make. You must be the unwavering source of confidence and certainty as they navigate these uncertain and seemingly treacherous waters. You’ll hold their hand and lead them over the finish line at the closing, assuring them that there is always a solution for each little glitch that inevitably presents itself at that conference room table.  

Behind the scenes, for you, even the simple daily struggles of hoping to be prepared for anything can prove exhausting and humiliating. I recall the day that I slipped a roll of toilet paper into my purse. It was just after that Succession episode where the social media exposure of the “capacious bag” comment led most professional women to force themselves into toting around smaller, more chic bags. I would be at a listing for several hours that afternoon that I knew had no “supplies.” During the morning elevator ride to my office, I reached into my bag to grab my glasses and the roll of toilet paper popped out onto the floor for everyone to see. Mortifying. 

The pandemic sucked the life force out of many of us, and there were more casualties as people found other callings.  Those of stayed the course sought to increase our worth through education and additional licenses. I earned a New Jersey license and insurance license and toiled to keep my social media post fresh and relevant, though there are only so many places I can pose in my house and backyard without someone catching on that it’s the same place!  

I mentioned earlier that succeeding in Manhattan real estate requires the hide of a rhinoceros. Let’s examine that statement a bit more. What qualities determine an agent’s staying power and success? To a certain extent: hard work, common sense, fortitude, boundless energy. Then there’s the sizable mental fortitude component. Long-lasting agents possess an inner confidence unshaken by outside forces and the ability to deal with rejection, competition, demanding clients, acts of God, and so much more. 

I launched into this leg of my career journey armed with the accolades: “You’re so smart, hardworking, well-educated and you have a great personality. You will blow this out of the water.” Industry insiders told me, “It’s a couple of years to get there.” Someone else said, “It takes four to five years…” And another agent explained, “Dana, it took me eight years before I was bringing home consistent substantial income.”

Here’s the truth: Each agent’s story is different. Some land that lucky break early on and it sets them on the path to success.  Others get that early lucky break and never get another one. Manhattan is home to thousands of real estate agents and brokers, all vying for a piece of the potentially lucrative market. That makes the competition fierce, and the fierce competition means brokers must work tirelessly to stand out, build their client base, generate word of mouth, and secure listings year-round, year after year.  

Networking is non-negotiable. It means night after night of sipping cocktails, engaging numerous people in polite conversations, and kissing cheeks at charity galas – all the while exercising that sixth sense to determine who actually welcomes which sort of greeting. Manhattan luxury real estate is not just about what you know, but who you know and managing their perception of you.  

Age, no surprise, can be both an asset and liability in this industry. The wisdom gained over years of transactions and travails is invaluable – and there is no substitute. But we must also stay current when it comes to market trends, data, and technology. The complicated balance to strike boils down to the fact that real estate brokerage is driven by data and interpersonal relationships. Brokers must continuously adapt to changing consumer preferences and technological advances.

Manhattan luxury real estate offers the opportunity to work in one of the most prestigious, vibrant and, yes, potentially lucrative, real estate markets on the planet. Success requires exceptional organizational and interpersonal skills, strong communication, a deep knowledge of the market, the ability to provide superlative client service, and a strong work ethic. You must be a confident communicator, at home swirling through varied social circles, and a therapist who continuously raises that sartorial bar just a bit higher with the fortitude and tenacity of Winston Churchill. The stories with which you can regale your family at the holiday dinner table will be priceless, but the greatest reward is your clients’ gratitude and happiness when those transactions close. Manhattan real estate agents are rare birds, and I am proud to be a member of this unique flock.


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