Dawn Doherty, a certified business development coach, helps real estate brokers present a more agreeable persona to clients. After all, they may be spending a lot of time together. Credit Victor J. Blue for The New York Times
Sometimes it seems as if New York brokers can’t catch a break. The stereotype is that members of the species are rude, arrogant, aggressive, and more apt to talk than to listen. While the image may be just that — a stereotype — it clings to the people who help clients buy, sell and rent houses and apartments in this sharp-elbowed metropolis.
To counter this perception, many brokerages have professional coaches on staff; others bring in outside consultants. The goal is to teach brokers to project a warm and friendly image to their clients — who themselves aren’t always the easiest people in the world to deal with — and thus to be more effective in their work.
“For many years, the field of real estate didn’t change much,” said Laura Scott, an in-house coach with Douglas Elliman Real Estate, “and the broker was mostly an order-taker. But now, thanks to the Internet, everyone has his or her mousetrap, and so brokers have to be much more skilled, much smarter. They need to be better at building relationships, at getting out of their skin and putting themselves in their clients’ shoes, better at asking the right questions and not driving deals down people’s throats. That’s what we try to teach people to do.”
A growing number of in-house and private coaches offer such training, according to Michael Slattery, a senior vice president of the Real Estate Board of New York. And in a time of punishingly low inventory and growing competition — the city was home to nearly 52,000 licensed salespeople and brokers as of mid-2013, according to the New York Department of State — brokers are seeking out their help.
Dawn Doherty, a former Coldwell Banker broker with a silvery pixie cut and the warmth of your best friend from summer camp, is such a coach. She teaches brokers to present a more agreeable persona. She also instructs brokers on improved work habits so they’ll have more time to project this softer and gentler image to their clients. And she counsels brokers on ways to be outgoing without seeming pushy, a quality that any client who has been hounded by an overly persistent broker would appreciate.
“Likability is the key,” Ms. Doherty said. “Clients spends hours and hours with a broker. If they don’t like the broker, they’ll choose someone else.”
Ms. Doherty, who is turning 50 this month, was certified in 2010 as a business development coach by the Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching. Two years later she started the business that bears her name. Her clients include professionals in other walks of life, but as someone who spent five years working as a broker in Denver and the Silicon Valley, and four years as an executive for business development at Streeteasy.com, the online listings service, she has an affinity for those in that field.
According to her, when it comes to brokers, clients voice the same complaints over and over: My broker is always on her cellphone; my broker never listens to me; my broker argues with me; my broker is more interested in other clients than in me; the only thing my broker cares about is closing the deal.
Using group seminars and one-on-one training — $6,000 for a dozen individual sessions over six months — Ms. Doherty teaches brokers to behave in a way that obviates those criticisms. Nearly 200 New York brokers have used her services to date, and a dozen are currently receiving individual coaching.
To pinpoint potentially troublesome behavior, Ms. Doherty administers a 70-question assessment that measures such qualities as argumentativeness, inability to play well with others and tendency to get upset when deals go south. Brokers are asked to rate statements such as “I get disappointed and upset when things don’t go my way” and “When confronted by a perceived threat, I tend to fight,” on a scale ranging from “completely true” to “completely untrue.” Using techniques like role-playing, Ms. Doherty helps brokers see how they appear to their clients.
In her opinion, being a good listener is critical. “When brokers are with a client,” Ms. Doherty said, “they typically spend 80 percent of the time talking. That’s a problem right there, because it turns people off. It means you’re not listening.”
She also teaches brokers to ask the right questions. “The wrong question is a yes-or-no question,” she said. “The right question is an open-ended question. Don’t ask the clients if they want to live near the park. Say, ‘Talk to me about the amenities you must have.’
“The client might say she’s looking for an apartment in the West Village. Then another broker sells her an apartment in Chelsea. The first broker missed that opportunity by not sufficiently probing the client’s feelings.”
Avoiding what she calls “fierce conversations” can also backfire. “Many brokers are so desperate to take a client to see apartments that they avoid uncomfortable conversations,” Ms. Doherty said. “Many of my clients admit that they missed out on closing deals for their clients because they didn’t have their financial statements upfront.”
Cellphones are a major issue. “I tell brokers to stay off their cellphones when they’re with a client,” Ms. Doherty said. “If you think you’ll need to take an important call — let’s say your mother is in the hospital — ask the client’s permission to check your phone. But even then, keep the ringer off.”
Certain friendly behavior, she advises, can work wonders.
“Say hi to people when you’re waiting in line at Starbucks,” Ms. Doherty suggests. “Don’t be afraid to pick up a phone and say: ‘I’m not trying to sell you anything. I’m just going through my contact list and wanted to stay in touch.’ You can’t have time for people only when they’re ready to buy or sell. You want to be on their radar all the time.”
She also shows brokers that they can better serve their clients by working well with other brokers. “Because if you’re a pain in the neck,” she said, “they won’t show their apartments to your client.”
Ms. Doherty acknowledges that she can’t work miracles: “I can’t change people,” she said. “I can only guide them.” She also emphasizes that being a broker is not for everyone. “It’s a field that’s about building relationships, not just pushing product,” she said. “If you don’t love people, then perhaps this isn’t the profession for you.”
The art of reaching out without seeming obnoxious was on the agenda one recent Tuesday when Ivana Tagliamonte, a Halstead broker who is receiving one-on-one coaching from Ms. Doherty, sat for her weekly session in an empty duplex on lower Second Avenue that she is showing to prospective buyers. “It’s going to be spring soon,” said Ms. Tagliamonte, 39, “and it’s a good time to have your ducks in order so you can do more pitching.”
Along with updating Ms. Doherty on her progress since their last session (“I try to call five people a day from my V.I.P. list, but I don’t always succeed”), Ms. Tagliamonte checked off the ways she is trying to reach out more energetically to prospective clients.
“I’m calling people and asking if they want to go out for a drink or coffee, especially if it’s someone who’s single, which is something I wouldn’t have done before,” she said. “I get to know them better. There’s more of a bond. And I get referrals.”
“I’m also trying to do more outreach to families I know socially,” she said. She plans to host a wine-and-tiramisù evening at a Chelsea kitchen store. “I’m also trying to plan events for families on weekends, when they won’t need a sitter.”
What with sky-high prices and the breakneck speed at which deals are hammered out in the city, it can be difficult for brokers like Ms. Tagliamonte to remain upbeat. “Because of the lack of inventory, buyers are frustrated,” she said. “They’re disappointed. It’s hard to manage expectations. But I’m learning. That’s one of the things Dawn is teaching me.”
Friday, March 21, 2014