Real Estate Weekly
June 15, 2005

CONVENTIONAL WISDOM

By Linda Barr

What do Tina Turner, the Duchess of York, P. Diddy, Dr. Phil and a dancing elephant have in common?  Remarkably, they are all playing a role in turning mediocre real estate agents into power brokers, according to some in the residential business.

The celebs are using their talents to inspire, motivate and sometimes even educate through appearances at some of the nation’s biggest conventions for brokers and agents eager to update themselves on the latest trends and technologies being applied to what is becoming an ever more sophisticated business.

“You are the knowledge broker to the consumer; therefore you must be exposed to everything that’s available today in order to protect your clients.  Conventions are an excellent way of doing this,” says Esther Muller, president of New York’s Real Estate Academy.

“Education has become the priority at all of the expos and conventions and, when you go, it’s to educate yourself about what’s going on outside of Manhattan, the latest technology, the latest tools of the business.  Whether it’s the Coop and Condo Expo, BuildingsNY or your company convention – these are a must to be able to be a true professional in today’s environment.”

Jacky Teplitzky generates $50 million in annual sales and ranks among the top 1% of the 2,000 brokers employed by Prudential Douglas Elliman in New York City.  With a  record like that, you’d think this NYU Real Estate Institute faculty member has nothing more to learn.  Not quite, says the broker whose client list reads like a Who’s Who of the city’s most affluent and influential people.

“In Manhattan, we think we do everything better, but there is an awful lot we can learn from our contemporaries elsewhere in the country,” said Teplitzky.

Teplitzky, who leads her own team at the city’s biggest residential firm, was reflecting on the recent annual Prudential Convention that drew 7,000 brokers from around the country to Las Vegas.  If she has her way, what happened in Vegas won’t stay in Vegas.

“I truly think that more and more people are realizing, here in the city, that we have more to learn from the rest of the country.  The attitude used to ‘We are Manhattanites and there is nothing we could learn,” but people are now thirsty for information.”

That thirst was reflected in the packed-out seminars, which included “How to work with clients of wealth,” a panel on which Teplitzky, and four of her contemporaries outlined their handling of an elite clientele.

“We had 300 people in the room and 100 outside the door trying to get in.”

As interest in attending national conventions has spiraled, so has the grandeur with which they are staged.  It’s not unusual for big-name stars, such as Tina Turner, to entertain delegates, and celebrity speakers, like Donald Trump, to address knowledge-hungry brokers.

An estimated 8,000 brokers attended the national Coldwell Banker convention in Orlando this year, where KC and The Sunshine Band provided music while celebrity shrink, Dr. Phil McGraw, was a guest speaker.

But the big names are just one aspect of the conventions, says David Michonski, CEO of New York’s Coldwell Banker Hunt Kennedy.

“We pay about $40,000 a year to send our top agents to them, so we obviously think there is tremendous value,” said Michonski.

“The primary aspect is the opportunity to network with the very top agents. It gets our agents out of the island of Manhattan and puts them in touch with the way business is done nationwide.  Business in Manhattan is very parochial and one of the best things we ever did nine years ago [when we joined Coldwell Banker] was take the Hunt Kennedy office to the national convention. Just being there was an education.”

But while there is undoubtedly a lot to be learned through convention attendance, there are those who see the whole thing as just a bit of a morale booster.

Janet Resino, owner of RE/MAX Gotham City on East 59th Street, has attended several of the chain’s events around the country, including a Las Vegas meeting that featured Tina Turner, Tony Robbins and the dancing elephant!

“It’s all highly theatrical and generally very motivational,” said Resino, who added that while the conventions have given here an opportunity to network with other brokers, RE/MAX itself has a learning program second to none and reaches out to its 100,000 agents through its own TV learning channel.

“RE/MAX has a reputation for the best and we see the top innovations in the industry all the time.  They introduce us to the top stuff all the time and don’t just tell you what’s going on, say, in Arkansas, but they say, ‘We’ve analyzed this and it works, try it.’

While some of the city’s bigger brokerage houses can splurge on glitzy annual conventions, there are plenty of convention-type gatherings going on locally that independent firms can use a source of information.

The Learning Annex is a powerhouse of education in all forms and, over its 25 years, has become part of contemporary culture.  With a myriad of classes and conference learning opportunities, it also has built a reputation for attracting some of the biggest names on the speaking circuit, including Donald Trump, Larry King, Henry Kissinger and Deepak Chopra.

Samantha Del Canto, vice president of the Learning Annex, admitted that while big-names certainly provide the Wow! factor, the focus is very much on providing a practical learning environment to a growing audience.

“The market is so hot right now and the competition is so intense, they [brokers] have to stand out from the crowd and utilize every means possible to get their name out there,” she said.  “We can’t offer enough real estate classes right now.  The last five or six years have seen a real upsurge in real estate and they want to learn about topic imaginable.”

Del Canto added, “A huge number of professionals attend to learn from other, hugely successful professionals, such as Trump.  It’s an invaluable experience for their professional growth, networking and the opportunity to find potential customers.”

For more than two decades, Yale Robbins, Inc., has been the premier real estate publisher in the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic and Midwest regions.  Henry Robbins, executive vice president of Yale Robbins, Inc., and his brother Yale also run the largest Co-op/Condo Expo in the city every year.

It’s a very successful local show for the residential real estate market – and it’s free.  And while that may make it a celebrity-free zone, it is increasingly becoming a no-nonsense convention of choice for many brokers who’ve turned the seminars into a standing-room only event.

Said Henry Robbins, “We have 200 exhibitors and 3,000 attendees who can learn about new products and services out there.  We sponsor four seminars that cover everything from hiring qualified personnel to mediating litigation and converting from coop to condo.

“Since we took over five years ago, we’ve seen attendance quadruple,” said Robbins.  “It’s a local show; anyone can pop in at any time, even during a lunch break – where can you get better use of time?  We’re the only local residential show in this region and we offer expert, on-the-spot answers from people who deal with the same problems every day.”

Next week, the ABO-sponsored BuildingsNY show will take place at the Jacobs Javits Center.  Produced by Reed Exhibitions, it is the largest annual regional trade event for building owners, real estate developers, commercial architects, facility managers, property managers and security professionals.

The show also offers cutting-edge information through its conference program that covers trends, issues and regulations taught by the industry’s top educators.

Esther Muller will likely be among the thousands expected at the event.  “I have gone to almost everyone’s convention.

“As an agent, I think the importance of understanding that you are running your own business can’t be stressed enough.

“An agent has to become the educator to the consumer.  It’s what a really great real estate agent does, they empower the client with information that is critical to help them evaluate and analyze the decision they make and you can’t do that if you are not knowledgeable.”