At Town’s professional development classes, a new-age vibe

In honing their pitches, agents encouraged to transcend their comfort zones
By Leigh Kamping-Carder | August 20, 2012 05:30PM

A moment after depositing their shoes in a pile on the floor, a half-dozen real estate brokers return to their seats. They remain standing, facing the back of the room and away from Jeff Appel, the man ostensibly leading the proceedings. The brokers are gathered at Town Residential’s Astor Place office on a Thursday morning — in a 30-seat auditorium dubbed “Town Hall” — for a three-hour class intended to hone their listing pitches.

And why are they shoeless, staring at a wall? Appel, Town’s director of education and professional development, says it’s to get them comfortable with being uncomfortable, and also to help ground them.

“It was an unexpected opening to the class,” Dana Power, a Town broker, said. “I thought the class was extremely empowering.”

The two-part class, entitled “Perfecting a Powerful Pitch,” is one of nearly 60 courses offered free of charge through Town’s educational programming — a key focus for CEO Andrew Heiberger since he founded the firm in 2010.

Agents must take a 75-hour class to get licensed in New York State, and many New York brokerages offer additional training programs for their agents. Bond New York, for example,  has a mentoring program for less experienced brokers, as well as classes offered as part of its Bond University program, also free to agents. The Manhattan franchise of Keller Williams draws on the national firm for some of its roughly 60 different classes, although some of those offerings, including its motivational coaching, are fee-based. But Town appears to have more free educational offerings than most, if not all, of Manhattan’s largest brokerages.

(For a closer look at the more innovative and extensive educational programs at New York City’s residential brokerages, check out our forthcoming September issue.)

“Sales is a particularly daunting task,” Appel said, “so I’ve drawn on workshops and teachings that I had along the way in my own career and incorporated them into the curriculum at Town.”

The Town classes include sessions on such topics as “Land Use Issues: Intro to Zoning in Manhattan,” and “Analyzing Building Financial Statements.” The classes are taught year-round by Appel, a Citibank mortgage broker who also teaches classes for the Real Estate Board of New York. A class on the Dodd-Frank financial reforms is in the works, Appel said.

The firm also offers “neighborhood specialist” classes, where agents can get certified by Town as an expert in one (or more) of 16 Manhattan neighborhoods. The five-hour neighborhood courses comprise a lecture from historian Lina Viviano, founder of Gotham Walking Tours and a former partner at law firm Winston & Strawn, and a walking tour of the neighborhood. Agents are also required to pass a written test made up of multiple choice, fill-in-the-blank, and essay questions.

More than 80 percent of Town’s nearly 300 agents (by TRD’s last count) have attended one or more of the brokerage’s professional development classes, according to the firm, and Appel said that some agents come back to the same class more than once.

Back at “Town Hall,” the still-shoeless agents take their seats, and are asked to ruminate on the mantra “There is time and room for everything,” and to jot down three strengths and three “deficits” they perceive in their listing pitches. “None of them are facts, they’re all feelings,” Appel counsels.

Later, the agents break off to craft 90-second listing pitch introductions based on different scenarios handed out on Town-embossed notecards. Their pitches, which they perform several times for the group, incorporating critiques from the attendees, are videotaped. Each participant will receive an edited version with their first and last take.

The first to run the gauntlet was an agent from Town’s flagship office at 110 Fifth Avenue, whose roleplaying exercise involved trying to convince a co-op board to take him on as a preferred broker. The group agreed that he had an unconscious habit of crossing his hands in front of him — a move that can denote fear, Appel said — and of nervously raising his eyebrows and failing to make sufficient eye contact. The agent tried again, appearing much improved, meeting the gaze of the audience members and, for the most part, keeping his hands at his sides.

Power, who has taken Town classes on negotiation skills, “rent versus own,” and sales comparisons, called the listings pitch class “motivating.”

As a side benefit, it helped bring Town brokers together, potentially leading to more “Town on Town deals,” she said. “It’s a process of learning together, and any environment like that, you’re going to grow stronger relationships.”