Lessons learned: kindergarten teacher-turned-broker joins the family business

Jill Steinberg on the transition from blackboard to condo board
By Guelda Voien | November 27, 2012 01:00PM

Many New York sales agents have come to the business of real estate from a wide range of other professions. In an ongoing series, TheRealDeal.com will profile brokers for whom selling properties represents a major career transition.

Jill Steinberg couldn’t have been born into a better family for building a career in real estate — she is the fourth Steinberg to work for Warburg Realty (her father-in-law is well-known broker Richard), which she joined last October. But before real estate, Steinberg worked in another field that required superhuman patience — she was a kindergarten teacher. Steinberg recently told The Real Deal about her guest appearance on “Selling New York,” what it’s like to feel like a rookie and how flexibility is king, both in teaching and sales.

Where did you grow up?
Stamford, Conn.

When and why did you come to New York?
I spent a couple years in San Francisco, and then came to New York about eight years ago. I was always [planning on] moving to New York, but right after college I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, so I got a Master’s in early childhood education at NYU.

Do you miss teaching?
I do, but I feel like I am teaching in my current profession, and I’m also on the board of my friend’s non-profit called Project Tutor. It’s like Tom’s [the philanthropic shoe manufacturer] for school. For every paid tutor there is a free tutor. So I still tutor for that. I have a two- and three-year-old, so I am teaching all day long with them.

How has teaching helped you as a real estate agent?
I’ve always enjoyed coming up with a plan for each individual. Kids need different strategies—are they an auditory, visual or kinesthetic learner? It helped me be patient and really listen to what [buyers] are looking for and then hold their hand through the process, because you are still teaching.

Why did you decide to leave teaching?
I left teaching when I had my daughter, who is now three and a half. Soon after, I had my son — he is two and a half — and I was not ready to go back to the classroom full-time, just because of the time constraints of leaving early [in the morning], and being with five-year-olds all day. With real estate there is more flexibility. I can do what I need to do in the evening or weekends.

Why did you decide to pursue real estate?
Most of my in-laws are in real estate, except for my husband. My father-in-law is Richard Steinberg, and my mother-in-law and sister-in-law [Renee Bross Steinberg and Sarah Fiszel] are all at Warburg, and I had been watching them … it was really exciting when deals were going down, and it all sounded very glamorous, but also a lot of hard work. It’s also amazing to be able to work with so many different types of people.

Anything intimidating or scary about entering the real estate field?
I was nervous changing professions. There was a lot to learn.

What did you need to learn?
I am still learning the art of negotiation. Richard is an amazing role model, I am learning a lot from him.

When did you start?
Last October.

Which office are you at?
969 Madison.

Are you focusing on a particular neighborhood or type of client?
I have been working in a range of areas, like the Upper East Side, Financial District and Brooklyn. I enjoy working with different families and educating them. I have a Master’s in education; a lot can be applied to adults, too — accounting for different personalities, whether it’s a reading strategy or a buying strategy, is something I was able to bring from teaching.

When have you adjusted for a personality?
I think in every instance there has been a certain amount of trust, whether someone is very hands on or more laid back, they have to trust you. Just like there is trust in your kindergarten teacher. I just worked with someone who was just out of college and he was looking for a four-bedroom rental in the East Village for him and these roommates, which was very different than looking for a three-bedroom home for a family with two kids. They ended up taking a three-bedroom and put up a wall to convert to a four-bedroom just because the outdoor space was so amazing. They were so excited to have this huge deck. It’s just about understanding all those life stages.

Where will you tell people to move if they are concerned about schools?
I think New York City has so many great schools, there is really no concern. I think P.S. 234, P.S. 6 and P.S. 41 are the major ones. So, Tribeca, the West Village and the Upper East Side—although it’s harder to find apartments in those areas … but I think people need to reckon with the fact that yes, you hear about those most, but there are other great options.

Did you have any experience before joining Warburg?

But you presumably had renting or buying experience under your belt?
We bought at the Brompton before it was built. We were there less than a year because we had another baby on the way.  We weren’t planning on it, so we outgrew it and that wasn’t a great experience.

Where did you move?
211 East 70th Street, a Rudin rental. My mother-in-law helped me.

Why did you choose that neighborhood?
We wanted to stay on the Upper East Side, plus there is a courtyard out front for the kids.

Are you going to be involved in real estate for the long term?
Yes, I feel like it’s my future, and I’m really enjoying it. Now my two kids are starting school, so I can work more.

What would you tell someone thinking of going into real estate?
Being a salesperson is not for everybody, but if you are good at it, there is a lot of potential.

You were on “Selling New York.”
Yes. One episode. My father-in-law is on the show regularly. So they did an episode about how I was joining him in the business.

Did you enjoy it?
It’s a little daunting having the camera on you at all times.

Anything you wish hadn’t ended up on the show?
Well, I didn’t want to come off looking like a rookie, but … it was in fun.

Did you end up looking like a rookie?
Well … that was the whole gist of the show.

What is a rookie mistake in real estate?
It was more speaking out of turn … But I ended up helping Richard with an open house and that apartment [at 39 East 29th Street] has sold.