The New Agents

A series tracks three agents starting out

When Richard McDonough starts on a career, he tends to stick with it.

The 42-year-old Upper West Side resident had spent close to the last two decades of his life working as an operations manager at Bloomberg LP, managing hardware and software installations for the company. But real estate was calling.

“I wanted to find something totally different,” said McDonough, a family man with two young sons who thought about making the career change for more than five years before taking the plunge. He had bought four apartments in the last 12 years and liked the idea of working for himself. “I wanted to set my own schedule.”

After convincing his wife that the family could forgo his paycheck until he made his first deal “I had to set benchmarks” -McDonough started as an agent at Douglas Elliman in August.

The Real Deal plans to tell the story of McDonough and two other new agents as they get their start in the industry over the next several months, following them until they make their first deal.

In a field where at least 50 percent of new agents don t make it, McDonough is confident of his chances.

“I would like to get an exclusive or two in the first six months and produce a positive income,” he said, adding that he is prepared to do whatever it takes to make that happen.

McDonough s path to a career in real estate began in March, when he started classes at the New York Real Estate Institute. Because of his job, the process was slow. “I did it on nights and weekends,” he said, and finished up at the end of June. He said he was “astonished” by the number of people who were also getting their licenses, particularly when he showed up at 6 a.m., three hours early for his licensing exam, and found himself 30th in line. Most of the other people he ran across seemed young, like the group of law school students looking to real estate as a backup profession.

McDonough had become familiar with Douglas Elliman when selling one of his apartments, and when he was offered a job, decided to go with the company because of their training and “because of their name,” he said.

At the time of his interview in late August, only a few weeks into the job and before starting the three-week company training program for new agents, McDonough said he felt like he was back in school.

“You feel like the new kid again,” he said. “You have a lot of questions, but you don t want to be asking questions every five minutes.”

Already, McDonough, who has a mentor and is part of a new brokers group that meets weekly, had two buyers he was beginning to work with, one looking for a place on the Upper West Side, the other in Hamilton Heights. He had begun working on a mailing list of 75 friends and former co-workers at Bloomberg, where his wife still works. During a recent trip to New Jersey, where he grew up, to visit his sister, he said he plastered his name around town on bulletin boards, over the pictures of other agents. “I have no shame,” he joked.

MARGARET MAILE

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Margaret Maile (pictured in photo on title page), a new agent at Corcoran, has high hopes for how her academic career and advanced study of decorative arts history might dovetail with a career in real estate. Maile, an Oregon native, moved to New York four years ago when she accepted a scholarship to attend The Bard Graduate Center. Already having completed a master s degree in decorative arts, she started her PhD last year, but has already completed her coursework and has only a thesis to complete.

It was a realization she had while sitting in a particularly dry class last year that led her to start thinking about a career in real estate. “I thought, there has got to be something better than this, ” she said. “Also, you can t make money in decorative arts history, and this is a way to combine the two.”

Outside of academia, Maile has worked as a consultant for Phillips de Pury & Luxembourg Auctioneers, and said she gained a good grounding in marketing as a result. “You bring more value to the object by knowing its historical value,” she said. Down the road, Maile is interested in exploring how it might be possible to promote undervalued architecture (she is a fan of “ugly” 1960s and 1970s buildings like the Maritime Hotel) through articles and books.

But for now, Maile said she must focus on learning the basics. She initially started at a smaller firm but left after two weeks, after meeting a Corcoran broker at an open house who is now serving as a mentor. Maile said she believed Corcoran “had a greater support network,” including training and computer resources.

Working out of Corcoran s offices at Broadway and 81st Street in late August, Maile said she was focused on “learning the vocab and figuring out how the culture works.” She had several buyers, and was learning “they don t all know how to verbalize what they want,” and that it was better to show a buyer four different places than apartments that were all similar. She was getting some leads from an electronic Corcoran bulletin board, and also trying FSBOs, but finding that even with the promising ones “relationships were getting stalled.” Her mentor had also been providing leads.

While Maile waited to land her first exclusive, and eventually, sale, she said she was prepared to go without money for a while. Pulling together scholarship money from school and other sources was a pain. “But I m doing this because I have a long-term goal,” she said.

LESLIE O SHEA

Though she s a new agent, Leslie O Shea has been around real estate all her life. The 36-year-old New York native, who was only two days on the job with Stribling & Associates in mid-September, has connections to the industry in a variety of ways, though she has generally worked in marketing for most of her career. She grew up with an attorney father, who helped put together mall deals in Los Angeles, among other ventures, and a mother who was an architect who designed commercial space. At age 16, O Shea got her first exposure to residential real estate when she worked as an assistant for a broker in Southampton.

Her professional career began as a media planner at Foote, Cone & Belding, followed by five years at The Masters School at Dobbs Ferry, where she raised capital money. But by around 2000, with earnings from the stock market, O Shea was again involved in real estate, buying five acres for development in Maine, and taking classes in real estate finance at New York University. While the project didn t pan out – builders quadrupled prices thanks to a change in the economy “it gave friends a chance to come up and play with the excavator I had,” O Shea said.

Becoming an agent entered the picture after O Shea had restarted a marketing career in New York. A boarding school friend, Anna Hargraves Hall, was deciding on a career change and went to work at Stribling. Hall loved it, and told O Shea that she should follow suit, she said.

“She was after me to join, and I was really knocked out by Ms. Stribling and Betsy Dean [the supervisor of brokerage at Stribling s uptown office],” said O Shea, who said she was attracted by Stribling s “polished image.” As far as becoming a broker, “I m getting a lot of positive feedback,” from all my friends, O Shea said.

O Shea said she thinks Stribling s training a one-on-one approach in which new agents sit beside the supervisor of the brokerage for five or six weeks will help launch her as an agent.

“I have a strong sense of confidence that I can build up a serious business,” said O Shea. “Though I don t have any idea how long it will take.”