Off the ice, real estate beckons

Former pro hockey player Lyon Porter on how his athletic career prepped him for selling NYC

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

Real estate pros have the reputation for being aggressive. Lyon Porter, a former professional hockey player who recently began selling commercial and residential real estate at Town Residential, embraces that. Porter sat down with The Real Deal to discuss what his fellow athletes look for in a New York City apartment, the nameless neighborhood that he calls home, and how his sports injuries prepared him to sell New York real estate.

Which teams did you play for?
I played for the Adirondack Frostbite, the Syracuse Crunch and the Richmond Riverdogs. I lived in 10 cities in 15 years. I left home at 16.

Where was home?
Shaker Heights, Ohio.

Do you still play recreationally?
I do. I play over at Chelsea Piers. I play with a group of guys who also used to be professionals.

Did you get terribly injured?
I cracked a hip socket, separated both shoulders, got a lot of stitches. … These aren’t all my real teeth. The first breath of cold air after chipping a tooth is no fun. And getting your nose broken is probably one of the worst, because you can’t see.

Your sinuses, they kind of … come out.

Your nose been put back together very well.
Thank you. I still can’t breathe out of it.

How many times was it broken?
I don’t know. I fought a lot.

How has that helped or harmed you as a real estate pro?
It’s like what they say about boxing:  “it’s more important to be able to take a punch than to give a punch.” So, in real estate you take a lot of punches. You get a lot of doors closed in your face. In hockey there is constant rejection — having to try out, having to move [cities], having to go forward when people say you shouldn’t. Especially being from the U.S. when most players are Canadian [can be tough].

Was there anti-American sentiment?
I was often the only American on my team. But having to go up against those obstacles was helpful, because now I don’t mind someone saying no to me.

It’s mental toughness, basically. The same in real estate as in the rest of life.
Yeah, it’s like when you get traded, you can’t take it personally. The only thing you can control is how you perform. And it’s the same in real estate.

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Is there a particular kind of clientele you specialize in? Do you find you can bond with clients over professional sports?
I do have some clients who are professional athletes.

Like who?
I’m not going to name names. But I have some pro hockey players and other pro athletes. I can relate to them, to having a life on the road. I can relate to not wanting to live in a hotel.

What do you think professional athletes need in a home?
I think actually having a home, since they are on the road so much, it’s very important to them. And almost exclusively athletes buy condos [instead of co-ops] because they might get traded the next day.

And they must like full service amenities?
Well, we have the Town Residential concierge service. It’s nice to be able to give them something to lean on. It’s a free service to clients. It’s been an amazing thing for this type of clientele. Even just for a busy New Yorker, being able to get a reservation at the Nomad tonight if you want it.

Before joining Town you were in graduate school?
Yes, I had worked in real estate and did my masters in development at NYU’s Shack Institute [of Real Estate]. I did full -time [but] at night. And I also was still working with C&K Properties, assisting them with private equity real estate acquisitions.

How did working in private equity inform your knowledge of real estate?
Brooks Crowley, who I worked with there, was invaluable. Two guys who started from scratch. They owned 3 million square feet in the city.  [The experience] really helped me with my investor clients and developers I am working with now, to see it through their eyes.

Where do you live?
In the 20s. It’s just below Murray Hill, a lot of people would call it Kips Bay. If you look at it on a taxi map, it’s a gray area.

What kind of branding do you think it should get?
t used to be called Rose Hill, but that never caught on in the popular nomenclature. I don’t know if I would call it a name at this point though. I have a rent stabilized apartment so I didn’t choose the neighborhood, it chose me.

You aren’t gonna tell us how much you pay?
No. But it is a two bedroom, thank God, because I just had a son two months ago.

Congratulations. Do you want your son to play hockey?
He can play whatever he wants.

When it comes to hockey, can you tell when a kid is really young if they will be good?
Yeah, and they could tell that I was a terrible skater; I just loved hockey. I was never the skill guy. I made it really far as a really unskilled guy.

Did you make up for a lack of technique with aggression or something?
I did. I was a grinder. If I had to fight or hit someone, [I would].

Would you characterize yourself as a real estate pro in sort of the same way? Always willing to fight?
I think in this business, in this city, you have to have something extra. Whether it’s being able to take punches or being able to swim with sharks. Anyone successful has something extra, and I think I gained mine from hockey. When someone shuts the door in my face I just say, “Ok, well I’ll knock on it again tomorrow.” I don’t mind hearing “no,” in fact I don’t even hear it. And that’s why this business is a perfect fit for me.