Most people don’t grow up thinking, “I want to be an astronaut, but if that doesn’t work out I’ll be a real estate agent.” For the most part, on the South Fork anyway, agents got to their present positions by way of first careers. Some started as models. Think: Beate Moore, Jane Gill, Angela Boyer-Stump, and John Healey. Some began in marketing; Gary DePersia is a prime example. Quite a few were in teaching, finance, or the arts. There is probably only one former anchorwoman.
That person is Nanette Hansen of Sotheby’s International Realty. Ms. Hansen had a 19-year career as an Emmy Award-winning television journalist and anchorwoman for NBC, CNBC, and CBS. Her impetus for going into real estate followed the path of many others. She simply fell in love with life on the South Fork. After anchoring the national news at 4:30 a.m., she said she could be on the golf course by 1 p.m. on Fridays, but “dreaded going back Sunday nights.” She needed a way to support herself while enjoying the area’s lifestyle. Having always been “fascinated” by real estate — “the economy turns on the health of real estate,” she said — it seemed like a logical next step. Getting her license in 2005, she closed on two house deals within six months. “One universal thread you’ll find amongst the most successful brokers is that everybody brings different skill sets; the most successful are the ones with broad knowledge and experience,” she said. “Landing a seat at Sotheby’s is equivalent to landing at “60 Minutes.” They both have high standards, sophistication, and are as knowledgeable as it gets.” Does she ever regret her decision? “I feel it was the best choice I ever made. It’s also the hardest job I’ve ever had. It’s very competitive and makes on-air talent competition look tame.”
Myles Reilly of Saunders couldn’t have had a more different background. Directly out of school he became a dancer, performing around the world from the Lido in Paris to Broadway, where he was in “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.” When he retired at 30 he bought and renovated a house in Bridgehampton, which he sold in short order — making an impression onPaul Brennan, who recruited him for Braverman Newbold Brennan, his firm at the time. “People think I’m crazy when I say this, but I think show biz and real estate are similar,” he said. “You’re selling yourself in both.”
Almost all the brokers canvassed for this column went into real estate because they had fallen in love with the place and it was a career that allowed them to excel with the potential to earn a significant living. John Gicking, the brokerage manager of the Sotheby’s East Hampton office, spent 15 years in banking before he “burned out” and “wanted to escape New York and live out here.” He had just completed a course on architecture at Columbia University, but decided that architecture was not the career for him. When he purchased a house in Amagansett through Sotheby’s, a top broker there “put a bug in my ear about real estate.”
While in private banking Mr. Gicking had worked on a team that handled Ralph Lauren’s personal account. When he moved on to Bankers Trust he ran a commercial trading desk that transacted $1 billion daily. “Private banking taught me a language in dealing with high-net individuals,” he said. “Sales and trading taught me a language in dealing with the Wall Street population. Both became key drivers to my business.”
Terry Thompson of Douglas Elliman also hails from a background in finance. S-he was at Shearson Lehman Brothers when she was recruited by Paine Webber to work in its Southampton office in 2000 to specialize in retirement planning. But she decided to leave when she realized she “wasn’t happy going to work.” She was frustrated that she “couldn’t control what I was selling. I could present an investment but it could go down in value. It bothered me that the market was never honest.”
On the other hand real estate was a commodity you could “touch and feel.” She began by investing in houses, jazzing up the interiors, and turning them over. She started brokering real estate in January 2009, just when the market plummeted. “Everyone said, ‘You’re crazy, you’re never going to make it.’ “ She realized she had to differentiate herself from the crowd. So, coming from finance, she immediately “walked into mortgage companies” to pick their brains about the state of the market. “They all told her, “You don’t need to know that.” But when she approached Wells Fargo Private Mortgage Banking, Christine Curiale told her, “You’re the only agent who’s ever walked in here asking questions. I have all this TARP money and we need to give it out.” So Ms. Thompson found a niche working with “first-time buyers who nobody else wanted to work with.” Those customers begot more, catapulting her to the top ranks of local brokers.
Drew Green of Saunders spent eight years in New York in advertising, ending up at J. Walter Thompson. But he knew he didn’t want to continue in that career so moved to Southampton for the summer of ’93. “It was my last opportunity to be young and irresponsible,” he said. “I figured I’d hang out for the summer and worry about it in the fall.” While teaching tennis, he got his master’s degree and began to teach elementary and high school locally. One day his wife at the time showed him a commission check. “For one deal her check was basically my annual salary.”
But he doesn’t regret either earlier career choice. From advertising he learned how to “organize a presentation to justify the value of a property.” And from teaching he learned what might be the most important aspects of being an agent in the demanding world of Hamptons buyers and sellers: “nurturing and patience.”