How to Rise During a Downturn

Patricia J. Petersen launched a business development program that helps new and experienced associates counter the challenging market forces on New York’s Long Island.

September 18, 2012

Patricia J. Petersen
President and CEO
Daniel Gale Sotheby’s International Realty
Cold Spring Harbor, N.Y.
A brief history: Started in real estate sales in 1974 and rose through management to her current position in 1991; became majority owner in 1995.
Number of offices: 22 on Long Island’s North Shore
Number of sales associates: 550
2011 gross sales and transaction sides: $1.6 billion with 1,786 transaction sides
2012 projected sales and transaction sides: $1.8 billion with 1,965 transaction sides

The Growth Years

I had an exciting career in public relations in New York, where I handled such clients as the Vienna Boys’ Choir and Metropolitan Opera stars. Then I married, and my husband and I started our family and moved to Long Island. I wanted to work, but neither freelancing nor commuting was a good fit for me. One day in 1974 I walked into the Daniel Gale office in Cold Spring Harbor, and Stan Gale hired me. His grandfather, Daniel, founded the company in 1922. I worked in the office doing odd jobs until I got my license.

After a week I was hooked. How often do you find a profession that includes access to beautiful homes, the potential for lots of money, and the chance to make people’s dreams come true? Within two years I was a top producer. We became a Sotheby’s affiliate in 1976. We started expanding in the mid-1980s and ultimately grew to 27 offices and divisions and 600 agents on Long Island’s north shore. In 1995 Stan and I bought the company from his parents. I’m the majority owner, and Stan is an inactive partner.

The Recession Hits Hard

The recession affected us later than it did the rest of the country. We sell luxury properties and second homes, but we also have $90,000 co-ops. Our highest year was in 2007, with $2.5 billion in sales. Two years later, our worst year, we dipped under $1.5 billion. I realized we had to do something to counteract the market forces. There are two ways to do it: One is to recruit, which we do, but we already had these wonderful, trained agents. The other way is to increase agent productivity. That’s the direction we took.

The Business Development Program

In fall 2010 we launched our Business Development Program, a comprehensive hands-on course designed to help agents dramatically increase their earnings. I appointed a team of seven highly experienced agents, two business development directors, and five associate directors to help build the curriculum and conduct the classes. We have two levels, one for new agents who have been through our initial training and one for experienced agents who haven’t reached their potential for one reason or another. Classes meet weekly at the branches for about 12 weeks. Both groups get personalized coaching, mentoring, and lots of real-world practice with various sales scenarios. They also get homework assignments New agents might role-play listing presentations and overcoming objections, or they might do an independent market analysis and discuss their thought process with the group. For experienced agents, we emphasize time management, self-promotion, and marketing. We’ll have them practice using an iPad on a listing presentation or adding 15 new names to their sphere of influence. I paid a monthly retainer to the original two directors to help develop and tweak the curriculum. Results were noticeable soon after training began, largely because of the close monitoring.

Forging Ahead

About 100 agents have finished the program, and their productivity is off the charts. On average, their earnings have increased by 183 percent. They feel so great when they see the results of their work. Some continue to meet on their own, almost like a study group. Last year, our MLS stats showed sales volume as a whole was down 6 percent. We were up 1 percent. We’ve got plenty of competition around here, so we have to believe that some of that swing is due to our program.