How Much a Mentor Is Worth

At first, Jenifer Santoro wasn’t sure she should pay the fee for hiring a coach. But she soon found out how much more she would get in return.

February 5, 2015

Writers and actors often talk about the importance of having a mentor, an experienced industry professional who can help them make good choices, comfort them when deals fall apart, and cheer them on when they sign a publishing contract or get a highly sought-after part in a movie or play.

It’s no different in real estate. Newcomers need all the advice, expertise, and hand-holding they can get during the first year on the job. Selling real estate is a career path that’s filled with highs and lows. It’s helpful to have an adviser who can counsel you during those disappointing and exhilarating moments that are par for the course during those early days.

Jenifer Santoro, now a sales associate with Weichert, REALTORS®, in Clinton, N.J., was able to face the challenges most rookies face — generating leads, standing out in a fierce market, staying current on guidelines and laws, all while closing business — by aligning herself with a top producer at her office and also a broker she moved to midway through her first year. But the help came at a cost from her own pocket, and it took her some time to get comfortable paying it.

“Initially, I struggled with the idea of having to pay out a mentor fee, but, looking back now, I would have paid 10 times that amount,” Santoro said. “Coming from a business perspective, I wanted to keep my startup costs down. However, when I stood back and asked myself what I wanted out of my career, it came down to: ‘Do I want to keep an extra 25 percent of my first two transactions, or do I want a long-lasting, successful career?’ When I thought about it from that perspective, the latter was obvious. I knew after meeting my mentor that she offered me more than what I would gain by having the extra money in the bank. Honestly, she was my money in the bank. I learned so much from her in our first meeting that I knew I had to look at it as an investment, not a fee.”

The benefits were tangible and immediate. Her mentor walked Santoro through effective website marketing, talked to her about the importance of creating a brand, and reviewed and helped refine her listing presentation.

“That was just in the first few weeks,” Santoro says. “These skills translated into immediate business for me. Clients saw me as polished and knowledgeable, even though I was new to the game. We came to develop a relationship that turned into a friendship because we trust each other. I trust her advice, and she trusts me to listen.” 

What’s more, Santoro’s mentor was there when she faced one of her biggest challenges: deciding which brokerage was right for her.

“I chose to switch because it benefited me the most to do so, and it was a smart match,” Santoro says. “My mentor was incredibly gracious and genuinely happy for me. She said to me, ‘I can give you a bunch of reasons why I think you should do something one way, but it needs to feel right to you.’ She remains my mentor to this day.”

Even with regular contact with a mentor, there were tough moments. One particularly stands out to Santoro.

“One of my clients was going through a divorce,” she explains. “She became brave enough to put herself through school, after not working for 10 years, and earned her degree,” she recalls. “She was committed to doing whatever she had to do to start over with her two daughters. She didn’t have a job, so she had to get one. We found a home in foreclosure that she could afford, and her offer was accepted. Things were moving forward relatively smoothly — until the lender told us she couldn’t get the loan.”

The lender had preapproved Santoro’s client but pulled back in the eleventh hour because the client didn’t have a two-year work history.

“We were all devastated,” Santoro says. “I remember being on vacation when I received the call. I was at Disney World and started to cry for her right there in the middle of the park. I was in ‘the happiest place on Earth’ — and I was anything but happy. I felt like I failed her. But she had come so far that I was not going to give up. She was a fighter, and I, too, wanted to fight her cause.”

While Santoro was optimistic she could ultimately help her client, she turned to her broker, who told her it was important to shield her client from some of the fallout.

“[The client] was under an extreme amount of stress. I had to explain to her what happened, but I did so in a way that gave her the confidence that this was just a bump in the road — one we would get over,” Santoro says. “I learned early in my sales and planning career that there would be times I would turn into a ‘duck on water,’ smooth and graceful in the open but paddling frantically underneath. This time I was a duck on water.”

Santoro spent the last four days of her vacation calling lenders and explaining her client’s situation. She finally found a lender who was willing to accept her client’s schooling and the months she had been working as combined work history. It took another month, but right before Christmas, the lender gave Santoro’s client a loan and the keys to her new home.

“And, yes, we cried again, but this time they were, in fact, happy tears,” Santoro says.

She says she owes her success to her mentor and broker. “Had it not been for them, I might have been part of the group that fizzles out the first year. These two women are some of the strongest I know — professionally and personally — and they inspire me to be better. They push me, challenge me, and never ask me to do something they themselves wouldn’t do. And it’s because I have asked for it.”

freelance writer

Mary Beth Klatt is a freelance writer with a passion for architecture and home design.

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