“I had been living in Italy and I realized that I had a passion and a real knack for sales. I was actually selling a really inexpensive product. It was licenses for designs that were going to be put on greeting cards and wrapping paper — pictures of Santa Claus and teddy bears and kittens and berries.”
“And the reason I got hired for the job had nothing to do with my sales skills and was only because I had learned Italian and I spoke English. And so they were like, oh, she'll be our international sales manager.”
Thus began the real estate sales journey for Kirsten Jordan, now leader of the KJ Team at Douglas Elliman and the first woman broker featured on Bravo’s iconic show Million Dollar Listing New York (MDLNY).
“I was totally taken advantage of in the sense that they underpaid me,” said Jordan, “and when I came back from living in Italy and was telling my family that I wanted to figure out what I was going to do with my life,” they suggested turning that experience into selling a bigger ticket item.
“And what’s a bigger ticket item than Manhattan real estate?”
The advantage of life experience when building a business
According to Jordan, “One of the craziest parts of being an agent, especially when you're young, is that I didn't have a base of life experience. I think the reason a lot of people come into this business as a second career is because they have other business experience and they have life experience and the business and life experience, from what I've seen in my journey, does help you a lot with the job itself.”
“I started when I was 24 and in the beginning, I just thought I could work hard enough and I would just do really well. But the truth is there are so many other layers to the business that aren’t just about working hard.”
Working smart, learning how to really grow a business — according to Jordan, these are essential for those who are starting out in real estate. “You have to build a company that doesn’t involve you being the only person showing apartments or showing the real estate assets,” she said.
“I think that there's plenty of agents who do very, very well every year and have themselves and nobody else or like one other person or maybe an assistant,” said Jordan. “And I think that those agents are few and far between now because it's about scaling and it's about marketing and it's about the economy of scale and being able to permit certain things because you have the resources of manpower, as well.”
For Jordan, “what’s been the most incredible has been watching the industry and how it’s changed and also the fact that I’ve had to change the way I think about the industry if I want to grow and scale and not just be showing apartments until the day I drop.”
Creating opportunities and moving up in the industry
While Jordan said that she “definitely didn’t come to the business with the network” already in place, what's so special about this industry is if you work hard and you do right by your clients, there are so many ways to get in front of people who are looking to buy or sell.”
One of the keys she mentioned is putting yourself out there, “dress the part, show up.” While you may not become part of an upscale client’s immediate social circle, you show that you can fit in and interact with high-net-worth individuals and that you know how to show their expensive properties.
Mentorship was an important part of Jordan’s journey. “I got myself a good job working for somebody else from the beginning in luxury. And from that I learned a lot and I was able to work with whatever breadcrumbs came my way to be able to build some of my own business with my own clients.”
Subsequently, she began to work with her husband who is from Italy and is a real estate developer in New York City. During their 15 years together, she has built her network through past clients and past developers, because “this is a long haul business. Somebody you sold the studio to could end up being one of your biggest clients down the line.”
Starting the KJ Team
According to Jordan, “There were a couple of different reasons I started my own team. I definitely, in my own vision of myself, wasn't necessarily planning on growing a very large team. And I think that the reason I made the move was because I was starting to build a personal brand.”
In doing so, and in response to the growth that came along with being featured in Million Dollar Listing New York, Jordan put systems in place to support that growth. “And in order to be able to justify systems at that level and to do the other projects I'm working on while I'm an agent, I realized I had to build out something that was a little bit larger than I had expected because otherwise, I was only going to be able to justify having like a one-stop-shop assistant who was going to be doing a little bit of everything.”
“And that inherently was not going to support clients the way I wanted to support my clients. You know how you make a decision by looking at things from so many different angles? It has kind of been that way where all signs point to making something that's a little bit bigger with quality agents who are really able to service the business,” she said.
Working with the Manhattan rental market
For Jordan, the rental market is still a big part of her business plan. “The rental business in Manhattan is lucrative and there are big rentals. There are business coaches who advise segmenting your agents and having agents who only work on rentals so that you don't have your sales agents getting into the murky waters of rentals where the transaction commissions are lower.”
However, Jordan and her team still work rentals like “regular business, My sales agents work on rentals and [it still makes up] a lot of my business, I think we were one of the top rental teams at some point this last year, a couple of times over because we still do a lot of them.”
“If you're a single agent on your own and you have a booming sales business and you get rental requests and you don't know how to service them, I think that there's definitely revenue loss there,” said Jordan. Find out whether there are other ways to take care of renter requests, either by referring them out or by having a junior agent service them.
“I think it's worth thinking outside the box because it's a revenue stream. I don't think there's any reason to decide not to service it at all,” she said.
“The truth is, in this current environment, it's really hard to be an agent on your own. Every single coach that you'll talk to really advises you to have some sort of support so that you can leverage your skills. So, one of the ways you could justify the support would be to have the rental revenue, to maybe pay somebody to help you with other things,” said Jordan.
“And then I think hopefully at some point when your team is big enough, you can have somebody who only does rentals.”
Keys for agent success in today’s market
Jordan shared some of her favorite resources and insights for getting ahead in today’s market in the Meet in the Middle segment.
When asked for her number one book recommendation she answered, “Never Split the Difference by Chris Vos. Number one.”
Asked for one piece of advice she wishes she had known at the start of her career, she answered, “That getting help in the office before you get your second nanny would be more important.”
When asked about the most underrated part about the business of real estate, Jordan answered, “That you can get a lot of steps in every single day, especially for those of us in New York City who don't have cars. I actually was looking under my desk just a few minutes ago and I was like, I have sneakers under there. I am going to walk home and take phone calls for the next hour when this is over.”
Jordan’s biggest advice for agents in today’s market was that “All of us could be doing more social that's creative, that's speaking to our audience. And I think that all of us could be doing a better job setting up systems for our transactions so that they're seamless.”
“If you aren't in it for the long haul I can't encourage you to start strong because the truth is, it's a marathon. I've been focusing on my digital presence starting with Instagram in 2017. Since then I've branched into TikTok and YouTube. I do a lot on LinkedIn and of course, Facebook is something that you can't ignore.”
“It's something that I'm always investing more in,” said Jordan. “I'm always experimenting more with it. I'm always trying out other things. And I'm always figuring out ways that I can resonate with my audience.”
Finally, when asked for a memory of her first deal, Jordan recalled the following:
“My first deal was an apartment that I sold to a friend. It was asking $650,000 and it was a bidding war. It was one of the last bidding wars of the 2007 and 2008 cycle. And he bought it for $822,000, so that was a big jump over the asking price.”
“And now, I guess it was like six months ago, I was on the phone with my brother and I was like, ‘Dude, you need to get your own apartment.’ He was living with friends and he was like, ‘You're right.’ So I start looking online and I say, ‘Oh my God, that's a rental listing for this apartment. That's the first one I ever sold.’ And then I was like, ‘Hey Alex, you're going to live in that apartment. Done.’ So actually, my brother's living in the first apartment that I ever sold right now as a tenant.”