Julia Boland: I’ve been a broker for ten years, and like many successful people I fell into it--I didn’t choose the career. I had been in the fashion industry and I was laid off. At the time I was doing a house share out in the Hamptons and I met a gal who worked for Brown Harris Stevens. She kept telling me, ‘You know, I think you would be really good at real estate’ and I said, ‘I don’t know if that is what I want to do.’ Ironically, she called me within twenty-four hours of my being laid off and she said, “OK, this is your chance. Go get your license.” I thought, Ok, I have nothing to lose. The fashion industry was changing and I wasn’t totally thrilled with it, so I thought “Why not, I’ll try real estate” Once I started I realized how great it was to have a career which was challenging, offered autonomy and rewarded me according to my efforts. I really love what I do and I feel very grateful to have my career every day.
NYH: What does the Boland Team specialize in?
J.B.:Currently our business is about 90 percent new development and 10% resale. Last year we were closer to 50-50. The market is always changingI started off my real estate career in the 2 Fifth th Avenue office of Brown Harris Stevens. I started right away in new development because the broker I was working with had new development condominium listings.
NYH: You’re the senior vice president of the Boland Group. Can you tell me what your job entails and the journey you took to get to that position?
J.B.:The beginning of my career happened by chance. Now, I’m more focused and I make strategic decisions to move my business to a certain place. But in the beginning, my husband decided he wanted to buy a brownstone in Harlem. So we did that, gutted it and moved in, and in the process I met some developers. Then I got pregnant, and I was too tired to keep getting on the subway and going down to the new development in Soho I was working on. I thought, “This is crazy. I’ve got to work closer to home.” I met this fellow who was doing some condominium development a few blocks from my house. He was my first new development customer, not working with another broker.
I stayed at Brown Harris Stevens, but I moved uptown and I branched out on my own. From there I did more and more new development. Being pregnant I had these walk-up new developments, and I had gotten really big, and I couldn’t walk up the five flights, and I had met B.J. Engler, a successful broker who sat next to me, and I asked him to help me out. And that was the beginning of the Boland Group.
Later on, we met Peter Denby. We invited him to join us because our business was expanding and we needed help. In just a matter of months we realized he was a phenomenal guy and we asked him to be our third partner in the business.
NYH: I know you lived in Hong Kong and Paris for a period of time. Did traveling abroad help you make social connections?
J.B.: I have a master’s degree in international business and I did live in Paris and worked in international business for a bit before moving to Hong Kong. Recently there have been so many foreign investors coming into the Manhattan market--many Asian investors, Israeli investors...and my background in understanding their cultures has certainly helped me in terms of negotiating. I know how to approach different cultures and I have more sensitivity to their negotiating styles or ways of doing business, instead of just looking at doing business strictly the American way.
NYH: You recently completed the “prestigious REBNY New York Residential Specialist Designation course.” Can you tell me a little bit more about the course and other types of education you have had?
J.B.: The idea was to have continuing education that would be more like a master’s degree level for real estate. We are required to do continuing ed. If you’re a savvy broker, at a certain level it becomes very basic and perfunctory, so they wanted to get together and create courses where senior brokers could learn from each other and bring in experts from various fields to help us sharpen our skills.
NYH: Run me through a typical work day. Are you always working or do you try to keep it strictly 9-to-5?
J.B.: It’s a 24/7 job, so it’s a good thing I love it. I regularly enjoy thinking about my business and how I can do a better job at it. It’s incredibly creative work and challenging and interesting. A typical day is 9-to-7. A couple times a week I’ll pop out for a spin class. I do have a hard stop at 7 PM because I have a husband and a four-year-old son.. I want to be with them at dinner time and put my son to bed. Frequently after dinner, and before I go to bed, I check my messages and respond. Of course Sunday is a big day for us with all our open houses.
I’m very lucky that my two partners are some of my closest friends. We’re all very different and we all specialize in different things in the business. BJ is very creative and has an eye for detail, and is amazing at operations. Customers love BJ because he is so kind and genuinely interested in helping them. I’m very much involved in the strategy of the business or the strategy of selling things. Peter is amazing with numbers and comps. He loves a good complicated deal and digging into it, and finding a way to make it work on all sides. With all three of us specializing in different things, we are ultimately one really great broker to anybody looking to sell their property.
NYH: Do you think we’re still in a buyer’s market?
J.B.: I’m seeing more balance, certainly on some of the projects I am working on. I’m selling a project on 148 East 24thStreet right now. We’re 51 percent sold in eight weeks, and every single contract is full asking price, so it’s hard to call that a buyer’s market.
NYH: How has the economy affected your business, and how have you managed to stay so successful when so many others have…tanked?
J.B: Nobody had fun in 2009. I could see what was going on and I said to my partners, 'Look, there are a lot of brokers who are going to fall out. We’re not going to make a lot of money. Sales just stink.' We couldn’t sell anything, no matter how hard we tried. I made a third of what I usually make that year. I said, 'This is a time to hone our skills, to sharpen up, and when the economy improves we will be well positioned to take advantage of the upswing. That strategy has paid off. Already this year our sales have doubled from last year because we are in the habit of never taking anything for granted and figuring out how to work harder and smarter everyday. We are very proactive in all aspects of our business.
NYH: Can you share any of those “inside” secrets or strategies that kept you on top?
J.B.: We just work hard. We don’t play games. We’re really nice to our co-brokers. We are not arrogant, and we try to do the best we can everyday.
What’s interesting about this industry is that everybody thinks it’s easy to be a broker and make a lot of money. It’s not. It’s easy to get into the business. It’s easy to take your exam. It’s easy to get a job with one of the companies, but it’s not easy to make money.
NYH: What are some of the obstacles you've overcome?
J.B.: It’s an incredibly competitive industry and Manhattan is an incredibly competitive market place. Brokers are a tough bunch. It’s all about doing a better job than the guy next to you so you get the business.
NYH: How interested are clients in green buildings?
J.B.: I have worked on many buildings where there are green elements. I think developers are more interested in incorporating green elements when they can.
NYH: What is your advice for those looking to become a broker?
J.B.: You have to be a self starter. If you’re not a self starter, team up with somebody who is going to keep you motivated. I have a lot of people who say to me, ‘Oh, I love looking at real estate. I love looking at pretty apartments.’ You see some pretty apartments, but not all apartments are pretty. And really a lot of real estate is dealing with people, so make sure you’re good at dealing with people and you really enjoy that part of it.
NYH: Is tweeting or blogging something your group does?
J.B.:[laughing]: I’m sure it’s something my group should be doing, but we’re are so busy selling real estate, we really don’t have time to tweet about it.