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The market is booming, and many are jumping on the real-estate wagon


AL DIAZ/HERALD STAFF
DOING IT BETTER:  Real estate agent Mark Zilbert admires the view from a penthouse
suite at Murano Grande.

 

'When high-flying Internet consultant Mark Zilbert bought his first property in Miami Beach he was irritated by the way the transaction was handled. Used to working with national corporations, Zilbert perceived a lack of professionalism and felt he could do better.

Two years later he took up the challenge, quitting his steady job and going to work selling real estate in the Miami Beach office of Esslinger-Wooten-Maxwell, EWM, last April.

Around the same time, Daniel Fitzgerald, an international equities trader from Great Britain, arrived in Miami with three suitcases after quitting a high-flying job in Italy to try his luck in Florida real estate.

Both are typical of a new wave of independent sales agents who, drawn by the prospect of making good money in a lively real estate market, are changing careers. Factor in the allure of becoming the next Donald Trump -- made even more famous by his hit TV show, The Apprentice -- and real estate has become not only hot but sexy.

Not everyone can become a developer or investor but almost anyone can get a Florida real estate sales associate license.

''Real Estate sales offer a fantastic opportunity for people from all walks of life,'' said William Cummings, director of Century 21 Academy of Learning in South Florida. ``South Florida is so diverse that I believe any life experience, language, work or business background can be translated into creating a market for real estate.''

MIXED BAG

People entering the field are fairly evenly divided between those who were pushed out of old jobs -- especially those in the high-tech field -- and those who chose to change. ''We're seeing a lot more mid-level managers, people who think a 9-to-5 job is not the way to go,'' said John Greer, director of Gold Coast School of Real Estate. ``There are people on their second or third career and older people who are not ready to retire.''

While entering real estate is relatively easy, succeeding is much harder.

To do well, the job demands 60- to 80-hour work weeks for the first couple of years, in-depth knowledge of the market, a high standard of ethics, boundless energy and the ability to relate well to people. New agents are often advised to have six months of living expenses in reserve and be prepared to spend thousands marketing themselves.

HIGH TURNOVER

As a result, only about 30 to 40 percent of people obtaining licenses stay in the industry, although many more keep their licenses current. The latest figures from the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation show 18,221 people with active sales associate licenses in Miami-Dade and 17,257 active in Broward County.

According to Jeff Morr, executive president of Majestic Properties in Miami and Miami Beach, 10 percent of sales agents make 80 percent of the money.

He sees people happy to earn $30,000 to $40,000 a year, while others aim for $40,000 to $100,000. ''I estimate that there are only about three dozen agents in Miami Beach who make more than $300,000 and far fewer in all South Florida earning more than $1 million dollars,'' he said.

That elite group appeals to Zilbert, 39. ''I'm highly motivated, I made six figures for the past 15 years and I'm not ready to start over,'' he said. ``On Day One I said that I am going to be a luxury Realtor.''

Zilbert's career goals had always been sparked by growing up...in Montreal. After gaining a degree in computer science he moved to California to become an actor. He got small parts in TV shows such as Star Trek and General Hospital but supported himself by doing computer programming. When the Internet boom started, Zilbert became an expert on the Web, ultimately moving to Florida as a management consultant and focusing on helping companies find ways to use the Internet in building business.

Two weeks into his real estate career, he brought in his first deal, the sale of an $800,000 unit. Then, nothing happened. His first reaction was, ``I think this is going to be a little more difficult.''

But he tapped into his Internet marketing skills. Zilbert focused on branding himself, beginning with a distinctive real estate website that showed only people, not structures. ''We're selling a lifestyle, not buildings.'' he explained.

MARKETING YOURSELF

His Web expertise helped put the site high on search engines. In his first six months with EWM, he sold $11 million in real estate. By the end of last year, his sales, which were mainly in Miami Beach, totaled $17.5 million.

''Ninety percent of my clients are outside Florida or the U.S. and I've never met 20 percent of them. My greatest achievement is to interest people and pull them into the site so I can follow-up,'' he said.

Fitzgerald's entry into the field was more low-key, backed up by confidence in his organizational abilities, strong street smarts and a proven talent for sales. ''I believed I had an edge because I know how to deal with clients,'' said Fitzgerald, 28, looking back on his role as one of the youngest equity traders in London and a career that took him from a go-fer polishing brokers' shoes to the head of Japanese trading by the time he was 21.

Years of flying around the world on business were followed by two years in an investment bank in Italy -- and then the decision to change careers and continents.

MAKING CONNECTIONS

Buoyed by savings, a laptop and a cellphone, the newly-licensed Fitzgerald started networking. He had done his homework, researching big local players and sending cold e-mails asking if he could come in and discuss a sales position. He got his first break in early October 2003 when he went to work for Majestic Properties, which runs an in-house training program. ''I'm getting listings, making solid contacts and after only a few months, I'm already getting established.'' he said.

At the age of 35, Birgit Hefler, an agent with Lyle Chariff Realty in Miami's Design District, is marking her second year in real estate sales. Her background includes training as an interpreter and translator in three languages and a job as a flight coordinator at Miami International Airport.

A stint in the air-cargo freight business was followed by a period as a stay-at-home mom for her two children. ''One of the greatest things about selling real estate is that you make your own schedule,'' she said. ``You are running your own business and put in as much as you want to get out of it.''

For Noel Nogues, retirement after 20 years as a City of Miami police officer was just too boring. After a shot at business, which he disliked, the 48-year-old Nogues opted for a new career selling real estate. The former neighborhood resource officer had developed his interpersonal skills working with people of different backgrounds in Little Havana, and he translated them to real estate. ''I learned to project trust, knowledge and assurance,'' he said, ``and I'm experienced speaking in public.''

INDEPENDENCE

Working at his own pace also suits Nogues, who works out of the Coldwell Banker office in Kendall's Town and Country Mall. In eight months, he chalked up single family home sales of close to $2 million.

Nogues believes he's made a great career move: ``With police work I resolved problems; here I help people make their dreams come true when they buy a home. It's beautiful.''

To learn more about how to become a real estate agent or broker, go online to www.herald.com and click on Business.

 

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