It’s Thursday afternoon in New York City and Esther Muller is riding in a taxi, talking on a cell phone and giving directions to the driver.
“It’s the one with the green awning,” she tells him.
She somehow carries on two conversations seamlessly and simultaneously with both the cab driver and a reporter in California. This is multi-tasking, the Esther Muller way. She darts into a room at her destination to try to find a quiet place where she can talk undisturbed.
“Now I have to hide so that no one knows I’m here,” she says.
The ruse doesn’t work. She is spotted, and she can’t dodge the greetings.
“Hi, darling, good to see you,” she says. “I thought I was hiding — I was found.”
For Muller, there are always things to do, people to see.
“A day in the life of Esther Muller,” she quips.
Muller has seen all sides of the New York real estate scene.
“Being in this town for 25 years as a sales agent, broker, owner, developer and as an investor, you just get to know everybody,” she said.
Muller left her job as a teacher in Ridgefield, Conn., to pursue a career in real estate. Her new career brought her to New York City, where she started a company that specialized in the conversion of rental units into for-sale units. She went on to become a top producer at Sopher Realty and later Douglas Elliman Real Estate, the largest privately owned real estate brokerage in New York City.
In 1995, Muller’s interest in education went full circle when she launched the Real Estate Academy, a continuing education academy for real estate professionals. She serves as president and master teacher at the high-class academy, which draws such big-name speakers as Barbara Corcoran, chairwoman and CEO for the Corcoran Group, and Dorothy “Dottie” Herman, president and CEO at Prudential Douglas Elliman Real Estate. The academy caters to the real estate elite of New York City, with classes held at such posh destinations as The Penthouse at Shelly’s New York and the Empire Hotel. Muller emphasizes that ethics training is a top issue at the academy.
Four years ago, Muller began a real estate consulting business.
“I was a free consultant for about 20 years,” she joked.
Consulting is a natural fit for her, she said, because she communicates regularly with so many real estate managers. Her contact with Real Estate Academy attendees and guest speakers keeps her in the loop, too. Earlier this month, Prudential Douglas Elliman announced the acquisition of Goodstein Realty, a family-owned and family-operated boutique firm with a presence in Manhattan and Long Island. Muller played no small part in facilitating this deal.
“When I first began consulting for Goodstein, we were more interested in acquiring other companies,” Muller said. But when the opportunity to join Douglas Elliman presented itself, it became clear that it was better to be acquired, she said: “It’s very difficult to compete as a small boutique company these days. In this particular situation, it was a beautiful marriage.” Douglas Elliman cited Muller’s “instrumental” work in initiating the merger in the announcement of the Goodstein Realty acquisition.
Muller expects that eventually there will be only a handful of boutiques that will remain as such by choice. In the past two months, she has received calls from two companies that are interested in mergers or acquisitions.
A company’s managers are integral in defining the business environment, Muller said, and as a consultant, she works to find compatible traits.
“I really feel that the leadership mission and attitude translates into the company’s culture,” she said. “When I look at a merger and acquisition, I look at the people in the company and I look at the personalities.”
She adds, “After you’ve worn all those hats as I have, it becomes very easy…to understand what the needs are of different companies.” Something else qualifies Muller: “The reality is that no one is doing what I’m doing. I don’t feel that I have any competition.”
Muller believes the inherent individuality of businesses will continue to thrive despite the consolidation trend.
“The future is such, in our industry, that every single agent will have their own Web site, their own presence, their own bios, which is very exciting. It’s very America,” she said.
“When I go to a party I don’t even take my cards anymore,” she says. “Here’s my name: Esther Muller. If you’re really interested just go to EstherMuller.com.”
Muller is a proponent of real estate technologies who says it is incredible how far Internet technologies have stretched the real estate industry.
“We have people who are taking apartments on the Internet,” without first seeing the properties in person, she said. “Five years ago if I had told you that someone was buying a house on the Internet, you wouldn’t have believed it.”
With more than 1 million Realtors in the nation, at the latest count, Muller said the rush into real estate sales is cyclical in nature.
“It’s so easy to enter the profession; I would like to see it become a little more challenging and difficult” with more required training, she said. “Getting a (real estate) license is easier than getting a driver’s license,” she joked. “The question is: How many are going to stay in the business?”
Her advice for the newcomers, honed from years in the business, is simple.
“People skills are very important — understanding the needs of people,” she said.
The academy and consulting work keep Muller in tune with all aspects of the industry, from the agents to the leaders of massive brokerages.
“I don’t believe that you can teach nor can you understand the needs of the agents if you’re not there, day to day,” she said. She hasn’t forgotten her days of polishing windows and propping up 2-by-4s to prepare a property for sale.
“I’m probably more in touch because I’m in touch with everyone.”
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