Real estate icon and media star Barbara Corcoran delivered a brash, direct and hilarious keynote address at Real Estate Connect New York City. Get ready for keen insight, practical lessons and many belly laughs.
Check out the entire transcript from Barbara’s talk below:
Well hello there. Nice to have everybody here. I felt for sure this was going to be cancelled. Good for your optimism of showing up. I’m going to speak for only 20 minutes because that’s the time they allotted me. And believe me I have a lot more to say than 20 minutes. But here’s what I’m going to talk about. I’m going to just tell you a quick background of where I came from in one second flat and then I’m going to talk about what I think has been the single greatest thing that has happened consistently through my entire life. And that’s my little theme today. So here we go.
Most of you here probably know Edgewater, New Jersey. You know where that is? Across the Hudson River. You don’t have to clap if you’re from Edgewater. I don’t give a damn about you. (Laugh) Okay. But I grew up with my nine sisters and brothers I Edgewater on the bottom floor of a three family house in Edgewater. And I had great pride growing up because we had the largest family in town. Grab what you can. Right? And my mother put her six girls in the girl’s room and the four boys in the boy’s room and my mom and dad who were devout Catholics produced every one of those kids from the living room couch.
Pretty amazing. Right? (Laugh) But I think I realized and appreciated early on that I was a very lucky child. And I was lucky because I had the one ingredient that is the most important thing in life. And to this day if I had only one thing to choose in life I’d choose it again and again which is I had parents who loved me. I had a phenomenal mom who was well organized, a great motivator. I had my dad who was my mother’s eleventh child as she called him, but he played with us when he wasn’t working his two jobs. And so I had two phenomenal role models, each bringing different gifts to the family unit. So I had the best lucky break just by being born. I didn’t deserve it. I just got it. And when you’re well-loved of course it makes you feel well-equipped for the rest of what life might handle or might give you to handle.
I felt that growing up everything that happened even as a kid that was good for me always happened on the heels of failure. For some reason I would stumble and get really upset and then I would always find there was a silver lining. I don’t know if this is a pattern for everybody but it was certainly a pattern in my life.
The first time I learned about failure was in third grade because I was the kid in the class who couldn’t read or write. And so I was made fun of and I felt dumb. Now lots of kids have this problem. But the wonderful, wonderful thing is when Sister Stella Marie who was the nun from hell told me if I didn’t learn how to read, right in my face with that disgusting wart, just like witch on her chin. “If you don’t learn to read you’ll always be stupid,” she said as she pulled my hair and slapped me around. But when I went home to my mother, thank God, that big love puddle that I had as a mom. She said, “You know Barbara you’re not a good student. Don’t even worry about it because you have a wonderful imagination. And with it you’re going to learn to fill in all the blanks.” And so she took that negative, flipped it over and guess what? She was right because when I wasn’t in that goddamn jailhouse called school I was the most popular kid on the street, making up games, running the gangs. I was like amazing to myself. (Laugh) But I think my mother had to point that out many times. And so that was a negative that she flipped into a positive. And this became my life pattern for the rest of my life.
I was working at the Fort Lee Diner when Ramon Simone walked in. Ramon Simone looked just like Johnny Depp. He was ten years older than me. And the minute he walked in I knew I was going to be losing my virginity within the week. (Laugh) Women know these things. And it wasn’t even though as I was saving it for anybody. It’s just nobody had ever asked me for it. (Laugh) But that night, the night he walked in I had a new gimmick to compete with the waitress on the other counter.
I had a waitress on the other counter who really was a dead ringer for Dolly Parton with the beehive hair. And what she had before it was even doable by a surgeon I guess. She had giant boobs that were shaped like a giant shoebox. They went right up, straight out. (Laugh) Okay? But this was a problem and a negative and I was very upset. I had been working at the diner almost nine months and she would get three, four times the tips that I would get, which was totally unfair. We had the same size counters. Because she had this gimmick of the chest and she would balance two coffee cups, double stacked in each hand, two more on each breast for a total of eight.
I’m not making this shit up. (Laugh) And she would hip through the doors and the men were just like (panting). So on those four concrete steps there in Fort Lee, which is still there. Now it’s a Chinese restaurant. Funny enough. But men would stand in line waiting to be at her counter. But my mother had given me a gimmick the night before and she said, “Why don’t you just”, because I was whining. It didn’t go over big with my mom. She said, “Why don’t you just tie some red ribbons on your pigtails to match your little turtleneck and just stay as sweet as you are?” And as life hands it to you that was the night I tried my mother’s gimmick after I told my mom it was a stupid idea because that’s what you do at that age. And I tied those ribbons on my pigtails and Ramon Simone walked in. Ramon picked my counter immediately over the blond bombshell because he saw me for who I was, an adorable virgin. (Laugh) He became one year later my business partner by giving me $1,000 to start the Corcoran-Simone Company.
We named it after both of us. And that was my start at a very young age. Thank God that night with my gimmick over a negative that I met Ramon Simone. It could have never happened any other way. He would have been another guy at Gloria’s counter.
The first time I was asked to speak I was so flattered. I was 23, almost 24. I was already in business now for two years and I was asked to speak to an audience by Citibank. And I went to speak, I practiced. I’d never done any speaking, as many people don’t. And I practiced and practiced and practiced. But when I opened with the joke and the whole boring crowd of bankers didn’t laugh I lost my voice. No big deal except I couldn’t find it and was finally asked to please sit down. (Laugh) So after feeling sorry for myself for that afternoon and not wanting to show my face I decided what the heck. I’ve got to get over this thing. And I wrote up an agenda and pitched NYU to teach a How to Sell course at night.
After all I was selling for two years already almost. I knew how to sell real estate. And they let me teach the course. And funny as it would happen I walk into the classroom and this short little Asian woman walks up to me and she says, “You know how much money make?” Do you not understand what I’m saying? It’s a dead ringer for her. Listen again. “You know how much money make?” Third time I got it. “Do you know how much money I make?” Okay? I said, “No, I don’t know how much money you make.” And I imitate this lady with her permission by the way. If you’re Asian forgive me for offending you. And I said, “No, how much money do you make?” She said, “I make $250,000 in six months.” When my top salesman was earning $45,000 a year. And she’s making 250 in six months. Well what do you think I did in that NYU course? I made my objective to recruit this lady from J.I. Sopher and Company. Okay? And when that ten week course was over what do you think happened? She came to work for me. My little company of seven people she came in and worked for me. And not only did she bring 50 file boxes of customers but she brought her two Asian cousins who were working for free. I mean is that a benefit? (Laugh) It wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t had the fiasco of losing my voice in front of Citibank.
I finally lost Ramon Simone once I moved in with his kids after seven years when he came home one night and announced that he was marrying my secretary Tina who had long blond hair, five years younger. I got it. He was just trading me in for a new model. I was 30 at the time. But when he said I should take my time moving out I said I would take my time. I took about minute grabbing my toothbrush and got the hell out of there. I was so upset. And I ended that partnership a year later when Tina moved into my desk and shared the office as Mrs. Simone with Ramon Simone and I just couldn’t take it anymore and ended that business. Thank God that happened because it was on the heels of that business that I started the Corcoran Group. And on the way out the door Ramon Simone gave me the best gift that anybody could ever hope for. He said, “You know you’ll never succeed without me.” (Laugh) And you know he was wrong of course because I did sell the business for $66 million exactly 20 years later. (Clapping) Oh no that’s not a clap. Trust me getting the money is good enough. (Laugh)
We all know as real estate people that the market goes up, it goes down. It’s fine when it’s going up. You know you, you can’t get enough. You hate the sellers when the markets on the top because they really don’t need you. And when it goes down you hate it too. But the worst market of all for all real estate brokers is when it’s in the middle trying to decide what to do. Because when people have, not knowing if it’s up or down and not quite sure and everybody’s nervous that’s when you don’t make deals and that’s when you go out of business.
I was near death going out of business three times in the 20 years. But in one particular time when interest rates in the 80s somewhere, I forget what year. Interest rates hit 19% here in New York. That was true across the country. No one was buying anything. I was starving to death. And I remember Lorraine Freedberg came into my office whining. Okay? And I remember thinking if she whines one more second I’m going to have to get a license for a gun and take it out of my drawer and just shoot her. (Laugh) But instead I’m sitting there all what could I do? She’s whining legitimately that we haven’t been advertising for two months now. “How are we going to get business if you won’t advertise?” Well guess what honey? I have no money honey.
But instead I sat there and thought, “What do I do? What do I do?” And that was the birth of the Corcoran Report, which put my brand on the map. Because I thought I just have to generate some kind of publicity. What could I do? Because I can’t afford money. Maybe I can get my name and talk about apartments. And so I slammed our eleven sales on a piece of paper. Averaged them out, divided by eleven. Thank God it was the only times table I really knew. (Laugh) And came up with a 54,000 average sale price and typed right next to it, Average New York City apartment price, and sent it to anyone who wrote for the New York Times that day. Sports writers, news writers. Just wrote out the envelopes. Never heard anything.
But a week later I open up the front page of the New York Times Real Estate section and the headline is, “New York City Prices Hit All Time Low.” And the first line is, “According to Barbara Corcoran of the Corcoran.” I’m like, “Holy shit!” (Laugh) This is a Catholic miracle my mom always told us about. (Laugh) Would I have thought of the Corcoran Group if Lorraine Freedberg hadn’t been the eighth salesperson to come in and whine all over me yet one more time? Thank God. She became my favorite. (Laugh)
When I was near bankruptcy in the early 80s, I was out of money, really stretched, shortly after this whining thing that went on and I was approached by Equitable Insurance, as was every broker in town and asked, “Can you sell 88 apartments we own? We can’t have an auction. We don’t want the embarrassment. How could you sell them?” Everybody in town told these guys the same thing. They’re not sellable. The maintenances are way too high. The prices are too high. They’re mid construction. Some don’t have kitchens, some don’t have baths. They’re old buildings. They’re of seedy order. They stopped all the money in it. These are not sellable. Until I thought to make a puppy sell.
My mom used to bring us to puppy sales in Tom’s River by my Grandpa’s house and have us sit and watch the farmer sell off puppies (snap) like they were hotcakes. How did she do it? Louise, Louise did it because she had everybody come at the same time twelve noon, and she had like fourteen city slickers come for eight puppies. What do you think happened to all those puppies, even the little one, that even we as kids knew was going to be dead within a day? That woman grabbing the little puppy was so happy because there weren’t enough puppies to go around. Everything got sold. And so I took the 88 apartments, divided them into one and two bedrooms.
They were all one and two bedrooms. Priced them all alike. Every one bedroom same price. Every two bedroom the same price. And announced to my sales people we’re not advertising this. This is a secret sale. Next Monday only bring your family and your best customers. We don’t have enough to go around. Okay? Just bring them. Get there early. It’s the pick of the liter. You could grab the best apartments and leave the rest for everybody else. (Gasp) I was so happy to arrive at that sales office on East 81st Street and not only see 88 people in line but over 200 people in line. The first guy in line had flown in from Paris to get a deal. And what happened to those 88 unwanted apartments? Bam. (Snap) They were sold within an hour-and-a-half. I made over $1 million in commissions. That were closed, no don’t clap on that. I got the money. (Laugh) I know what’s important in life here in the real estate business. Thank God for that money. I was able to lease two more offices at a dirt cheap rent. The market was so bad and then God rewarded me and turned the market around within three months. How did that happen? Alright? It wouldn’t have happened. It would not have happened without a bad market. I couldn’t have been early up and opened in areas that other people weren’t even thinking about opening up in.
Only about six years ago I got a call from Mark Burnett Productions which meant nothing to me. But when I got the call I was like that sounds familiar. When I looked him up it was the biggest production. It was successful company in Hollywood. Hollywood’s calling me? Man, I must be cool. And they asked me if I’d entertain going on a new business show they were going to call, excuse me my mouth is dry, Shark Tank. And they said I’d invest in businesses but I had to use my own money. Could I send my financial statements? Did I have enough money? Blah, blah, blah. So off it went.
And I said, “No problem. I’ll do it.” They sent me a contract. I never even read it. I just signed it. It was huge. Just signed it. I’m not going to object to anything. I’m going to get this gig. And then immediately went out to Bergdorf Goodman’s and bought myself four new outfits. (Laugh) After all I was going to Hollywood. I had to look cool man. Signing autograph outfit, posing outfit, the whole nine yards. I was so excited. I told everybody. The office was abuzz. I had four people in my office. Everybody was excited. Oh my God this is the lucky break. The lucky break. Until three days before when I got the call, “I’m sorry we picked another woman. We changed our mind.” What?! I begged the woman on the phone to tell me who the other woman was. Why? Because I had to confirm for myself she was just like that last bitch Tina who took Ramon Simone. (Laugh) All I knew was she had to have long blond hair and huge boobs and be half my age.
And when I finally squeezed it out of her, don’t them. I’m not supposed to tell them. I swear I won’t tell anybody. Just tell me. I’ve got to look her up. After all I’m losing this. Please, please. I looked her up online and what do you think? She looked just like Tina. (Laugh) Huge boobs, long blond hair. Again?! I was so upset I couldn’t even function. I was embarrassed in front of myself. I bought my new outfits. I was ready. I was locked. I was loaded. I was going. And I’m like oh my God. This is it. I’ve worked in the TV business for seven years. I finally get something that’s a break and it goes away. And then I sat down and wrote an email to Mark Burnett.
Dear Mark I said. I appreciate your considering me as a fallback is what the lady said to me. Fallback. Fuck you. (Laugh) Shh. (Laugh) Who said that?! (Laugh) I appreciate that but I’m much more accustomed to coming in first. Everything in my life has happened on the heels of failure. When Sister Stella Marie told me I would never be smart unless I learned how to read or write she was wrong. When the old boy network in New York said that I couldn’t compete I became the number one rival. Okay? When Donald Trump said that I’d never see a penny of the $5 million commission that he’d written me off for for selling the Westside Yards I won in Federal court and got my $5 million. I consider Mark your rejection a lucky charm. I’m going to buy my own plane ticket but I expect to be there on Tuesday. Let the two women compete for the seat. And what do you think I got back for standing up for myself? A return email. You sound like a shark. You’re on. (Laughing and clapping)
I have hired in my lifetime probably 3,000 sales people. I’ve interviewed five times more than that. And I’ve fired as many as I’ve hired, probably more than what I’ve hired. Well that doesn’t make any sense. You do the math. (Laugh) But what I’ve learned watching the sales people, working with them and training them, and now what I’ve learned which is no different. I’m doing the same old thing I did for my first livelihood.
Choosing entrepreneurs and working with them to make them rich. And choosing between the people who have the potential and the people that don’t is a really hard business. It’s hard if people haven’t done it before. You’ve never sold before. Who’s the winner? You’ve never opened a business before? Are you going to make it? But what I’ve learned to keep my eye on is only one thing. I’ve learned that the difference between the people that are amazingly successful, where they’re making like a Carrie Chiang, making $3 million a year and somebody else just getting by is never the contacts they have. It’s not even, I wouldn’t even say it’s how hard they work. So many people I fired who were working 80 hour weeks. Okay?
I have found that the only difference between the really amazingly successful people and everyone else is once they take a hit how long they take to feel sorry for themselves. That’s it. Nothing else. (Clapping) I am very, very good at bouncing back up. And I think it’s because I just go, “Oh poor me, poor me.” And then I get pissed. (Laugh) I have found that’s a trait in every superstar I’ve worked with, every entrepreneur that I’m nurturing now on Shark Tank. And thank God for that ability or believe me I would not have the life that I have, with all the joy and satisfaction and the pride that goes with doing a great job. Thank you for listening.