Real estate is a people business and people crave authenticity, panelists at Inman Connect New York stressed. They urged agents to focus on being present.

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Real estate agent Brian Lewis got his biggest deal ever — a $42 million listing — when he took advantage of serendipity.

Lewis, an agent with Compass in New York City, met someone in a ride share. Instead of just putting on his headphones, he chose to engage.

“I put my phone down and I was just talking to her,” Lewis told Inman Connect New York attendees Tuesday morning in a session called “What It Takes to Get to the Top.”

“We didn’t talk real estate. I did not say I was an agent. I was petting her dog, being present. She was French. I was speaking some French with her. And we just had a ball. At the end, she goes, ‘What do you do?’ And I said, ‘My name is Brian Lewis. I sell real estate here in New York.’ And she goes, ‘My friend Tony is gonna love you. Could you meet him today?’ I’m like, ‘Sure.’

“She texted me the address. I go in and I got it. And we sold it.”

Lewis said he’d gone to ICNY fresh from a listing presentation for a $599,000 listing, which is not on the high end in New York.

“But I learned something at the Four Seasons hotel when I was a bellman there, which is everybody gets a luxury experience,” he said. “If you’re in the presidential suite or in the basement where you’re looking at bricks, you get the same journey.

“To be successful, you just keep grinding, keep listening, be honest, put the phone down, be present. These are just fundamentals that I think in any industry will take you far.”

Real estate is a people business and people crave authenticity, according to the panelists.

“Accuracy makes money,” Frances Katzen, an agent with Douglas Elliman, told attendees.

“People can smell real very quickly. If you are very straight about it and say what you think, not what people want to hear, is when you actually enroll people into your world because they know that you’re coming from real.”

Kindness and honesty is key, according to Lewis.

“In our industry, it can be very cutthroat and people can be very sharky,” he said. “The dolphin will always win.”

Lewis said he works daily at being “completely and utterly present with what I’m doing. If it’s with my daughters, if it’s with my husband Matt, if it’s with my parents, a client, a customer.”

Katzen gave some advice she admitted might sound “really weird”: Declare what you want and then let it go. She said she did that once, saying she wanted “one of those ridiculous opportunities,” and just “put it out there.” Then during the pandemic, she got a call.

“The guy says, ‘I see you on the elevator every morning with your daughter on the way to school and I just think you’re awesome as a mom. I’m not hiring anyone else, would you represent my sale?'” she said. “And I said, ‘Sure.’ It was over [$]30 [million] and we got it.”

Both Katzen and Lewis are active on social media and advised attendees to be themselves on the platforms.

“Show yourself a little bit more,” Katzen said. “It doesn’t have to be perfect. I mean, yeah, we do pretty pictures and successful returns on real estate, but things that you love, things that are close to your heart, let people see a little bit of that. Not all of it, but I think it gives people a flavor of what’s important to you.

“It’s an instant-gratification culture that really sort of connects and speaks to the cadence of what’s going on for them. I think that’s how it builds connection.”

Be authentic, Lewis said. “Find your voice and your way — there’s not one path — and just have fun with it.”

Email Andrea V. Brambila.

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