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Broker Spotlight: Nick Van Assche, Sea Glass Properties

Name: Robert Dankner

Title: President

Experience: 25 years

Location: New York and the Hamptons

Brokerage full name: Prime Manhattan Residential

Team size: 3

Sales volume: $150 million per year

How did you get your start in real estate?

I come from a finance and investment banking background, so I look at things in a particular way. Early in my real estate career, I knew I didn’t want to compete by creating listing inventory, so I started by primarily representing buyers. It was an underrepresented aspect of the industry and there weren’t a lot of people who could advise on where people could go to preserve the value of their assets.

I found this part of real estate fascinating and rewarding, so I learned how to navigate the market differently by working backward to create something that had a different tone and served a different market.

Not a lot of people like focusing on the buy side of the industry, so we have been able to develop a presence among real estate investors in which we’re known for understanding the ecosystem beyond the listings. This has served us on both the buy- and sell side.

What do you wish more people knew about working in real estate?

I wish more people knew that real estate isn’t easy. People chase the market thinking it’s easy money, but the industry is unforgiving in ways people don’t immediately expect or respect. Clients respect your ability to give them advice and work on their behalf, so you need to understand valuations, the particulars of a market and the dynamics of each submarket and neighborhood.

To be successful, you need to be a trusted advisor to savvy people who didn’t make their names by suffering fools. The job entails early mornings and late nights in order to guide and protect your clients. You must be up for that.

What’s something you know now that you wish you knew when you started?

As important as it is to listen to what your clients want, you’re also an advisor, which means sometimes taking them on a journey that goes down some different paths than they’d have originally thought. Clients may not really know what they want until they see it.

There are gray areas where they may love something they wouldn’t have contemplated so you must delicately shepherd them through a process that may take them somewhere different — and better — than where they thought they’d go. But that process starts with showing you’re hearing them and understanding their needs.

Tell us about a high point in your brokerage career.

I have represented a number of billionaire family offices, specifically their real estate interests in New York, including their children. These families trust me through the generations because I am honest about educating them to make informed real estate decisions.

It’s never about trying to sell them something but more about how I can help them manage intergenerational wealth and create the best living and lifestyle decisions for their families. This has led to hundreds of millions in volume in the U.S. and abroad.

Tell us about an epic fail you’ve experienced since you’ve been a broker and what it taught you.

Early in my career, I had a client who was a highly successful investment banker, and he was specific about the location and type of property he wanted. He wanted a penthouse with outdoor space on the upper floors of a doorman building in Greenwich Village. I found places on and off the market, eventually zeroing in on a property he absolutely loved.

Just as we were about to finalize everything, he went quiet for two weeks. Unbeknownst to me in the moment, another broker was introduced to him and showed him a property in Tribeca. I knew the property and thought my client would have loved it, but I didn’t show it because it wasn’t exactly what he was asking for.

I was too careful about his ask but, when I finally spoke with him, it turned out he loved the Tribeca property and signed it with that other broker — and I lost a $25 million sale.

The lesson is that you shouldn’t discount what the client wants, but you can subtly shepherd people to properties that are similar to what they say they want but are a little different and often better suited to what they’re really looking for.

Sometimes you don’t know exactly what you want until you see it, and I learned to help my clients keep a more open mind by being more open-minded myself, exposing them to other options that are worth their time.

Get Inman’s Luxury Lens Newsletter delivered right to your inbox. A weekly roundup of all the biggest news in the world of high-end real estate delivered every Friday. Click here to subscribe.

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