For my second of four articles with full time managers of real estate offices in the Hamptons and North Fork, I interviewed Aspasia G. Comnas, Brown Harris Stevens (BHS) Executive Managing Director and Associate Broker. “Cia,” the name by which she likes to be called, is also a New York State licensed attorney.
What is your geographical area of responsibility?
Cia: I am responsible for the management of all seven BHS offices, six on the South Fork and one on the North Fork. My colleague, Ed Reale, is responsible for Southampton, Westhampton, and Sag Harbor. Ed is Managing Director and a New York State licensed attorney and Associate Broker. Gina Galante, Associate Broker, manages our Greenport office on the North Fork. I manage directly East Hampton, Bridgehampton, and Amagansett.
How long have you been a manager?
Cia: Five years with BHS and before that I was with Sotheby’s for eleven years. I also practiced law out here and have been an attorney for over thirty years.
Why did BHS make the decision to invest in full-time managers?
Cia: I think they realized that their agents weren’t getting the support they needed. Real estate agents are independent contractors which means that while they’re colleagues with everyone in their office, they are also competitors with everyone in their office. So to some degree, they can discuss issues with each other that they are trying to resolve with respect to various transactions, but they can’t really be totally candid like they can to a non-selling manager. Ed and I are not selling managers which means we do not compete with our agents for listings and sales.
What are your responsibilities as a manager?
Cia: I would say that it includes everything from being a good negotiator and helping your agents strategize to getting involved in the marketing of our brand and our agents, and our listings. That involves print media, social media, for example. Ed Reale and I work with our media people to prepare an advertising budget that includes internet and all other kinds of marketing. We are also involved in running the offices, training our agents, and going on listing appointments with our agents. That has great appeal to our clients because it shows management’s attention to their interests.
How many agents are you responsible for and how many staff employees?
Cia: We have about 140 agents who are independent contractors and 25 staff who are employees.
Who trains the staff?
Cia: Mostly, they are trained by other staff who are experienced in those areas of responsibility. They deal with the public so they are really the face of our company. When someone walks in the front door or calls on the telephone, that’s the first point of contact with BHS. They are trained to immediately put themselves in the hands of an agent and not get involved in performing services that require a real estate license.
What are some of the documents required by the Department of State that you’re responsible for?
Cia: The three main ones are the agency disclosure form, lead disclosure, and property condition disclosure, and to make sure that they are used properly and understand why they are required by the DOS. That’s part of the mandatory training for all of our agents.
Agency disclosure is a topic in all of my real estate classes. The New York State Association of Realtors is recommending that it be required in all license renewal courses. Please discuss this issue.
Cia: Absolutely! I can’t overstress the importance of compliance with agency disclosure. I emphasize to all of our agents that it’s not just a matter of getting a form signed. They have to be able to explain it to sellers and buyers and get their INFORMED consent. I stress the word informed. When I have gone on listing appointments or met with an agent’s buyer, I have never had trouble getting an agency disclosure signed, because I explain it to them and they understand the reason for it. The way we represent sellers and buyers has made the process a little easier to explain and understand. Ed Reale and I go to great lengths to help our agents understand the importance of the law.
I assume you recruit both agents who are new to the business and those who are already experienced.
Cia: Yes, we try to maintain a mix of both, but most of our agents come with experience. Basically we look for motivation, drive, good connections, work ethic, and we try to cultivate an environment where everybody can succeed, not just a few. We emphasize to our new agents that they are going to be running a business under the auspices of BHS, and that they have to have a business plan which includes self-promotion, like any other start-up business.
What are the issues you are most often confronted with as a manager?
Cia: I guess it would be dealing with owners and buyers, recruitment, technology, whatever it takes to promote the company, including making sure the bulbs are working.
In the absence of membership in a real estate board, which provides a means for mediation and arbitration in an attempt to resolve disputes among competing firms, how do you address these situations?
Cia: Fortunately we have a very congenial group of managers who try to do the right thing and rarely have to resort to civil suits to resolve our problems.
What in your professional experience do you consider to be the most important in your duties as a manager?
Cia: I would say my work as a real estate attorney. Being part of the process in representing buyers and sellers prepared me to understand the issues that can make or break the deal, and the issues a broker must be knowledgeable about. That’s one of the greatest services I can provide to my agents and the consumer. I think my colleague Ed Reale would say the same thing.