Robin J. Lennon, more commonly known as RJ, is a licensed real estate salesperson at Citi Habitats and we had the pleasure of getting a glimpse of his vast knowledge for our Expert Interview series. RJ is adamant about the Bronx’s potential to grow in the upcoming years, encouraging people who live there – and others – to start considering buying in the area. His primary clientele are developers and investors who are mainly focused on whether the deals make sense financially.
For newcomers in the real estate industry, he strongly recommends three things – to make a plan, prospect for new opportunities and narrowcast their activities. Read on for more insights from RJ on starting out in real estate, more in-depth advice and his view on the Bronx and Harlem.
Q: Tell us a little bit about your background and why you chose a career in real estate.
I’ve always been an entrepreneur at heart…taking risks in my career, I loved engaging with people and I discovered along my journey, that I’m a natural people developer. While in corporate I led several successful sales teams and coached wherever I was responsible for other’s results.
My extensive sales experience and desire to help others get better results was something I thought translated well to real estate. I’m still challenged by certain aspects of the job as a sales professional, yet there’s so much of it that I love (e.g., helping other agents develop their business, discussing with a seller what’s happening in the market that has an impact on their property, explaining to an investor why it makes sense to buy a particular property, etc.).
Q: What do you love about this industry?
I get the chance to create something each day, from my thoughts, while living with a purpose.
The business of real estate is so varied—the jobs/careers, the people, the transactions, the focus – and it’s something that everyone needs and is willing to discuss because of the huge financial impact personally and locally. As a coach/developer of people, I made a decision several years ago to “marry” my life’s purpose to how I conduct my real estate business. That is to serve others passionately and constructively, in helping them achieve more success in their lives.
I’ve found that I get more fulfillment when I help other agents look at their business differently or at how they show up in their daily activities. I feel better about myself when I have straight-forward conversations with a seller about how to best position their home for sale. More importantly, they trust my advice because they realize I’m coming from a good place, which is thoughtful and respectful of their wants, although they may not agree with it.
Q: What are the most important factors you consider when building your strategy?
Faith – Believe in myself and what I’m doing.
Focus – Prioritize my actions and the people.
Action – Focus on the revenue generating activities to ensure they get done each week.
Q: What are some of the priorities for home buyers in your market that might not be as important as those in other parts of the region?
My logo says, Think Harlem, Think Bronx, Think RJ and my primary clientele are developers and investors who typically seek to buy multifamily, townhomes and vacant lots. I rarely work with the typical condo or coop buyer.
My clients are very experienced, savvy and are focused on whether the deal makes sense financially—going in and coming out. So, it’s important for me to understand the value a particular deal represents and how to articulate that to a specific investor. The Bronx and Harlem are still emerging markets to many and, while some are comfortable with the socio-economics, some are “efforting” to get there.
Q: What advice would you give to first-time homebuyers?
Look at the Bronx as an opportunity to live in the “city” with significant upside in value and amenities over the next 10 years.
Q: What sources do you use just to understand the trends in the real estate environment?
I read real estate news, as well as the quarterly and annual reports, attend conferences and I speak to other agents.
Q: If you could give advice to those who are just starting, what would it be?
Three things…make a plan, prospect for new opportunities and narrowcast your activities. Most new agents are taught and have the belief that rentals are the way to go because it’s quick money—shorter sales cycle and ample supply and demand. The reality is that the renters have as much data as the brokers do, which leaves little value for the agents who are not seasoned.
I would advise new agents to find a coach/mentor/manager to help them put together a business plan that takes advantage of their skills, knowledge and interests…build around what they know and love and they’ll be more likely do it, if they’re motivated. It’s easier to figure out how to get to where you’re going when you have a destination. New agents can be easily overwhelmed with all that we need to know and learn—systems, neighborhoods, inventory, prospecting, people skills, company culture, etc.
The second thing I would recommend to all agents is to dedicate a portion of the week to prospecting. Whether talking about an investment property or becoming a successful agent, the business of real estate is a numbers game…there’s a science to it that is predictable. New agents need to understand the old fashion ways of prospecting/connecting with people. They need to figure out which of those methods work best with their personality and interests (e.g., mailers, networking, community events, asking for introductions, etc.) and incorporate the newer technologies. Setting prospecting goals for themselves and being accountable to its execution is probably the most important thing they need to do to become more successful
The last thing I would advise is to “narrowcast.” This has several meanings including but not limited to the following: Become an expert in a particular neighborhood, asset type or clientele; understand that not everyone is your client; be willing to say no to prospective clients who may not be right for several reasons—readiness, reasonability, ability to pay, etc.; focus on a few specific tasks each week; prioritize at the beginning of each week what is important—revenue generating vs. non-revenue generating, and figure what and how these tasks are accomplished, etc.
Newer agents try to be everything to everyone, try to do everything, and usually get spread too thin. This leads to a lack of productivity and uneven results.
Q: Any other insights you’d like to share?
I’m encouraging people who live in the Bronx to buy the Bronx…NOW! The Bronx is Brooklyn 30/40 years ago…the real estate is substantially cheaper than the surrounding areas, it has easy access to public transportation, a desire by the local government to improve the infrastructure, solid commercial base of businesses that are in growth mode and diverse housing inventory.
There is significant need for condos and upscale apartments in certain areas and the money has been pouring in for the past three years…especially west of the Grand Concourse and the South Bronx. There is a tremendous focus on building affordable housing, yet I believe there is opportunity for everyday New Yorkers to buy, given some of the low prices. For example, you can buy a coop apt for around $100K…a townhome in Harlem right next-door ranges from $1.5M for a shell to approximately $2.2M for an average, habitable townhome. In the Bronx, you can get a shell for half the price in Harlem.
There’s a migration throughout the city to find affordable homes…the Bronx has it in large numbers. The developers know this: the city is cooperating with them to rezone under-developed areas that could use the investment (e.g., Jerome Ave, South Bronx, etc.). It is only a matter of time before the prices get to a place where it becomes out of reach for the average New Yorker.
About RJ Lennon
RJ Lennon is the type of driven, authentic real estate professional that every New Yorker should have by their side. With 15 years of experience in the field, he has forged a proven track record of helping sellers earn top dollar and finding homebuyers and investors properties that perfectly suit their needs. Find out more about him here.