As part of my series about “How Business Leaders Plan To Rebuild In The Post COVID Economy,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Sharon Fahy and Chris Halstead, top producing team at Brown Harris Stevens. They first met a decade ago entering into the real estate industry from their former corporate career paths. As luck would have it, a few years later they began sharing an office space. As their respect and admiration for the other grew, a partnership became a clear and proven next step. Collectively, they have sold over half a billion dollars of real estate in the last seven years, and Chris and Sharon have both been consistently recognized among the top 1% of the firm’s brokers.
Working almost equally with buyers and sellers, the duo sees and understands the market from both perspectives. The team is highly regarded for their intimate understanding of market trends and nuances, as well as the dynamic characteristics of each neighborhood — from the East to West Side, Harlem to the Financial District — and each area’s unique inventory.
Seamlessly complementing one another’s strengths the Halstead Fahy Team takes a hands on approach, while offering timely market insights, and honest and transparent feedback throughout the transactional process. Their clients further benefit from refined business acumen, listening skills, financial expertise, and accountability.
The Halstead Fahy team has parlayed their extensive knowledge of the real estate market into the multi-family, investment, and commercial sectors to seamlessly serve their clients.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are both very busy. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
Both Sharon and Chris come to real estate from the corporate world. While Sharon was focused on information technology and Chris on marketing, they have one key thing in common — their love of New York. After admiring the other’s business practices, they established a strategic partnership three years ago.
When Sharon decided to formally transition into the industry, she used her experience of being the co-op board member in charge of the building’s admissions committee. “It was a great way to see brokers from another vantage point, the board and building’s perspective, and how they each presented themselves and dealt with clients.”
Chris’s story begins with family inspiration. “I have always had an interest in real estate, in large part due to my uncle [Clark Halstead] and his success in the industry. Looking to Clark for career advice early on, he suggested that if I wanted to get into real estate in New York, it would be helpful to first have my own real-world experience. He explained that in the future when I worked with people who were very accomplished in their own right, having my own perspective on where they may be would be a help to understanding the respective decisions they make.
I decided on a career in marketing and moved to LA for a change of scenery. I loved it but always had this longing to come back to New York. Unfortunately, my move back to kick start a business in real estate coincided with the 2008 financial crisis — a bit terrifying having just left my job with a salary, benefits, and a relativity laid out trajectory. But, I took the time to learn from those more experienced, maybe came out of the downturn with a few more battle scars, and am definitely now a better agent for it.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
Chris noted his own experience with what would have been his very first sale. “Very early on I got introduced to a whale of a client with no budget. The first apartment we saw was asking $24 million and he put in an offer on the spot that was accepted. That was it right? Job done! So I started taking myself out to nice dinners and enjoying what the pay day would have looked like. I learned two valuable lessons. One. Ask for help when you’re out of your depth. The deal ended up falling through during contract negotiations but may have been saved with more experience. And, two, don’t spend the money before it’s in the bank!”
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to, that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
- “Love what you do because you are going to spend a great deal of time doing it”
- “When you are dealing with clients remember to communicate well and often. Communication with customers is critical and openness is key to building a relationship and trust. Whether it’s good or bad, you can learn something from every conversation.”
“I used to just go to the library for hours every week and read everything I could on real estate, architecture and infrastructure as it related to New York City,” Chris revealed. “I wanted to devour the information so I could provide the best knowledge possible to my clients. So, there’s not one book, in particular I found most helpful. I did always enjoy reading Christopher Gray’s “Streetscapes” column in the Times though.”
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven business” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?
Sharon and Chris stressed, “Our purpose is to be the best possible advocate and provide the finest support for our clients. We are relentless in trying to find the best home or solution for them. When you are in charge of your own business and earning an income rather than a salary, you are the architect, designing and building the foundation that enables you to provide the best service and education.”
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
“With integrity, you build trust,” Sharon said. “Because once you earn the trust of your client, it means a great deal and they listen to you a little more directly.” Chris added,
“Think macro not micro because there is something in every day that can trip you up. Stay true to your guiding principles and stay focused on the overall relationships. This will help you persist and maintain a sustainable business.”
Thank you for all that. The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. For the benefit of empowering our readers, can you share with our readers a few of the personal and family related challenges you faced during this crisis? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
Chris noted, “Physically we have been very fortunate to remain healthy. But, mentally it can be touch and go. Everyone is feeling it a bit now. No matter how big of a space you live in, the walls can get very close, especially when you have children and all childcare options are limited or non-existent.” He also noted “My wife and I both run our own businesses, so we had to come up with a game plan quickly on how to manage home and keep both our businesses afloat. It’s been an ongoing challenge, but being flexible and learning to accommodate each other’s time needs has allowed us to push on.”
Sharon agreed that she has been fortunate in having those closest to her remain healthy and credits how most people have been respectful of the rules despite the density of the City when they realized the magnitude of the virus.
Can you share a few of the biggest work related challenges you are facing during this pandemic? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
“The biggest work challenge was there was no work. With City and State mandates, the real estate market froze,” Chris and Sharon shared. “We were fortunate enough to have business in the pipeline so were able to complete our deals in the first few months, but then it became the goal of how do we come through this intact?
“Typically, on your average day, you’re focused on the business at hand managing a number of things with a lot of people while also working to attract new business. There’s often little time to interact with people in a personal way. This pause allowed us to break from the daily hustle of the business and gave us a chance to check in with people in an honest way — sympathizing with their respective situations and reinforcing that we think of them as people not just clients. And, hopefully down the road when they’re ready to do some real estate reshuffling, we’ll be top of mind.”
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. What are a few ideas that you have used to offer support to your family and loved ones who were feeling anxious? Can you explain?
“On a day to day basis, it’s important to focus on controlling the things that you can, and remain positive because there are so many uncertainties,” Sharon said. “The pandemic has affected every person regardless of background or finances, and I think that has brought about a heightened kindness among people. It’s forced everyone to slow down and really take inventory of their life.”
Obviously we can’t know for certain what the Post-Covid economy will look like. But we can of course try our best to be prepared. We can reasonably assume that the Post-Covid economy will be a trying time for many people across the globe. Yet at the same time the Post-Covid growth can be a time of opportunity. Can you share a few of the opportunities that you anticipate in the Post-Covid economy?
Sharon noted that from a business standpoint, it is a challenging year because it’s really a six-month year, and some of the challenges will carry over to next year. “I think one of the positives is the opportunity for buyers with the increase in inventory and opportunity. There are people who do have jobs here and some tech companies are even expanding their New York City footprint during this. It is different than 9/11 and 2008 in a sense because it’s affecting every single person on a day-to-day basis. But the City will come back, it always has, we just need to bear with it for now. People will still want to be here when things reopen up.”
Chris added that “opportunity” will mean something different for New Yorkers than it did a year ago, and that the importance of home and what it needs to provide may have radically changed.
How do you think the COVID pandemic might permanently change the way we behave, act or live?
“This has opened people’s eyes up to the realization that there is more to life than your work to-do list,” Chris said. “The work/life balance was out of whack — coming into this, the expectation was everyone’s time and energy be weighted more heavily towards work. And, everyone was too busy to notice that was a problem. The slow down forced everyone to look at that dynamic, and as a result, I think we will see a lot of reprioritization moving forward. The way we work will shift as there will be a premium on getting things done timely and efficiently rather than working the longest hours.”
Considering the potential challenges and opportunities in the Post-Covid economy, what do you personally plan to do to rebuild and grow your business or organization in the Post-Covid Economy?
“This has allowed us to look at relationships differently,” Chris noted. “Before, when we were in the thick of managing day to day, or farming for new clients, it was all done through a business lens. I think after this, we see our client base in a far more personal way — which is actually much more gratifying.”
“We’re really kicking off where we were at the beginning of the year. We were on a pretty good roll coming off the end of 2019, but it’s going to be a challenging time and everything is going to take longer and there will be a lot of sensitivity around pricing,” Sharon said.
Similarly, what would you encourage others to do?
“I would encourage others to re-examine how they do business and try a fresh approach. With everything happening, you have to find a way to look forward, and that comes from within,” said Sharon. “We were fortunate because Halstead joining Brown Harris Stevens also created a great opportunity.”
“My wife and I have talked about this a great deal,” Chris added. “Get narrow and figure out what’s important to you and your business, and how you measure success, rather than trying to be everything to everybody. When you spread yourself too thin, you aren’t giving your clients, personal life and family the service they all deserve.”
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“…People of accomplishment rarely step back and let things happen to them, they have gone out and happened to things…” Sharon said
“You can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending.” — C.S. Lewis
“In this overwhelming time, I find the [C.S. Lewis] quote grounding.” Chris said. “It’s easy to get caught up worrying about what happened this past year, but we are where we are. All we can do is take advantage of this step back — albeit a forced step — and press on. There is great opportunity ahead.”