AgentMovers & Shakers

Jessica Peters discusses the importance of resilience in real estate

The team lead of the Jessica Peters Team recounts her experience starting out in the real estate industry in 2008

Jessica Peters grew up around real estate, and while she knew that she wanted to be involved in the industry, being an agent wasn’t her original goal.

“I was initially going to be a real estate attorney, and I quickly realized that being a real estate broker is way more fun,” Peters said.

Now, 16 years after getting her license, Peters is the leader of the Brooklyn-based Jessica Peters Team at Douglas Elliman. In 2021, her team recorded 121.3 transaction sides and $167.690 in sales volume, good enough for the No. 42 and No. 35 spots among medium sized New York teams in the 2022 RealTrends America’s Best Rankings.

RealTrends recently caught up with Peters to discuss how the Brooklyn housing market has changed over the years — and what she learned from starting her career during the Great Recession.

This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

Brooklee Han: Can you tell me a bit about how you first got into real estate?

Jessica Peters: My uncle, Chris Peters, has been in real estate forever. He was at Corcoran when Barbara Corcoran was still there, and then he moved over to Douglas Elliman roughly 20 years ago. So, I have always had that influence and I’ve always hung around the office. 

In 2006, I got my license. I went over to my uncle’s office and started working for a top producing team there, and learned really quickly to get rid of my ego and just be a sponge to learn everything I needed to be as successful in the business as I could. And here I am, now 16 years later, still chomping at the bit.

BH: Having been around real estate from a young age, did you have any trepidations or concerns when you jumped into the business?

Peters: I didn’t really know what I wanted to do initially. I studied communication and psychology in college, and when I graduated, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be a lawyer or go into real estate or become a chef, so I just kind of picked one path and went with it. I had only seen the parts of the real estate industry that my uncle had shown me, so when I became an agent and not just an admin in 2008 and went to Brooklyn, the landscape was so different from what it is today and from where I was in Manhattan. 

It was a bit of culture shock, and I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into, but I quickly realized that I had the power to help change and influence the landscape here, especially on the new development forefront, and that is what really sparked my interest in continuing along this path and staying in the game. Now I can walk by things and be like, ‘Oh, I worked on that’ — and I can see how I have positively contributed to the landscape.

BH: So, 2008 was a challenging time to start as an agent in this business. Can you tell me a bit about what that experience was like?

Peters:  So, 2008 was when everything crashed, unlike what is happening today, where there are still healthy sectors of the market, despite all that is going on. In 2008, no one could get a mortgage, no one had money, and no one was going to work with a broker who had no experience, so trying to get my first deal under my belt was very, very difficult. 

The first deal I ever did was at 440 Canada Avenue. It was a three-bedroom rental, and it was the first exclusive that I ever signed. And looking back now, I laugh, but it was so challenging to get in the business then. I had to do everything I possibly could, but the one thing I didn’t do was lower my rates to the point where people would just hire me because I was inexpensive.

I really wanted to learn and prove that I was the right person for the job. So, I learned building codes and laws about co-ops, condos, rentals and land acquisition — everything that I could possibly get my hands on in terms of real estate, because I figured if I don’t have the experience, then I should have the knowledge. 

One thing I have focused on throughout my career is that if you want to earn more, you have to learn more, and this is something I have instilled in my team members as well. This is something we are really leaning into now that the conditions are rough.

In better markets, it is easy to create bad brokers, because when everything is flourishing and you don’t need a lot of marketing, it is very easy to get into the business. So I am actually very thankful at how difficult it was in 2008, because it forced me to learn every aspect of real estate.

BH: Mentorship is so important in real estate, and you started your career as part of a team. Did this at all influence you in your decision to start your own team?

Peters: I always had my uncle as a mentor, and since there were no ulterior motives, I could always go to him and tell him about some terrible experience, and he would be very frank with me, which was always helpful. I had a bad experience with the first team I was on, and I realized I didn’t want my team to ever feel that way I felt in those experiences. I wanted to build a team where people stay with me and not a revolving door type thing. When that happens, I feel like you are just constantly training new people, and there isn’t that sense of camaraderie. And if you pay agents really low splits, they are just going to learn the ropes with you and then move on. 

So, because of my not great first team experience, I made it a point that if I was going to be a team leader, that I would actually lead them and not give them this false expectation that I would lead them and then not be there for them. At my team, this looks like one-on-one meetings once a week with all our agents and then other team-wide meetings. 

I am there to support them however they need, and they have access to a marketing team, an advertising team, and an admin team. They have all the tools they need to be successful, and they know that they can always pick up the phone and call me.

BH: You started your team two years ago and you are already one of the top-performing teams. To what do you attribute this success?

Peters: The company has always been really great. I have been at Elliman for 16 years and I’ve never made a change, but I’d say the biggest driving factor behind my success is that anytime I got knocked down, I always got back up. I lost so much in the beginning, and I just took everything from each pitch and each opportunity that I got, and I shifted it and changed it and I learned from each bad experience. 

So, finding the silver lining in each bad experience, and figuring out how you can grow from that, and how you can be resilient, is really how I grew. I didn’t have connections or people referring anything to me. My uncle was there to be a mentor, but I built my business all on my own.

And then also, I learned to take my ego out of it and not be afraid to ask questions or say ‘I don’t know’ or ‘I’ll look it up and get back to you.’ Honesty and resilience and just not letting failures dictate your future will get you far.

BH: Over the course of your career, you have witnessed and been a part of so much growth in Brooklyn. Can you tell me a bit about this experience?

Peters: It is a gift and curse (laughs). It is a gift because it is very interesting to see the landscape change in a positive way. I feel like because Manhattan was the preference for so long, and there were so many other new development booms of low-quality construction and things of that nature, Brooklyn kind of got lucky in the sense that we saw more high-quality townhouse conversions and renovations because they were done by the people of Brooklyn for other people living in this area — and not investors or developers looking to make money. 

It has been so lovely seeing certain areas of Brooklyn grow into their own and develop their own personalities that are completely separate from Manhattan. And it just feels less saturated. There are very few high-rise buildings, but you really have the same amenities as in Manhattan.

But the part that makes me feel like an old lady is I look at some listings and am like, ‘I remember when that used to be $600 a square foot and I am not going to pay thousands of dollars a square foot for it.’ But then I listen to myself and I realize how much I am dating myself. I have been here so long that I have seen the price per square foot go up $1000 or even over $1000 in some neighborhoods.

BH: What are three things you do each day that you feel set you up for success?

Peters: The first thing I do every morning is I have ceremonial matcha. I have been doing this for like 12 years now and I just feel like this is such a better way to wake up. I love coffee, but matcha always has to come first.

Then, on most days, I am either doing hot yoga or a HIIT workout with my trainer — or I do a Tracy Anderson workout.

And last, I make it a point to read for about 30 minutes to an hour every morning, just to keep up to date with what is going on in the market, and just to make sure my mind is staying active.

BH: What do you like best about being in the real estate industry?

Peters: Being in the real estate industry, you can make it whatever you want it to be. You can do a few deals a year or you can be a top producing broker. Plus, there are so many different ways to be involved. 

For me, I do all of my own staging now, and I never thought to become a stager before I got into real estate. But after years and years of frustration with furniture rental places and staging companies, I just decided to start doing it all myself, and I have a warehouse of furniture that I use, and I stage all my listings. 

So, I have effectively become a stager and an interior designer through the way of real estate. This business opens so many opportunities to segue into other industries or use your prior experience to thrive in ways you didn’t know you could. You can have a lot more fun in real estate if you are willing to put in the work.

BH: What is something that you wish you could change about the real estate industry?

Peters: One thing that really irks me is I do a lot of land acquisition and new development, but there are these programs through lead generation services that connect buyers with agents who are marketing themselves as experts on a property, but they get there and they know nothing. It’s just frustrating that people go about representing themselves as experts when I have been there from day one and know everything there is to know about the building.

BH: What is your best piece of advice for new agents?

Peters: Don’t let anything surprise you. Being naïve is probably one of the biggest mistakes I see newer agents making. And get everything in writing, even if you have done business with them before because things can change quickly in real estate. Second, you need to get your ego out of it, because you are there to serve your client to the best of your ability, so you need to listen and know when you don’t need to share your opinion. 

And third, know that it is going to be rough for six months to a year while you build that client Rolodex, and don’t allow those early failures to dictate your future success. It took me three and a half years to build my business. So, even if you struggle early on, that doesn’t mean you won’t be very successful in the future.

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