Compass’ Phillip Salem shares their journey from fashion to real estate

New markets require new approaches and tactics. Experts and industry leaders take the stage Inman Connect New York in January to help us weather the market change — and prepare for the next one. Get to know the moment and join us. Register here.

Six years ago, Compass Agent Phillip Salem — affectionately known as Agent P — was closing the door on a 17-year dream.

The Ohio native moved to New York in 2006 to pursue a degree in fashion merchandising at the Fashion Institute of Technology and shortly before graduation opened his first designer boutique, OWEN. As one of the few family-owned stores in the city’s famous Meatpacking District, OWEN has gained recognition in the Refinery 29, Elle magazine, The New York Times and WWD.

However, Salem’s fashion career was cut short after their landlord got permission to demolish the building and rebuild a new office space. Salem did not let himself be discouraged for long. Salem took their husband’s advice and turned their entrepreneurial energies to real estate — completing their license in four weeks and establishing themselves at Triplemint before moving to Compass in 2020.

“I say the rest is history, but the rest is a ton of hard work, a ton of dedication, a ton of marketing and a ton of yourself for clients,” they said of their transition from fashion to real estate.

Ahead of their first appearance at Inman Connect in New York, Salem shared the connection between fashion and real estate, the power of being authentic as a non-binary person, and how they’re helping buyers and sellers navigate one of the craziest market shifts in recent history.

Before our conversation today, I read your bio on our ICNY home page, and you took an unconventional path from fashion to real estate. Tell me more about what led you to leave the world of fashion and start selling houses.

Salem: Immediately after graduating from university, I opened a multibrand boutique in [New York City’s] Meatpacking District. I’ve always had that entrepreneurial spirit, and the store was incredibly successful for about four years. We were the only family-run boutique in the District at the time, but unfortunately, the landlord got approval to demolish the building and build an eight-story office space. I said, ‘Oh my God, my career is over. What will I do with my life?’

My husband said, ‘Phillip, you already have a client base. You have personality. You have spirit. Why not just sell real estate instead of clothes? Instead of selling clothes, sell a lifestyle. Sell ​​apartments.’ I followed his advice and made an accelerated program. I personally went to do the course and in four weeks I got my license.

Four weeks?! I don’t think I’ve ever talked to someone who got their license so quickly. What was that process like for you? I can imagine that would be a huge shift, especially if we are dealing with your store closing.

I went to the New York Real Estate Institute. I went every day and was committed to getting my real estate license as soon as my store closed. I think it was a struggle for me to get people to believe that I was an agent. I was known as fashion Phillip; I wasn’t known as Phillip for real estate. But now that I’ve been in the business for five and a half years, I’ve really branded myself as ‘Agent P’, and everyone now knows me as a real estate person who’s also hip. I mixed all my worlds together — my love for fashion and my love for real estate and helping clients who shopped in my store.

Let’s touch on your transformation from fashion Phillip to real estate Phillip. Branding is a big undertaking for new agents and it can be challenging to find your footing, especially if you’ve spent most of your life dedicated to something else. What was needed for that shift?

When I entered the business, I saw how the agents looked on TV and their attitude, and I was the opposite – I don’t wear a suit and tie. I am very flamboyant. I don’t really have a filter. I say what’s on my mind. I’m not evil. I mean, those were just things I was seeing. As a non-binary person, I had these insecurities about not fitting in. So I went to Barneys, I went to buy a tie and I went to buy a jacket, and I said, ‘This is what I should be. ‘ But then I realized: ‘You know what, this is not me. This is not me and this is not my brand.’

So I started to be more myself and express myself through fashion, the way I showed houses, the way I helped clients and I didn’t hold back my flamboyance. It really helped me to be branded as what we say, #notyourbasicbroker. It really helped me establish myself in the business with my fashion clients as well as my friends. But it’s not just about clothes and fashion and so on — it took a lot of hard work.

I started accepting everything I could accept. I’ve done $1400 rental deals in Queens and $1800 in North Harlem. I took whatever I could and started posting whatever I could to show people I was in real estate. That credibility just built and built and built until I started selling more and I just wasn’t ashamed to publicly show my accolades and publicly display my success. Because to me, success means much more than the money I earn or the deals I make.

In doing so, I showed myself that as a queer person I am worthy of having a place in this business and that I am worthy of leaving my mark in the sand.

Thanks for sharing it with me. One thing I’ve learned from agents over time is that authenticity always wins in the long run, and I can imagine that’s helped you deal with this market shift. Buyers and sellers are always looking for someone they can trust. With that in mind, how was 2022 for you? How has real estate changed in New York?

The beginning of 2022 was an epic year. It was what the agents thought it would be – a gauge of how the whole year would play out, but apparently we were wrong. I had listings that were exclusive on Compass that didn’t even hit the public market and I had three offers within two hours. The shift definitely started once [Federal Reserve] started increasing interest rates around May and June. Back then, many sellers noticed that the listings weren’t as busy and that offers weren’t being made the first weekend. Then things started to get a little drier towards October, November and December and things started to stay on the market a lot longer.

So it’s obviously started to move into the buyer’s market. One of the things I do for my customers is show them the data, because a lot of the data out there casts such a wide net. But when you’re talking about New York, every neighborhood, every block, and in fact every building is literally a city unto itself. So when you talk about days on market and listings that don’t sell, I like to educate my buyers on how we can approach putting a competitive offer on the listing.

Lots of customers, they see the news [about the shift], and think they can get big discounts, but that’s not always the case. A desirable listing will always sell, and a desirable listing in New York City has lots of outdoor space, high ceilings, is recently renovated, and is in a great building. So it’s about educating customers and creating the right strategy with them to create the right offer.

It is also very important to set expectations for sellers. If their price is too high, they won’t get bids. I always recommend pricing at or below market to get attention. But many sellers are very unrealistic at the moment because they think they will get a price from a comp from 12 months ago. This is simply not the case.

Setting expectations is a recurring theme, and as you said, buyers and sellers go into transactions with a lot of general information, when what they really need is hyperlocal insight. What data do you rely on to help customers?

It’s super hyperlocal in New York. It’s even under the building. You can have an eighth floor ad that sold for $2 million and then a ninth floor ad listed for $2.5 million because it clears another building and you have a full view of the waterfront below. Sometimes only the direction of the upstairs apartment makes a difference.

The way I present data to both buyers and sellers is very important and makes it very clear and easy to read. I make it easy for them to see the pictures, the finish and the sale date. I even go so far as to get comments from listing agents about what the activity was like, how many offers they had, how many people outbid, how much [offers] they were all cash, as far as financing was concerned. It is extremely important to present as much information as possible to your buyers and sellers.

And know what you’re talking about — don’t push your way through things because buyers and sellers know when you’re faking it. So my biggest tip is, don’t fake it, get your data real time and don’t beat around the bush. Tell it like it is.

We’re only a few weeks into 2023, but what are your predictions for New York City real estate this year?

I always tell my clients, both buyers and sellers, if I had a crystal ball, I’d be a billionaire. But, looking at just my data and experiences, it’s clear the market is moving into a buyer’s market. I believe sellers who don’t have to sell will keep their property. I believe that sellers who have to sell because of work or family planning will sell.

Desirable apartments in New York will not be difficult to sell, and when I say desirable, I still mean the hot neighborhoods in Brooklyn, such as Cobble Hill, Fort Greene, Brooklyn Heights, Williamsburg and Greenpoint. In many newer developments that have a lot of listings, like over 50 to 60 listings in them, sponsors and sellers will have to start being a little more realistic and give more price discounts and negotiable vendors.

In general, we won’t see the kind of activity that we did in early 2020 and mid-2022. I think it’s going to be a little slower. I think buyers will be more tired and if sellers don’t need to sell, they won’t sell.

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