Meet the Agent, rookie edition: Toronto Storeys talks to Mitchell Potashner

Mitchell Potashner, a relatively new face to Toronto’s commercial real estate sector, shares his recipe for early success, why it’s important to work with a mentor, and how he mastered cold calling.

At one time Mitchell Potashner really didn’t know where a career would take him. He was interested in many things — but then found commercial real estate in 2015.

Now an associate salesperson at Cushman & Wakefield, Potashner has learned a surprising amount for someone who has been in the business for such a short time. If you’ve ever wanted to know the gritty, dog-eat-dog details of what it takes to make it in this industry, Potashner has stories, and shares these experiences and the wisdom gained with an arresting amount of candor and honesty.

From his first week on the job to his first successful sale, Potashner shares what it’s like stepping into a junior agent’s shoes for the first time and how he was able to overcome his initial fears and insecurities.

What initially attracted you to real estate?

We can take this back to two-ish years ago. I was still in university and I didn’t really have a set path at that point. I was managing my own stock portfolio and trying to see if wealth management was the path for me. I was a big sports guy, so I thought about maybe getting into the sports media industry. Coming up to the summer of my third year, I had a good amount of interviews with a few different companies and I just felt really good about my interview with Cushman & Wakefield. They ended up offering me a summer student role. Coming into the real estate industry, there are constantly areas where you can learn, improve and gain knowledge, so having that time as a summer student really taught me a lot about the industry from the base up. After the internship, I was offered a full-time position and now I’m here, about a year and a half later.

It says on your LinkedIn page that you started out as a research analyst. What is that?

What Cushman & Wakefield likes to do because there is so much knowledge that’s needed to sell real estate as a whole, they really want to make sure that people transitioning into sales have a really good background in the product and the market, as well as the services that their company offers. So … you start in a summer research role, at least until you’re finished university, before you head into a possible sales role. Basically, as a research analyst, you’re handing market research to agents and by doing that, you’re creating relationships with some of the senior people here and delving into interesting marketing information. You’re really a utility service member for the company … Plus, while I was doing that, I completed my licensing to become a commercial real estate agent, so I could hit the ground running and move into a sales role as soon as I was called upon.

Why did you get your commercial real estate license instead of your residential one?

It really was the magnitude of some of the buildings and to me the asset classes are important. I can look at a house on a street and they all look the same, you could sell all of them and that would be great. Particularly, right now, I’m focused on office leasing and the scale of some of the office buildings out there. However, I’ve worked on some retail deals and some industrial deals. Just the number asset classes has really drawn me to commercial real estate. It’s a different game and it’s a really fun game to be in where every day is different. You could be working a 1,000-square-foot retail deal or you could be working on an industrial building in a suburban market, so just the variety was a really big drawing factor to me.

What were your first experiences as a paid commercial real estate agent like?

That first week was a lot of me reflecting on where I want to be in the future. I made so many different lists of people in my personal network who I could reach out to not just in that first week, but maybe five months from now or a year from now. I tried to write down as many thoughts that came to my mind around how I could make an impact on this business …

How did you overcome any fear or insecurity around being seen as a predatory salesperson to your personal network?

In my second week, Cushman put on this Soar Training Program. They brought in some really great people from California and a local Soar salesperson and we had a three-day training program where the junior salespeople like me learned the Soar system, which was really helpful for me in becoming comfortable with cold calling. It was an environment where you’re calling people in front of 15 of your colleagues on the second week on the job. It was really about being comfortable with the uncomfortable and that uncomfortable is calling people you’ve never met or never even spoken to, while being able to present yourself and your company as something that could help them. The most important thing is, nobody is judging you. You’re going to get rejected 99 per cent of the time, but what drives me is that one per cent of the time when you get a hold of a major decision maker and you can really help their company, change their day or set up a meeting. This is really exciting and motivating to me, so I always looked at it with a positive spin, where I knew in my heart that I am a value add.

How do you handle rejection?

This is something we talk a lot about in the industry. A lot of the junior people here meet about this on a regular basis and we all know rejection is common. You need to be able to move on really quickly because you’re going to encounter people who don’t need you or want you, but you need to move on. There are a lot of people who would really benefit from what you’re offering. Having thick skin and not being hung up on the fact that someone just hung up on you is extremely important and I’m sure a useful skill across many different sales industries.

Tell me about your first success and what you took away from it.

I will never forget my first deal. It happened a few months ago. I had a referral from a family friend for a person looking to open a luxury bagel shop in the heart of the GTA. I’m no retail expert and most of my focus is on office spaces, but going through the motions is very similar across many different asset classes: being able to walk into a shop at Bathurst and St. Clair, meeting with a mom and pop landlord and being able to get a great deal for my clients. Seeing a product go from nothing to something is really very motivating for me. Knowing that I have a client who is looking for a space, that space is completely empty, but in four or five months from that point, it will be a successful business — that is a motivating feeling for me. I’ve taken some of the lessons I learned from that deal and applied them to subsequent deals.

What did you actually do that made the deal a success instead of failure?

I think being open-minded about different strategies to get a good deal and negotiate with a landlord was helpful, so in that negotiation process we were looking for some free rent along with other things. The landlord pushed back, but I was able to push back as well. It was about being time sensitive and knowing that the client really wants that space, but in order to get the best deal you have to take a little bit of risk and wait and see what the landlord is willing to do. Being able to set our own standard on what number we thought we could close on was extremely helpful.

How do you think mentorship should work?

I believe junior agents should have at least one mentor that they can rely on to ask questions because there’s so much to learn in this field, so without a mentor I would really be lost and I wouldn’t think I’d be able to complete a deal on my own from start to finish. Currently, I’m in a mentorship program where I work with two senior agents who require my assistance for what they’re working on and in turn, I’m learning so much about the business on a day-to-day basis. I’m of the opinion that having a mentor is extremely important and helps pave the way for you moving forward.

What was the most challenging aspect of your job in those early days and how did you overcome it?

I think a really interesting thing about our business is being able to manage your time. I pride myself on being able to manage my time, but in an industry like this, you can really never do enough, so in the beginning I found it extremely difficult. Whether meeting with clients, setting up surveys or researching different properties in different markets, it was just so difficult to balance everything. I have been able to overcome that because I’m a big list person. I constantly have a list of things I want to do daily, weekly and monthly. I’m big on setting goals and targets with lists and I’ve also used different aspects of technology to help me work more effectively. I can go home at 6 p.m. and feel like I still have 50 things to do by the end of the week, but being able to see things get checked off my list every day is hugely motivating and has helped me manage my time.

Where do you see yourself a few years from now?

I really think about this a lot. The future is bright working at a company like Cushman & Wakefield where they’ve been really helpful to us younger people and built a great culture and environment here. In terms of personal goals, I just want to be the best commercial real estate agent that I can be by putting in the time and building relationships. I don’t just want to build relationships for a week or two from now, but I want to build long-lasting relationships. I see myself continuing to thrive in this industry and continuing to be just a balanced, accessible and motivated individual moving forward.

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