Real estate brokers by day, rockers at night
In a rowdy Brooklyn bar filled with “metal-heads” wearing black clothes covered in occult images, a band called Verismo takes the stage. Lead singer Stephan Laboccetta, sweat running down his face and through his tangled, shoulder-length hair, grips a black electric guitar and belts out the lyrics to his song, “Bad Day.”
“I had a bad day, worse than usual,” he roared, “let a deal die in my hands, like a birthday turned to a funeral.”
Not many “thrash” rock bands perform songs about real estate deals, but Laboccetta isn’t a typical rocker. Where other heavy metal performers may support themselves as waiters or bartenders, Laboccetta spends his days as a real estate sales agent.
Indeed, Laboccetta had spent that morning trying to convince a pair of cocky investment bankers from the suburbs that $3,000 a month wasn’t enough to pay for a two-bedroom Manhattan apartment.
“If you’re coming from Long Island it’s going to look small,” he explained, clicking through the East Side listings on his computer. In contrast to his rocker persona, he wore a green sweater and beige loafers, his hair neatly tied in a pony tail.
Before becoming an agent, Laboccetta crashed on friends’ couches for months at a time, surviving on ramen noodles and doing product research tests to earn cash. But as a sales agent at Best Apartments, he pulled in more than $125,000 in commissions last year, a company record. “I enjoy coming to work and closing a $5,000 deal,” Laboccetta said, “then playing a show with a bunch of loser metal-heads like myself.”
He’s picked a good time to be working in real estate. New York City’s booming rental market was one of the top three in the nation in the third quarter of last year, according to a PricewaterhouseCoopers report.
Surprisingly, real estate brokers and rockers share some important skills. Sales is a “social art,” according to J. Michael Crant, a University of Notre Dame business professor whose research shows that successful agents are outgoing, sociable and proactive--much like successful musicians. “People who aren’t proactive may have the idea to be in a rock band,” Crant said, “but are less likely to follow through.”
Pete Cassani, a 44-year-old Boston street musician once thought that serving coffee was selling out. But after tendonitis crimped his guitar playing, a friend suggested real estate as a way to make some money.
Cassani worried that he would have to cut his hair and don a suit or a tacky gold “Century 21” jacket, but his long hair and jeans turned out not to be a problem. On his first day, Cassani rented three apartments and pocketed nearly $2,000, about 30 times his daily take as a street musician. The next year he earned nearly $50,000 in six months and was able to tour Europe with his band, The Peasants, who play “counterculture, underground, anti-corporate punk,” he said.
But not too anti-corporate. Cassani so enjoyed the job that he recruited other musicians; at one point six of the seven agents in his office, Commonwealth Realty, were musicians.
“They have good communication skills,” explained Dryan Hummel, the firm’s founder and president. “People sense they actually care.”
Cassani and his rocker friends left real estate after Boston’s rental market slowed in 2001 and 2002, but they wrote a Commonwealth Realty tribute song before they did. The chorus goes, “C'mon in honey, I think I smell money. It's never just another day at Commonwealth Realty.”
Brian Gary, one-time keyboardist for the classic '80s hair band, The Eddie Money Band, moved to Nashville, Tenn., in 1995, bought a house and become a part-time broker to make extra cash. Yet while he toured, his continuously buzzing cell phone reminded him of missed deals.
So two and a half years ago he put down his guitar and got a broker’s license. His Web site, which touts the advantages of owning a home in the middle of Tennessee, refers obliquely to his former profession. “Any real estate agent can sell a house . . . I sell homes that rock!” it says.
Stories from his years of touring help him connect with clients, but with a wife and three children, Gary said, “going back on the road and living out of a suitcase everyday just isn’t as appealing as it once was.”
Laboccetta, on the other hand, could imagine nothing better, although it would be hard to walk away from his success at Best Apartments. Five weeks into 2007, he has already rented nine apartments, including a two-bedroom to Nicole Schapira, 24, a return client who came back to Laboccetta because of his rocker looks.
“He’s a chilled-out guy with a pony tail,” she said. “He told me he was in a heavy metal band and I thought that was a good thing.” Other agents were too “brokery,” she added.
Ultimately, being a sales agent may prove too brokery for Laboccetta, too. “My goal here is to make 100 grand and quit real estate,” he said. “If everything goes as planned, this time next year I’ll be living in a van with a band.”