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Broker Like a Champion

After more than seven years working in politics, I am leaving my job, moving to Brooklyn and starting a career as an educator. Inspired by the important relationships I developed while participating in one-on-one tutoring for three years, I’ll be teaching middle school history at Achievement First Crown Heights Middle School in Brooklyn.

Last month, my principal sent a five-book summer reading list to me (literally, a box containing five books), including “Teach Like a Champion,” a textbook of techniques and best practices by Doug Lemov. Based on my prior research, I knew Achievement First and similar networks and schools have embedded the book’s techniques throughout their academic and teacher training programs. I’ve been a Doug Lemov devotee for a couple of years now, but I never expected his lessons for teachers would also apply to apartment-hunting until I was racing around Brooklyn with real-estate brokers during a sticky Memorial Day weekend.

Here are some of the Teach Like a Champion techniques I wished the brokers in my first-ever New York City apartment search had used:

1) What to Do. In the classroom, this technique is used to provide all students with clear instructions about how to accomplish a task without the use of the word “don’t”. For example, if the cable channel TLC utilized this technique, it would rename its very popular fashion show “What Not to Wear” to “What to Wear,” as the purpose of the show is to explain “what to do” to make better choices in wardrobe selection.

Explaining how the process works, step-by-step, is key to assuaging a first-time renter in NYC, but it’s also the right thing to do in many lines of work. Finding an apartment in New York City is nothing like looking in Washington, D.C., where I’ve lived for almost eight years. The first broker I worked with failed to provide the level of detail I needed to understand how the day would progress and which listings I would see. According to TLAC, “directions should be specific, concrete, sequential and observable.” This goes for brokers too.

2) Sweat the Details. Lemov says this technique reinforces the idea of the “perception of order.” When a teacher has the little things together, he or she is able to focus time and energy on the more complex tasks. Simply put, an orderly classroom promotes effective learning, and that starts with the teacher. As I was driving to our first showing, my first broker was filling out my paperwork, complaining about her messy tenant and forgetting my boyfriend’s name…four times. She had difficulty multi-tasking and it was clear she was unprepared. In fact, she pushed back our meeting time an hour and was late to our appointment (she blamed subway delays), but still had not filled out most of the paperwork she would ultimately need me to sign. Had she done what she could ahead of our meeting, more of her attention could have been paid to getting to know her clients and explaining clearly how the day would proceed.

3) Wait Time. This technique is used to encourage all students to think about the answer to a teacher’s question–not just calling on the first person whose hand is raised. In finding an apartment, and especially paying a broker’s fee, the ability to pause and think before making a decision is important. Yes, rentals can go quickly, but brokers should not pressure their clients into ‘saying yes’ without giving them time, and especially without giving them several options from which to choose.

The first broker I worked with was 25 minutes late, disorganized, poorly prepared with options, and tried to rush me into a decision after only two showings. I hated the feeling that she would be paid a significant sum of money for not doing her job very well, but that is how renting an apartment in New York City works, I suppose. The second broker was friendly and patient. He took the time to explain the process clearly and did not push me to make a decision.

And as you might guess, I ultimately signed a lease for an apartment that the second broker showed me. He even lowered his 12% fee to 10% so that I could afford the true 1-bedroom apartment that I really liked and was in my ideal neighborhood.

My commute to school will be only 25 minutes by bike, perfect because starting in August I’ll need to be there by 6:45 a.m., a couple of hours earlier than I ever had to be at my current job. Before then, I’ve got more books to read — and an appreciation of the unexpected lessons I might find in them.

About our First Person series:

First Person is where Chalkbeat features personal essays by educators, students, parents, and others trying to improve public education. Read our submission guidelines here.