Portrait of the five individuals that make up the Citi Habitats Education Department | LivingIn
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In a Class of Their Own

October 5, 2018

In special recognition of World Teachers’ Day (today, October 5th) we sat down with Citi Habitats’ own team of educators – Zulla Getahun, Citi Habitats’ Director of Agent Education; Amber Ferrer, our Field Marketing Coordinator; Carly Colonnese, our Social Media Specialist; Shane Kramer, Citi Habitats’ Managing Director of Agent Business Development; and Marc Alter, our Vice President of Education – to learn about their respective teaching styles, teachers who’ve inspired them, and their biggest success stories as educators. 

Is there a teacher from your past who you found especially inspiring?  What about them do you remember?

Carly: My second grade teacher made me excited about learning.  Her name was Mrs. Gable and she had very curly hair.  She was a family friend and I grew up with her.  I became pretty obsessed with Hawaii as a result of her Hawaiian-themed classroom, even though I still have never been there!  Her excitement about life in general was infectious…  that’s what I remember most. 

Zulla: Mr. Zambon was my all-time favorite teacher.  I actually just got off the phone with him.  He taught government and international affairs at my performing arts high school in Las Vegas, NV, and found a way to make every topic interesting.  He was very authentic and made it a point to create an environment where we were free to express our ideas.  He wasn’t afraid to think outside the box and use books and teaching materials that weren’t on the ‘approved list’ to make sure we understood different sides of a topic.  

Amber: The great Desmond Cribb was a corporate trainer back when I worked in the telecom industry.  He helped us find the glimmer in people’s eyes when they were really grasping a concept.  He taught me fun ways to really engage an audience – and that has stuck with me to this day.

Marc: My favorite teacher was Mr. Mumma.  He taught AP European History in my hometown of Roslyn on Long Island.  Mr. Mumma was a great storyteller and helped spark my love of history.  He also inspired me to use the concept of storytelling as a teaching method.  I’m big on using anecdotes to explain situations that agents may experience in the field.  Otherwise, everything I’m saying is just a concept.

If you were to be given a superlative when you were in school, what would it have been?  (most talkative, best dressed etc.)

Zulla: I won “Most Unique”…  I think because I’m a quirky mix and I don’t take myself too seriously. I’m also proud to say I won “journalist of the year” for all of Nevada… and second place nationally! If only I had won first place, I could have been the next Oprah, but alas…

***Group huddles and whispers***

Zulla: If we had to vote, we would name Amber “most enthusiastic” and Shane “most passionate.”

Amber:  And Marc… Marc is “most analytical” and we’ll give Carly “best dressed” or “biggest ray of sunshine.”

What makes a good teacher? 

Amber: It’s really important to find different teaching methods to suit the various learning styles your students may have.

Carly: I think a teacher who’s passionate about what they’re teaching is important too.  If you don’t love the subject it shows.  It’s great to learn from someone who’s excited about what they are sharing with the class.

Shane: Someone that’s been there.  If you are able – as a teacher – to weave in your personal experiences, that makes your lesson much more compelling.  Being relatable is also important. 

Zulla: I agree with Amber.  What makes a great teacher is creating an environment for a student to come to their own understanding of the material – because everyone processes things differently.  There are so many ways an agent can approach and build their business and that’s what I love most about real estate.

Marc: Good teachers make the subject matter relatable – and are good storytellers.

Amber: You know, someone once told me that facts and figures light up two parts of your brain but hearing a story lights up seven parts of your brain.  Not sure if that’s true – but I’m using it.  

Group of individuals smiling and laughing together | LivingIn

From left: Carly Colonnese, Shane Kramer, Amber Ferrer, Marc Alter, and Zulla Getahun

Are there any special methods/strategies you have used in your experiences as a teacher that have proven especially effective?

Shane: You have to relate what you are teaching to a practical application.  Give them real life, actionable applications…   It’s so much better than theory – and helps me get agents to be more productive, more efficient, and overall more successful.

Amber: The discovery process is important.  Ask open-ended questions to make sure what you are teaching is relevant to helping them reach their goals.  Make sure to listen to their feedback. 

Marc: I’m big into goal-oriented teaching.  Start with the goal, and then plan the lesson with the objective of achieving that goal. 

Zulla: The agents love hearing about the mistakes I made back when I was an agent.  In my first month, I took a V.I.P. client out in the West Village and ended up getting us hopelessly lost.  This was back when we had to print out mapquest!  My client got so frustrated, he just walked away from me.  Despite how painful it was to my precious ego, it taught me the most valuable lesson which is Product Knowledge!  Don’t “wing it” in this business or you’ll wing yourself out. 

Amber: It’s also important to take advantage of opportunities that are given to you.  You have to hold yourself accountable – in real estate you are an independent contractor so it depends on you to keep building and growing your business.

Zulla: I tell the agents that the first year of this business will humble you – so it’s important to put aside your ego and embrace the fact that you are starting a new adventure.  An 18-year-old fresh out of school can be sitting across from a 65-year-old with a successful past career, and both can be top agents here.  Our industry is a great equalizer regardless of your schooling, background…etc.  It’s about energy and work ethic.  I also don’t subscribe to the theory that the teacher knows everything.  I’ve been inspired by agents that have been in the business for two weeks.  Everyone brings something unique to the table – and as this business is always changing, new insight and fresh perspectives are invaluable to all of us.

Two men and one woman sitting in front of bookcase | LivingIn

What have you learned about yourself through your teaching experiences?

Shane: I’ve learned that a lot of the on-the-job experiences I’ve had in this business over the years can be valuable teaching tools.  New agents can learn important lessons from my numerous successes – and mistakes.

Amber: I have been blessed and cursed with a great amount of patience.  I’ve learned that I have the power to make an impact on the lives of other people – hopefully a positive one!

Zulla: This was not a position that I ever considered, so it was initially surprising to me how rewarding it was – to be part of helping someone become successful.  I also learned that the best teachers are also students.  I feel like that’s something that agents, managers, and instructors need – to stay humble and be open to seeing things differently.  How the business was 14 years ago is completely different from it is now.  For example, when I started, landlords would FAX us their new listings.

Amber: It feels very natural to me when I’m teaching people– and really fulfilling.  It doesn’t always feel like work.

Marc: I learned how to elevate my public speaking to the next level.  When I was younger, I was pretty shy – and there was no way I would ever get in front of a big group and speak.  Now I do sessions with over 200 agents.  I go into the classroom and it’s automatic.  I don’t even have to think about it anymore, I’m able to just turn it on.  That’s a great achievement for me. 

Carly: I hated speaking in front of people…  however, I learned the more I do it and the more mastery I have on a topic – the more comfortable I feel.  I got better at it by forcing myself into uncomfortable situations no matter how nervous I felt.  You have to work at it.

Amber: A lot of people let their fear build a wall around them, where they are scared to act…  You have to break through it.  Remember, the wall’s not real!  

What have been your biggest teaching “success stories”?

Zulla: We are all very honest about how challenging and how fulfilling this business can be…  You will really earn every single cent through hard work.  We would be doing them a disservice if we told them it was going to be easy.  The first year is about building a solid foundation. Like Gary Malin (President of Citi Habitats) says, it’s the most unglamorous part and the part that no one sees… but once you build that foundation, you will be very grateful and happy two, three years down the road. 

Amber: I think it’s when agents come to me and say they were able to successfully close a difficult deal – and directly attribute it to something I’ve taught them.  Anytime I hear a story like that it makes everything worth it.  It’s what drives me every single day.  

Zulla: A lot of the challenges agents have are related to fear and their ego, and that’s something I always try to discuss as I definitely had to work through them as well when I was an agent.  I have a lot of empathy for how scary it is to do something new.  It takes an innate confidence and willfulness to be successful in this business, and, most importantly, resilience.  The success stories that mean the most to me are from the agents who I was able to coach through those kinds of blocks.  Let’s be clear, the actual business is easy but the reason many agents don’t make it usually comes back to those first two blocks.

Carly: For me, it’s all about the little wins.  Social media’s such a hot topic and it’s fun, so you can see people’s eyes light up.  But it’s one thing to want to do it, and it’s another to actually do it.  Because it is work.  If you want to succeed in marketing your business through social media you have to put in the time up front.  A success for me is getting an agent to simply post more strategically and use tools like hashtags to improve engagement.

Shane: I’ve been working with an agent – who will remain nameless –  she made $30,000 last year, and now she’s making over $100,000 this year.  I can’t take all the credit but she’s really been taking the lessons I try to impart to agents to heart and I’m really proud of her.

Thank you to our Education team for sharing their stories as well as their goals when it comes to teaching. For more information about the agent training program at Citi Habitats led by these dedicated and inspiring individuals, check out CitiHabitats.com.
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