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As a competitive high school athlete, Heidi Burkhart learned that a little adversity can be the needed fire by which character is tempered to the correct strength.
“It makes you tougher in the good ways and makes you appreciate what you have,” said Ms. Burkhart, a former Sylvania Northview tennis star.
In 2001, armed with a degree in business and marketing from the University of Toledo, Ms. Burkhart set off for the East Coast, ready to make her mark. She landed a job as a representative for a pharmaceutical company covering all of western Connecticut and expected it to be her first rung on the ladder to success.
“I found out right away that I didn’t like it,” she said. What’s more, the job didn’t pay the bills, and she had to take a second job at a clothing store just to make ends meet.
But not one to accept defeat, Ms. Burkhart soon found something she was good at — real estate. Now she is president of her own firm, the Dane Professional Consulting Group, a Manhattan-based real estate firm that specializes in affordable housing properties, and the 31-year-old can look back on how she started in business and laugh a little.
“I attribute a lot of my perseverance to tennis and schooling,” she said last week during a visit to Toledo, one of about five trips a year Ms. Burkhart makes to her hometown to work with a local charity, Kids Unlimited, for which she helps raise funds. “Competition was healthy. So I think when I got into real estate, I looked at everybody else as healthy competition,” she said.
Her venture into real estate was almost by accident.
After quitting her pharmaceutical rep job, she was working as a clerk at a clothing store in Greenwich, Conn., finding it hard to make ends meet, and pondering whether to return to Toledo. “I was eating samples at supermarkets to keep from going hungry,” Ms. Burkhart said.
One day in 2002, a frequent customer named Daun Paris walked in and purchased several thousand dollars worth of items. Ms. Paris was president of Eastern Consolidated Real Estate Investment Services of New York City. Ms. Burkhart said at that point, she felt there was nothing to lose, so she asked Ms. Paris about a job at her real estate firm.
“You can’t be afraid to ask,” Ms. Burkhart said.
To her surprise, Ms. Paris agreed.
She spent the next year learning the business, and was allowed to handle the firm’s affordable housing transactions — a slow and complicated niche that no other agents wanted. The term refers to housing for people of low to moderate income.
Ms. Burkhart said she took the assignment as a challenge and sat for hours outside the offices of potential clients, even taking some of them home-baked cookies as an entree to getting property listings.
Finally, she got a listing to sell an affordable housing building in Harlem that ended up as a $5 million deal. Then the client offered her four more deals to handle. She was just 23, but Ms. Burkhart’s passion for the business helped her persevere.
Affordable housing “is a different kind of dynamic; it’s not affected by the economy. We had deals closing and I felt I learned a lot,” she said. “… You learn from your mistakes.”
Ms. Burkhart said she focused on making contacts in the affordable housing business, learning from experts like Jeffrey Feil, president of the Feil Organzation, one of the nation’s top real estate firms. In 2008, she decided to start Dane Professional Consulting.
Besides Ms. Burkhart, the firm has four real estate specialists. Since 2008,its transactions have totaled $210 million. Since 2003, Ms. Burkhart has handled more than $850 million worth of transactions involving more than 6,500 affordable housing units.
She no longer scours supermarkets for samples, and her 5-year-old company is branching out into other aspects of real estate, such as negotiating sites for the film industry, she said.
Ms. Burkhart said she struggled during her start at Eastern Consolidated but “it’s funny, because I didn’t ever see it that way.”
Part of the reason she now returns to Toledo regularly is to show children anything’s possible if you stay focused. “I’d like to think that being a girl from N.Y.C. who has made it, it gives them hope that they can do it too. It’s a great message to give kids,” she said.
Contact Jon Chavez at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6128.