Friday, December 21, 2012

Jonathan Fink, cellist and Realtor®

Jonathan Fink is a cellist with the Philly Pops, Reading Symphony, Harrisburg Symphony, and Rittenhouse String Quartet. He is also a Realtor® with Keller Williams in Philadelphia. 

He is a graduate of Philadelphia College for the Performing Arts (University of the Arts) and resides in Fishtown with his wife Marjorie and children Ben and Hannah. Email or call Jon at (215) 805-5276. He would love to hear from you!
How long have you been a Realtor® and what made you decide to pursue that?

About five years. The first couple of years I was training in a lot of ways. When I got to Keller Williams, that’s when my business really took off. I’ve been here three years.

When I started in real estate, around 2007, I was working at Curtis at the time and I got laid off when they outsourced the recording department. At the time, I was about to buy my first investment property with my wife in our neighborhood. 

My best friend and business partner, who’s an attorney, joined us in purchasing one house. Subsequently, we bought two additional rental properties. We worked together to get them renovated and rented. It took about a year and a half, and we really had a great time.

I had so much fun with that, and I was kind of looking for a new direction to go in, in terms of another job. So I said to him, “Why don’t we take these real estate classes at Temple in Center City?” 

I wasn’t really thinking I would get my license. I just thought I would take the classes and see what happened. And they were fun. I enjoyed them, and he took them with me.

I think sixty hours of classes is the national requirement. The coursework varies from state to state, but it’s mandatory before you’re eligible to take the licensing exam unless you’re already an attorney. 

When I was done with the coursework, I thought, I might as well take the tests. And then I passed them, so I thought, I might as well give it a shot and see what happens.

And I found that I really enjoyed it. I’m almost fifty, and I’ve owned a home for a long time. I can’t do everything, but I understand how homes work pretty well. And I know the city very well because I’ve lived everywhere in it since the 80’s.

So, it turned out to be good for me. I enjoy the personal contact with people. I think people who can be honest and blunt about things do very well in this industry, and that’s kind of my personality. I can come right out and tell you what your house is worth and my clients really appreciate that.

Most of the people I work with are musicians or friends of musicians. As hard as I may try to reach out to other communities, those are the people that I know. I have people that I see when I go to music jobs and a bunch of people from The Philadelphia Orchestra that I’ve worked with over the years.

I think that musicians want to feel like they’re working with somebody that understands them, and I do. I think that makes them feel comfortable. As musicians, sometimes we don’t want to have to explain what it’s really all about, you know? 

So, with me, they don’t, because I already get it. I know what they’re about and I know how they react to things, for the most part. I mean, everybody’s different; it’s not like all musicians are exactly the same. But we have some common denominators.

With my real estate business, it’s all about meeting people, making contact with them, helping them, hopefully doing business with them.  The fun part is when the transaction’s completed. The keys slide across this very table, and people get really happy. 

Sometimes there are sellers maybe for whom things aren’t going so well and they need to get out from under their home, or they’re moving for another job, and you’re doing an incredible service. Of course with buyers, there is the excitement of purchasing, and for me it is the satisfaction I get from completing the transaction.

Are there elements of your musical training or your musical career that help you out in the real estate world?

Houses are funny things. They have kind of an artistic side to them—they have personalities in a lot of ways, like music does. 

On the one hand, most homes will say something to you. On the other hand, they’re very much dollars and cents—square footage and price per square foot for the area. 

So there’s this mathematical side to it, and then on the other side is this incredibly emotional—and almost artistic—side that you run into with buyers and sellers.

I think that my ability to bridge those two things is really helpful. I can sense quickly whether the house is going to be a fit for a buyer or not. I don’t need long. Sometimes they need longer than I do. A lot of times, I will show somebody a house, and I know it’s the house they’re going to buy. I might not say that to them, but it doesn’t surprise me when we come back to it. 

I think that innate sense comes from my artistic side—the way when you’re sitting in an orchestra and a piece starts, and we all get a sense right away of how it’s going.

I think that’s something that people don’t think about often with music. When you’re playing in a group, it’s such a linear experience. You get on this conveyor belt, and it’s going to keep going and your brain is making how many bazillions of judgments and decisions every second about how you fit into what’s going on, where you are in relation to your stand partner, to the conductor, to what you hear. 

That ability to make snap judgments and adjust as you go along is such a valuable skill that comes from music and can be transferred to anything.

When you think about it, it’s fairly amazing, and I think that applies as you’re doing things like showing houses and having conversations with people about things that are very important to them. I mean, this is fairly serious business. For many people, selling or buying their home is one of the top four or five dollar transactions that they’ll make in their lifetime. So there’s a lot at stake. I think I appreciate that and can react to what’s going on with it.

Is there a lot of financial knowledge that you needed to either have or learn?

You have to be able to do math, for sure, but it’s very learnable and not difficult. But if you’re absolutely math-phobic, then real estate’s not a good field. I’m pretty good at the type of math I need to do for this job, which is basically figuring out what it’s going to cost people to purchase a house or how much they’re going to make when they sell their house. 

We do have tools that can help if you’re not good at it, but it’s useful to be able to ballpark that stuff in your head and have that information flow freely.

Since you’ve started in real estate, is there anything you have learned in that career that you take into music?

Oh, absolutely. That’s kind of the best part of it for me. I think the social skills that I’ve learned in real estate have helped me in my music business a lot. 

I give Keller Williams quite a bit of credit. They work hard at being really positive here, and I appreciate that. Anybody that knows me knows that I can very quickly go to the cynical side of life if left to my own devices. 

I’ve found that I’m a much happier person when I make the effort to stay positive and to be around positive people and think that way. Nobody wants to go out and look at houses with somebody that’s a drag. So it’s really helped me—motivated me, maybe—to understand more about myself.

Also, I think that the income from real estate has stabilized our lives in a way that makes us less dependent on the music business. It makes it easier for me to play the jobs that I have and really enjoy them.

I like the people that I play with. I love the camaraderie of going to jobs and hanging out with people. I don’t think I would ever stop playing, because the social aspect of it is so important to me.

What’s your typical schedule?

Our schedules change a lot. That’s one of the challenges. But typically Monday through Wednesday, I concentrate on the office part of the real estate business. I drop my son off at The Philadelphia School at 8:10 a.m., and I’m at the office by 8:30 a.m. 

If everything goes well, I’m done by 1:30 or 2:00 p.m., or certainly by 3:00 p.m. when the kids are done with school.

I play in a lot of regional orchestras, so Thursday through Sunday are most often when gigs happen. When I have a gig, I’m still available to my real estate clients by smartphone. But I try to do most of the office work earlier in the week. I’m a bit nuts about responding to people’s texts or emails almost immediately. Often I can even do this during a rehearsal or at the break.

If I’m working with a buyer to schedule house showings, I let the clients dictate the schedule. Instead of being worried about whether or not I’ll be available, I ask them when they want to go out, and I work my schedule around that. If they’re musicians—and I would say 85-90% of the people I work with are in the creative community—then they have similar schedules to me. 

If they’re not, then I try not to worry about until it becomes a problem, and it rarely does. Most people don’t want to see properties at 8:00 on a weeknight. Even if I have rehearsal at 7:00 p.m., I can show a couple properties before that.

How do you keep track of your schedule?

My wife is a freelance violist and teaches at Waldron Mercy Academy and the University of the Arts. She’s got a fairly similar schedule to me but does different things.

We both use Google calendar. We have been using online calendars for a long time. We started with AOL calendar. It was the only one I could find that would allow you to have more than one person share calendars at a time. And now Google does that remarkably well.

We have three or four calendars on there and I can turn them on or off. We have them on our iPhones and iPads. We have two children ages fourteen and eleven, so every night or every morning, Marj and I look at the day and walk through it. That way we don’t forget a kid somewhere or forget to show up to a job or to one of the kids’ activities.

The kids are our focus. That’s why we do the rest of this stuff, is to make sure that we’ve got resources for them and that we can spend as much time as possible with them. 

We have one primary babysitter. Anybody with kids knows it’s a constant reshuffling of schedules to meet the demands of where they have to go and what they have to do. My daughter is in a theater group and my son goes to various things all the time.

Now that they’re older, it’s gotten a little easier in the sense that we can drop them off as opposed to walking them into things. 

But they’re involved with more stuff the older they get, too. So there’s more of it to schedule, and they’re not quite old enough to do things entirely by themselves because it’s not like they drive.

What do you do in your downtime?

My hobby is flying airplanes. I try to do that about once a week. My friend owns an airplane and he lets me fly it regularly. He’s very generous.

Flying airplanes is also very similar to playing music. They say that pilots and musicians use the same part of their brains. 

Once you take off in an airplane, it’s kind of that same feeling that you get when a movement of a symphony starts. You’re not getting off and you can’t just pull over. Countless decisions get made as you go along, and you have to be able to quickly respond to changes the same way you do in an orchestra. 

It takes up enough of my concentration that I don’t think about anything else—which isn’t always the case with music, I have to admit. I like it, and unlike real estate or music, I don’t do anything professionally with flying.

This is kind of a hard question. A lot of the players in these regional orchestras make their living working in a lot of different places. Do you feel any criticism from those musicians because one of your other jobs is not in music?

I don’t get that from people. I think people understand that you’ve got to make a living. I used to feel that way a little bit myself, like, I’m not a “real” musician because I have to do something else to make money. But having kids and a mortgage to pay erases that feeling pretty quickly.

So no, I don’t. I’m not interested in receiving that kind of vibe, so maybe that’s why.  I’m proud of my work in real estate!  I think I provide a great service and that I’m really good at my job, in addition to my music career. 

Most of the time, people are happy about it and come up to me at gigs say, “Oh, I see that you’re doing really well, and that’s great.” They want to talk to me about real estate. And that feels good.

Who are your role models?

I have different role models in different parts of my life. Musically, I have to admit to being kind of a Philly Orchestra wannabe. When I moved here and went to hear the Philly Orchestra for the first time, I was blown away. I think that they deserve more than they get, and that they deserve to be exalted as being at the top of their game. I think to show up and play in that group at that level, all the time, day after day, requires such concentration and you can’t just phone it in. I’m impressed by that. I really am.

Real estate-wise, there are any number of agents here who are doing all the right things. I really value the agents who are honest with their clients and with other agents, and who understand that the business is about working together to a common end—not working against each other. That’s the kind of agent I want to be.

Here at Keller Williams, I try to be a leader to some extent for younger agents. We have something here called the ALC, which is very similar to an orchestra committee. I’m proud to have been a member of that for two years. It’s a committee of agents that meet monthly to talk about what’s going on in the office and make sure that things are to everybody’s satisfaction. The agent involvement is one of the things I love about the Keller Williams model.

What advice would you give to young musicians who are considering music careers?

It’s hard to classify all of them together. If you’re talking about a place like Curtis, these are the top 1% or less of talent in the country. And even the people there, what percentage of them are going to land great jobs? Obviously, some percentage of them will land the best jobs in the country, but some percentage of them won’t. 

And then you think about other schools that are all churning out so many players. I don’t know; if you’re not in that top ½ percent, then you have to be thinking about how you can make another career coincide with your music career.

I’ve always had other jobs. Real estate is not the first “other job” that I’ve had. After I graduated from Philadelphia College for the Performing Arts [now University of the Arts], I was an administrative assistant at the Philadelphia Dance Alliance. I was also an executive secretary to the Vice Dean of Clinical Affairs at the University of Pennsylvania Health System.

I also taught for a long time, and I still teach a little bit.  My wife and I ran an actual music school out of our house for almost 10 years.  This was when our children were toddlers so it made sense to be at home with them.

I think if you want to play music, you’ve got to have other sources of income, too. A family of four in Philadelphia, I recently heard on NPR, is barely getting by on $75,000 a year.

We’ve just gone through a period where orchestras are taking immense pay cuts. So if you’re in a major orchestra, you’re in the top three percent of your field, and you’re making $100,000-$150,000 a year. I know that seems like a lot of money to musicians. I’m here to tell you from the real world that it’s not—in any profession, really. That’s not a lot of money to raise a family in a major metropolitan area.

We’re lucky in Philadelphia to have a lot of different avenues for freelancing. I’m working every week, and there is a lot of work here.

I think it’s easier for string players, because at least there are more of us being hired. For winds, it’s crazy. We just had an audition for Principal Trombone at Harrisburg Symphony and fifty people showed up. That’s crazy! I mean, this is a job that if you did every single service, would pay about $6,500.

I do think the regional orchestra model can succeed. I think that people who travel to audition somewhere like Harrisburg think they’ll set up shop and do a bunch of jobs in this area. It’s attractive because it’s near Baltimore, Washington, New York, and Philly. 

Obviously, there are kids coming out of school that are going to win top jobs. But there are fifteen full-time orchestras—thirty or forty real oboe jobs—in the entire country. And every year, schools are putting out five or six fantastic oboe players. And it’s worse for other instruments. The numbers just are impossible, even for the very best.

Teaching is not the same as playing. It’s another job. Some people enjoy that and make a great career out of it.

I think that an overlooked part of the music business—and I didn’t understand this when I was in college—is arranging and composing. My wife is a great arranger, and I envy her that talent. I think it’s a very important skill in today’s market. If you can tell a contractor or a client that you can arrange parts for specific songs and get the group together, you’re in a much better position than if you just show up and play. If I’m giving advice to young people, learn how to arrange in all styles of music—don’t tunnel vision into one style. 

You have to have your hands in different areas to make it in this business. You have to be able to do everything.


  1. A “Boomerang Buyer?..What is THAT?” Great question.colorado mobile homes

  2. Thank you for such a fantastic blog. Where else could anyone get that kind of info written in such a perfect way. I have a presentation that I am presently working on, and I have been on the look out for such information.
    Real Estate Investment Classes