Doing Well by Doing Good

Heidi Burkhart, president of Dane Professional Consulting Group, asks her staff to handwrite and mail three “thank you” letters each week.

The old-school approach is the key to the trust she earns from her clients in the affordable housing sector, allowing her to skip over heavy paperwork that needlessly complicates deals and focus instead on her clients’ needs, Ms. Burkhart told The Commercial Observer. 

“It’s based on a handshake,” she said. “It’s a beautiful thing.”

WEB_Heidi-Burkhart_Fernando-Pereira-Gomes-4Ms. Burkhart, 31, is a big fan of the handshake, the postal service, volunteering and rigorous athletics. She competes in triathlons and recently took up Olympic power-lifting. The interests might seem dissimilar, but they are all different ways in which she reaches out to others, achieving her goals while challenging those around her to do the same.

“It was her support that helped me,” Yadira Maya, Ms. Burkhart’s assistant of 10 years, said, recounting the time she took off to assist those affected by Hurricane Sandy and her decision to join the board at the Mercy Center community center in the Bronx. “At first, I was a little intimidated by it. But I mentioned it to [Heidi], and she pushed and encouraged me.”

The firm handshakes and perseverance helped Ms. Burkhart carve out a niche in the affordable housing sector when she was at Eastern Consolidated between 2003 and 2008, after which she launched Dane PCG, which focuses on affordable housing, consulting and philanthropic efforts associated with children and education.

“Ironically, there weren’t many brokers specializing in the field at the time,” she said.  “It wasn’t easy, but I am totally happy and stoked that I started Dane. At that time, I was so young and hungry—and just very ambitious in growing that area of the business.”

Scott Jaffe of Metropolitan Realty Group, a major owner and manager of affordable housing in the city, and a former client of Ms. Burkhart, is one real estate professional who took note, offering her free office space in 2008 to assist her with her business launch.

“I enjoy helping people, and I liked her,” Mr. Jaffe said in an email, noting that he “saw potential.”

The following year, Ms. Burkhart took her operation to a 2,500-square-foot, open-air office space in Soho, where she does her best to instill a “Google mindset” in her staff of six. The open loft space is reminiscent of the tech startup environment, where collaboration and time off to “rejuvenate and refresh” is encouraged.

“I love how Google has grown and how people seek out to work there because of that environment,” she said. “They create a campus in terms of promoting idea generation and an open, candid office environment. Hopefully, my staff feels that way, as little as we are. I want everyone to enjoy coming to work.”

The deals speak for themselves. Ms. Burkhart and her teams have closed on $1 billion worth of transactions. How? She says she does it by leveraging existing relationships and creating new client opportunities, never losing site of the old-school business tactics that rely on “true human contact,” and “concentrating on the relationships, not the deals.”

In 2011, Ms. Burkhart spearheaded the $45 million sale of the 430-unit Concord and Seaside properties in Staten Island, the $20.5 million sale of the 219-unit Richmond and Fairway Gardens in Staten Island, and the $40 million sale of the 328-unit Oceanview and Heyson Gardens in Far Rockaway.

In June, Ms. Burkhart assisted with the $5.8 million sale of the 114-unit O’Neil Apartments in Troy, N.Y. In July, it was the $5.46 million sale of the 129-unit Stratford Towers in the Bronx and the $27 million sale of the 198-unit Steuben Terrace property in Staten Island.

“No deal is the same,” she said. “It keeps you on your toes constantly.”

In many cases, the properties are in dire need of renovations, with a housing company that lacks the necessary funds to rehabilitate the property because of low cash flow and rents. The ownership at the Concord and Seaside properties wanted to move on to invest in properties that would be easier to manage and maintain.

“Heidi Burkhart was the only broker we considered working with on these two assets, seeing the affordable housing restrictions,” Eric Chwatt, a partner of the selling entity at the Concord and Seaside properties, said in a statement after the sale.

Like the plethora of volunteer and charitable endeavors Ms. Burkhart takes part in, she chose affordable housing, because in many ways its preservation is a way to give back to the community, which she said is evident in the faces of those who benefit from upgrades to housing.

“It’s so truly amazing to see the tenants after they get a new home,” she said. “You can just see it in the tenants. It definitely gives them a newfound confidence, and that frickin’ rocks.”

Among the charitable organizations Dane PCG volunteers with is Habitat for Humanity and Food Bank for New York City, Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration and Kids Unlimited, the charity Ms. Burkhart started in her hometown of Toledo, Ohio.

She is making preparations to open a small hairstyling salon at her offices, where she will not only get her own hair done, but will bring in people she has met through charity work for makeovers, including a teenager with alopecia (a condition that causes hair loss), whom she met through a dermatology clinic in North Carolina. She and her staff even headed out this past Friday to volunteer at a surfing camp for autistic children in Wilmington, N.C.

“Our motto here is live to give, give to live,” Ms. Burkhart said—a slogan Ms. Maya would repeat verbatim. “People always say that when you give you get so much more in return, and that’s so true.”

In Toledo, Ms. Burkhart studied finance at the University of Toledo, simultaneously receiving her high school diploma and a bachelor’s degree by age 20. After graduation, she moved to New York City, where a brief stint in pharmaceutical sales led her to quickly realize that she “really missed” her finance background, prompting a cold-call to Daun Paris at Eastern Consolidated, landing her the gig that would ultimately solidify her stronghold in affordable housing.

She described her childhood as very active, as a competitive tennis player who was always looking for the next sport to excel at—one reason for her continued tenacity in and out of the office.

“The fitness thing is embedded in me,” she said.

That led to a passion for various forms of endurance training, from intense CrossFit sessions to triathlon training with Full Throttle Endurance, which brought her to the national triathlon championships in 2009. Last year, she picked up Olympic lifting, having recently hit 120 pounds on the snatch press and 150 pounds on the clean and jerk press, evidenced in training videos that she gladly passes along.

“I really fell in love with Olympic lifts,” she said. “It gives me such a high. I think it drew me just like affordable housing did. … There’s just not a lot of women doing it.”

Sending three letters a week is the easy part for employees at Dane PCG. Ms. Burkhart said one of the big challenges in starting Dane from the ground up was “being the team leader you want to be.” In her case, that entails regular, but optional, offers for staff to participate in triathlons, CrossFit and Olympic lifting. Some have taken her up on it. Others, well …

“She attempts to, but I am not made for that,” Ms. Maya said. “I tell her that I’m not as strong as her. But I think it’s mental. When I watch those videos, it’s amazing.”

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