SPOTLIGHT ON;: Al Smith
Mary Prenon | April 2018
Jumping Into a Real Estate Career
Al Smith, managing broker with Coldwell Banker in New Rochelle, credits his six years as an airborne paratrooper with the U.S. Army as the catalyst for his success in real estate.
A sales agent since 2001 in Georgia, Smith joined New Rochelle’s Coldwell Banker office in 2008 and became its managing broker in 2016. “It all goes back to the military and my days as a trainer for the Army,” he said. “I love working with and training agents.”
It was a high school friend who first gave Smith the idea for a military career. “My friend Curtis and I played football together in high school and when I went away to college, we’d run together when I came home for the summer,” he recalled. “He would run with his boots on and was constantly outrunning me. He would always say ‘I’m an airborne paratrooper’ and that’s how I got started.”
After earning a Business degree from Alabama State University, Smith joined the Army. “My mantra was “If Curtis can do it, I can do it’,” he recalled. Once he finished basic training, Smith went to “jump school” (paratrooper training) at Fort Benning, GA. “Training was very difficult,” he admitted. “We had to do calisthenics and run five miles a day—with our boots on.”
For his paratrooper training, Smith started out jumping from a 35-foot tower into a pit of sawdust. From there, he moved to a 150-foot tower and then to 250 feet. “You have to learn how to land safely,” he said. His first time jumping from a plane was memorable from the sense that he doesn’t quite recall the exact moment he jumped. “I was always taught to go on command, so I was actually out of the plane before I realized I jumped! I was in mid-air and it was scary, but fun at the same time,” he added.
The requirement for earning his “wings” was five jumps from an airplane. Before the final jump, Smith hurt his ankle but was determined not to miss the last jump. “I knew if I took my boots off, my ankle would swell up, so I slept with them on,” he said. His final jump was a success and he spent the next six years as part of the 82nd Airborne Division.
Stationed at Fort Bragg, NC, Smith later traveled to Italy, Germany, France and Austria. He also served in Iraq for a year. During that time, he began training new recruits in physical activities as well as weapons use.
Upon leaving the Army, Smith began a new career with Bayer in Columbus, GA as a lead supervisor in the material sciences division, which manufactured polymers for the auto industry and major appliances.
While there, he also began to delve into the real estate business. “I had two uncles in the construction business who were always refurbishing houses, so I did have an interest in real estate from a young age,” he said. “Plus, I’ve always enjoyed meeting new people.”
His first real estate job was in Atlanta. Smith made the move to New York when his wife relocated for a job. With a new home in New Rochelle, Smith joined Coldwell Banker’s office there. “It was like sticker shock when I first moved here,” he said of the local home prices, as compared to Georgia. “You definitely get a lot more for your money there—more land and much bigger homes”
However, over the past 10 years, Smith has become accustomed to the suburban New York City lifestyle. His 45 agents deal with clients mostly in lower Westchester and the northern Bronx. “We see a lot of people from the boroughs and Long Island looking for condos, co-ops and homes in lower Westchester. Many times people can’t afford the rising rents there—especially in Brooklyn. To them, Westchester is a gold mine,” he said.
As Smith continues to grow the business, he still relies on his military background. “I’m always on time,” he noted. “If I have an appointment at 10 a.m., I’m there at 9:45 a.m.,” He’s also in the office every day by 7:30 a.m., although they don’t officially open until 9 a.m. And when things get tough, Smith never sees “obstacles,” only “challenges.” “I don’t’ think there’s anything I can’t do.”
Smith got involved with the Association a few years ago as a volunteer for the Member Perks Committee and became a Director in 2017. “I always wanted to join the Board of Directors and I love being part of it. I love interacting with other people and it has really helped my business as well,” he added. Smith is also a member of HGAR’s Finance Committee.
In his free time, Smith is very active with the local Veteran’s Association and is an avid supporter for the Wounded Warrior Project. He also holds an MBA from Fordham University in International Management and is very involved with the Fordham Veterans Group.
A big football fan, you’ll often see him at Fordham football games. He also enjoys basketball, working out and running—but he’s since traded in his boots for sneakers. In addition, he trains in the Israeli self defense system, Krav Maga.
“The best part about my job now is training agents,” he said. “I like to watch them grow and build their businesses.” Every Tuesday, he holds a different agent workshop at his office.
Asked if he misses his former life of jumping out of planes, Smith shakes his head “No.” “Sometimes I think about it,” he admits, “but these days I prefer to be grounded.”