Since 2009, Joan (pronounced John) Bischoff van Heemskerck has held the title of Town and Country Real Estate’s executive sales manager for the North Fork and Shelter Island and he also serves on the agency’s board of directors.
If that weren’t enough, Joan is the president of the North Fork Promotion Council and his peers elected him president of the Hamptons and North Fork Realtors Association. The New York State Association of Realtors appointed him to the Communications, Marketing, and Technology Legislative Policy Forum, Multiple Listing Issues and Policies Committee, Professional Standards Committee and Second-home, and Resort and Global Markets Committee.
With the full expanse of these impressive credentials, we knew he was the go-to as we examine the possibilities and prospects of owning property on the North Fork and Shelter Island.
How or why does an accomplished Dutchman find himself on the rural North Fork of Long Island?
First of all, I have been on the North Fork for the past 20 years or so, and daily praise the decision [my family] made to come here. This wonderful rural area is so close to — unbelievably — three of the world’s most exciting metropolitan centers, New York, Boston, and Rhode Island. And, that mostly determines the characteristics of the market.
While the days are gone that the trip from Boston to New York was easier through the North Fork than over land through Connecticut, crossing all the rivers there, we still cherish so much history on the North Fork, in what we claim is the oldest English-speaking incorporated town in the United States, with a respectful nod to the local families who still live and work here.
Which iconic, historical North Fork home or building do you admire most? Why?
I absolutely adore the entire New England character of the North Fork. Even today, you can still almost hear the hustle and bustle of the whaling industry in Orient and Greenport. There the local economy once supported most of the Revolution resulting in the birth of this country. One of my favorites is Poquatuck Hall in Orient — not just because of its many community uses such as the arts, music, and a meeting place for organizations like the Oysterponds Rod and Gun club, the heart of Orient.
There are lots of agencies — what sets Town & Country apart from the rest?
Town and Country is all about our agents. We have the benefits and reach of the biggest (as the largest and fastest growing locally owned East End firm), and the local familiarity of the smallest. We pride ourselves on a superior level of support and tools for our agents, bar none. And we work without much of the elbowing our industry unfortunately also has a reputation for. We prove that we can be very strong, without business being transacted that way. We have quite a few high rollers at Town and Country.
We all love doing what we do at Town and Country. Town and Country is still locally owned and run by three great women, Judi Desiderio, Janet Hummel, and Nancy McGann, all approachable and involved in actively helping out each of our agents. Decisions are made very close to, and in close cooperation with each agent. I love that. I think it is important for how well our agents do.
It’s wonderful to help people achieve their goals, and make the difficult as pleasant and easy for them as possible.
What’s the single best piece of advice you can give a new sales agent that joins your office?
Work hard and listen to your clients. Know the market, the homes, the land — all of it. It is simple: the money you make is directly correlated to the hours worked. The agents I always see in the office are closing the most deals.
Next, it’s not about you, it is about serving the client and customers. Not everybody can do that. It is a job that requires discipline and tenacity. It’s very hard to do part-time.
Get to know the inventory.
Know and respect people, be social. Contribute and volunteer for good causes. Give back when you are doing well.
Town and Country has a very hands-on individual training program, taught by our marketing and IT staff, and now also our social media staff. Work well with the other agents, your colleagues, while representing your clients well.
Not cookie cutter classes that tell you just you how the company works.
But nothing replaces working hard and getting along with clients, customers, and colleagues. Make everybody love you. I hope I’ve lived up to that advice.
Are there any North Fork trends you are watching? What demographic is buying on the North Fork right now?
The North Fork is a geographically small region with such a plethora of wonderful things: the fresh locally grown produce, the farm to table artisans and chefs, the vineyards, the beaches and fishermen providing the best in catches, the landscape of flora and fauna, sailing and boating. The charm of the farming community and its healthy life style are attracting so many today, while the town is trying to maintain this lifestyle. Most visitors look at the East End as a wonderful place to visit, but may not know the intricacies and differences between the Hamptons, the North Fork, and Shelter Island, where the locals try to protect their distinctive life style. So the attraction to people who are not originally from here determines most of the market.
As a whole, the North Fork has come into its own attracting people who would love to live here. That is raising price levels. Although, things are still affordable compared to the rest of the very expensive tri-state region. We see more and more sophisticated buyers; people who come from Brooklyn and the city and are spreading their wealth here — materially, culturally and their enthusiasm. Some of the people who are new remind us of our own enthusiasm when we first came here. It provides an alternative to the Hamptons. I would add that people who try to impress with their money, no matter how much — that doesn’t go over well here. I advise them to not try to gentrify the region, where the open space and simple lifestyle would disappear.
We’re starting to see more and more Millennials — and we love working with them. They love the North Fork lifestyle away from the city. It’s a real life they are discovering here. I love their enthusiasm and level of desire to participate. They experience what life is really about in the North Fork — and they can work here just as efficiently as in the city.
Are there any cool neighborhoods we should be watching?
Each hamlet from Laurel, Mattituck, and Cutchogue, to Peconic to Southold, Greenport, East Marion, and Orient is so different. The Sound side is so different from the Bay.
I hope we can preserve the farms and not over-build. That would make the hamlet centers more valuable in the future. I would advise people to see how beautiful the Greenport and Orient hamlets are. The “downtown” areas, which may typically not have been what suburban buyers are looking for, are spectacular here, and still offer great value. New buyers seem to realize that and we will see a lot of activity and opportunity there. And as always consider the waterfronts: they are not making any more. Then we have the farms and properties overlooking farms – you can still find some great properties. We’ve brought quite a few buyers who want to farm on the North Fork.
And by farming – it’s a very specialized field where an agent who knows his stuff can make all the difference.
In many cases, development rights on land are sold — to preserve farming and open space. Usually, one or more building lots are created in the process of preserving land. Great opportunities for building your own piece of paradise are there, if you have an agent who knows the intricacies of the preservation process, and what you can and cannot do on that land. It’s crucial to use an experienced, full-time agent. Town and Country has been involved in these kind of land transactions more than any other firm out here. We love it because it helps preserve the North Fork, and it creates beautiful real estate in harmony with the North Fork.
Buyers will miss subtle differences between the hamlets if they don’t work with a knowledgeable, local, full time agent. An agent who knows farms if they want to buy a farm, an agent who knows the local waterfronts and its intricacies if they would like to own waterfronts – this is the Town and Country difference.
How did you get started in real estate and how did you end up managing a region?
After we came to the North Fork, we started our own real estate firm in Mattituck, and quickly realized you need the tools and support only a larger firm can provide. We met Judi, Janet, and Nancy, and the rest is history.
What do you like to do for fun?
Believe it or not: Real Estate. Looking at properties and houses. Love it!
And sailing to Block Island or Fisher’s Island, part of Southold Town.
A bit of hunting if we can. We often go to the City for the Met or a museum, or to meet clients.
Helping my agents solve problems. That is the most rewarding part of our job: help our agents build their own businesses, and do so well that they can afford to live here! Bring out their best.
What more could anyone ask for?