When Mark D’Angio was laid off by his radio station after 34 years on air, he thought life had handed him a big fat lemon. Gone were his treasured days of hurrying to the station and chatting up listeners. He searched for another radio job, then reluctantly turned to real estate.
But after his first sale to a couple who gushed over their purchase, he realized life had actually baked him a lemon meringue pie.
“I couldn’t be happier,” said D’Angio, who has been an agent now for nearly three years. “I’ll never go back.”
Whether drawn by the white-hot market, leveled by the pandemic or simply tired of their old jobs, more people have left their previous professions behind to become real estate agents. The number of people who joined the National Association of Realtors jumped by 156,000 in 2020 and 2021, a 60% increase compared to the previous two years, according to an NAR spokesman.
“Whenever real estate is booming, becoming an agent is more attractive,” said Kevin Loiacono, president of the Long Island Board of Realtors. “It’s a pliable career fruitful for someone who wants to do it part time and those who want to do it full time as well.”
Below are four people who left their former professions to give real estate a try.
The Broadway actor
Derrick Davis doesn’t mince words about being a real estate agent.
“I love, love, love it,” he said in nearly a shout.
Sound dramatic? It should. Davis is a veteran actor who has played a variety of high-profile characters, including Mufasa and his evil brother, Scar, in “The Lion King” on Broadway. Now, he finds drama in real life.
“I love helping someone find a place that brings them happiness, and buying a home is one of the biggest transactions of their lives,” Davis said. “To guide them through that process and make it less stressful is a joy.”
Davis, of Amityville, worked as an agent years before, but had stage dreams. When he got a call in 2009 to audition for the Las Vegas production of “The Lion King,” the head of his brokerage firm encouraged him to go. Davis toured the country with the musical and later filled in for regulars on Broadway back in New York.
“One weekend, I did both in one day,” Davis said. “Scar in the afternoon and Mufasa at night.”
His profile was boosted when he played the phantom in “Phantom of the Opera” on tour (a first for a Black actor on national tour) and Billy Bigelow in “Carousel” on Broadway.
His glide path to success was upended when COVID shut down the acting world. Finally, his former real estate boss at Century 21 Icon in Port Jefferson suggested he take the agent exam and do a revival.
“I’ll never let go of my real estate life again,” Davis said.
He still keeps an eye on the stage, picking up roles in new productions and regional works, he said, adding, "I only take a certain number of real estate clients because I don't want anyone to feel neglected."
It's an exhausting balancing act when he sells homes by day and performs by night.
“I don’t sleep much," he said.
Until about five years ago, Holly Zarcone had a sweet deal.
An inveterate baker, she started out selling her own creations — pies, cupcakes, cookies, s’mores bars — at farmers markets while staying home with her young son. As demand increased, she and her husband opened a shop at Tanger Outlets Deer Park. After her s’mores bars were featured on the "Bethenny" talk show, the pace picked up.
The problem was that by then Zarcone had two more children and realized she couldn’t spend time with them and run the business, too.
“I was doing the baking, the marketing and we had to package everything,” she said. “It was a little crazy.”
The couple decided to reduce their role in the business, but couldn’t find staff to meet their quality standards. Then the pandemic hit. Zarcone, 36, of Huntington, realized it was time for a change.
“It was a wonderful time in my life, but it was one of those things where you outgrow your profession and have to create something else.”
So she became an agent at a firm that two friends had started, the CJ team at Signature Premier Properties in Sayville. These days, she only bakes for PTA fundraisers.
"The s'mores always sell out," she said.
The thing Zarcone finds most difficult now is “the conversation” — explaining to clients how difficult the market is today. The flip side is when they score a home and everything clicks into place.
“That’s the moment you finally get it all together and they get approved for a loan and you’re at the closing and they sign the papers,” Zarcone said, “and everyone gives that sigh of relief.”
Although only 16 at the time, Arkar San Wai realized the internet was going to be big, so he became an IT guy.
“I had a good salary and a good boss, but I felt a little trapped,” said San Wai, 36, who goes by Ark. “When you get too comfortable, you don’t want to go for more," he said. "I wanted to have something of my own."
The result was EPM Real Estate Photography, which he started three years ago and is now the largest of its kind on Long Island. The 40-employee firm based in Ronkonkoma, where San Wai also lives, offers everything from regular home photos to 3D virtual tours to drone shots to social media management.
“I love my new career and especially photography. It’s very soothing and pleasing.”
One thing that surprised him when he entered the field was its competitive nature. That’s why he started a YouTube series called “The New Agent Show,” where three novices are picked from applicants, then followed around as they learn the ropes. The one who makes the best video with the help of EPM Studios wins a $3,000 coaching course with Bryan Karp, Coach Realtors' top-rated broker. The series is sponsored by RCG Mortgage.
“This is something I wanted to do that nobody did for me,” San Wai said. “It’s a tough business and I wanted to welcome someone just beginning.”
The radio personality
Mark D’Angio — known as Mark Daniels on air — was a psych major who first tried radio when asked by a sick friend to fill in for him at the SUNY Cortland student station.
At WALK/97.5 FM he became a familiar voice for more than 30 years, discussing daily joys and frustrations with listeners — one of the longest tenures in Long Island radio history that abruptly ended in 2019.
“I was an unhappy camper for a long time,” he said, in the wake of his layoff.
Finally, he realized that given his gift for gab, real estate might be a good next step.
“I’m the type of guy who starts talking to someone on the elevator even if it’s just between floors,” he said. “My kids don’t even like to get on with me.”
D’Angio, 66, who works with Coach Realtors in Stony Brook, was delighted when he made his first sale to a couple looking for a condo and heard the woman exclaim that she loved it.
“I got hooked seeing the expression on someone’s face when they find what they’re looking for,” he said. “It goes deeper than just being a business transaction.”
His only complaint is that he is a “newbie” again, competing with “legacy” agents who have a client base dating back decades. But his old job? Forget it.
“I will always look back fondly on my years in radio,” he said, "but that chapter is closed. I’m glad to be where I am.”