Commercial Real-Estate Broker Realtor Diaries
Photo-Illustration: Curbed; Photos: Getty Images
In this biweekly series, Realtor Diaries, we hear from the people at the center of a wilder-than-ever market. Today, an hour-by-hour glimpse into the working world of Alex, 44, the CEO of a full-service commercial real-estate brokerage company in New York City.
8 a.m. I’m a late riser. I turned 44 recently and after waking up after a night of partying, life hit me like a ton of bricks. It was like, “Okay I’m ready to accept that I’m not in my 30s anymore.”
8:15 a.m. I quickly get ready alongside my girlfriend, who works in the arts — totally different lifestyle. We’re at my brownstone apartment on the Upper West Side. I happen to rent this place, but I also own several buildings.
9 a.m. I’m out the door, and heading to my office in Nomad. I’ve got my fruit bowl and breakfast sandwich and I’m sitting in my private office, which has a luxurious-professional vibe: a big desk, high-end swivel chairs, a nice view. For the next 30 minutes, I answer emails and check my to-do list. I oversee over 400 offices in midtown. That’s millions of square footage. I have dozens of people who work for me. I don’t get stressed though. I get ambitious.
10 a.m. We have a tour of a new building. Nice, big, new construction with great furniture. It turns into a total emergency situation. We have a handful of brokers and tenants coming to look at 10,000 square feet, and when we get there, the entire place is flooded. A pipe burst. There’s gushing water! This is not good. It’s so hard to get tours for large spaces — the bigger companies are generally already settled in a spot — and now no one will be interested.
I try to remedy the situation. I tell everyone this is not an issue, it’s very common, etc.
10:30 a.m. They’re all like, “Sorry, bye.” They’re onto the next thing immediately. There’s no room for risk right now. Everyone knows they can rent whatever they’re dreaming of – their ideal office – at whatever price they want, sometimes for however long they want it. Everyone wants a rock bottom cheap deal. There are 95 million square feet of vacant office space in Midtown and Downtown Manhattan right now. I honestly don’t know what will happen to it. I mean, we have a restaurant tenant paying 77 percent less than they were supposed to for all of 2021— as in 77 percent less than what’s on their actual lease that they signed pre-pandemic. In 2022, they are paying 61 percent of what they are supposed to be paying. We said yes, we agreed to it. It felt like the only move at the time.
11 a.m. I’m pretty upset. That was our first showing for that building in weeks, and to say everything fell apart is an understatement. But you try your best as possible to carry on.
12 p.m. I see a personal trainer at 12, at a private gym. I gained 12 pounds in COVID so we’re working to get that off.
1:30 p.m. I meet one of my favorite clients for lunch in Nolita. He’s a landlord who has like five buildings and thousands of square feet, a mix of office and residential. It’s a shit ton to rent but we’re really good at what we do. He’s the kind of landlord who understands that every tenant who walks through the door is VIP, and every tenant will want walls put up and furniture and construction. He’s fully aware that they’re going to ask for it and we have to deliver. The answer has to be no problem. This guy also understands that there are 20 other buildings in the neighborhood, with similar offerings — amenities, high ceilings, nice décor — so what’s going to set us apart is our flexibility and friendliness.
On the flip side, a nightmare client is a landlord who can’t be flexible, they’re out of touch in terms of rent prices, or they can’t budge because they have a mortgage and their lenders will balk. These landlords should know it’s a desert out there. I don’t want to deal with delusional people.
Just yesterday I was trying to convince a landlord that rents are down 40 percent from three years ago. I was like, “I know you don’t want to hear that, but it’s the truth!”
3 p.m. An employee steps into my office. I know he is about to quit. He can’t pick up the phone, it’s just too grueling for him to make cold calls. I’m like, “It’s in your job description. Your contract literally says that’s the number-one most important thing here.” He’s like, “I can’t do it. I can’t.” So, it won’t work. I see the potential in everyone, but sometimes it just doesn’t fit.
I do have empathy for the people starting out. Your first few years are your worst years. You’re a rookie; but if you can stick it out for four years or so, you’ll do well. You can make around seven figures if you’re doing very well, eight figures if you’re absolutely killing it. Even in this market.
But I will say, the eight-figure guys, they have no life. They work 24/7 and sometimes they need substances to maintain that lifestyle. They’re not taking time for themselves, and traveling, and enjoying life. They’re not taking vacations to Italy and France. I love my vacations to Italy and France.
4 p.m. I gather my team for an impromptu sales meeting. We have a lot of square footage that we have to move and that’s got to be our daily goal. Whatever it takes. Nonstop calls, lots of showings, social media, email blasts, etc. Everyone needs to make calls and do outreach, no matter how painful it might be.
I tell my staff that I get it. Outreach in a post-COVID world is tough. Do you need office space? “NO. We are fully WFH.” There’s relentless rejection. They’re calling law firms, fashion lines, insurance agencies, former boutiques, calling everyone; they’re doing targeted Google ads, targeted Instagram ads, etc.
I remind them that it does work, however. One out of every ten closed deals is because someone picked up the phone, or because of social media, or other out-of-the-box marketing. If you keep pushing, all of a sudden, you’re doing 40 percent more work than your competitors.
We talk about how we’re reeling back open houses because everyone is an introvert now. WFH has changed everything forever, but I do feel there will be an upside. There will be a lot of converting of office buildings to residential; people are going to have to start investing in their buildings; landlords that don’t will be the last ones picked.
5:30 p.m. Some good news! We rented out an 8,000-square-foot office space in Chelsea. I knew we’d rent it. It had really nice polished concrete floors, glass offices, a cool kitchen, a lounge, a co-working area. It just shows really well. That’s what office tenants want today: good-looking, ready-to-go, furnished if possible, bright spaces. That being said, the rent is 30 percent below what it was two years ago. Honestly, I don’t care, I just want signs of life and I’m happy.
5:50 p.m. I hear the bell ringing out in our office because of the Chelsea deal. We have a bell here for anytime someone closes a lease or a deal. I believe in hope and positivity. We celebrate the small victories too. It’s like, “Great! You got a showing! Put that in the calendar!”
7 p.m. Before everyone takes off, we all have a drink together. The alcohol consumption in my office has tripled since the pandemic. It’s crazy because we used to socialize out in the world all the time. We’d host great parties with DJs, or have cool networking events, and have fun together out in the city. But now we host those events now and almost no one comes. Literally only four or five people show up. And we even give out gift cards as incentives to come — like 50 bucks to Starbucks — and still, no one shows. So instead, we drink here, together. I’m a Scotch, or sometimes Japanese whiskey, guy.
8 p.m. I meet my girlfriend for dinner in Soho. Prime Soho, for office space, is hot. All these crypto companies are coming here. NFT, too. There’s a new wave coming in right now. I’d say the same goes for niche neighborhoods: Noho, Flatiron, Meatpacking, Dumbo. No one wants Murray Hill, they don’t want the East 40s, and honestly, they don’t even care about Rock Center.
9 p.m. I ask my girlfriend what she thinks about the daily pressure of my job. She says, if I’m happy, she’s happy. A few months ago, you’d see me with my head on my desk, just despairing about the market. But now I am back to being happy.
Because at the end of the day, I love the rat race. I thrive off of it. I get super alpha-motivational sometimes, making motivational videos for my team, and trying to pump everyone up. Sometimes I sit in my office and blast Eminem’s 8 Mile soundtrack and feel like I can conquer the world.
But I’m lucky that I can detach too. I want to live my life. I want to go to Paris and then chill out in the south of France.
11 p.m. I scroll through my phone until late at night. Trying to get stuff done. Responding to as many emails as I can before tomorrow. Looking at new listings and pending sales and checking in with colleagues. It’s an obsession. But a healthy obsession.