From The Priesthood To The Penthouse: Kevin B. Brown Shares His Real (Estate) Story – Part II
In Part 2 of our exclusive interview with super broker, Kevin B. Brown he discusses his keys for success, the hottest new Manhattan developments and why selling houses and saving souls aren’t as different people may imagine.
JEFF VASISHTA: If you could distill some of the key components to your success what would they be?
KEVIN B. BROWN: The people who are really successful have daily goals everyday – whether it’s so many letters, or calls and that coupled with the ability to pivot will bring success. In my case it was, ‘Okay I’m not going to be a listing broker anymore, I’m going to be a buyer’s broker.’
VASISHTA: When you talk to potential international clients about buying in New York, what are you selling them on? Appreciation? ROI? Do many intend on actually moving to New York?
BROWN: I’m very focused right now on new developments. It depends on the level of wealth on the people buying. Very high net worth individuals are not overly concerned on the rate of return compared to someone who is buying a $3 million place or a $5-million-dollar place where that’s important. I can comfortably get anyone a 3% rate of return after they’ve paid their common charges and taxes. That’s not really sexy. But one hundred years ago it was $8 dollars a square foot and now it’s $1700 a square foot, so it’s always gone up. New York recovered after 9/11 and the recession very quickly. We’re a small island. I don’t have to prove anything. I just have to listen to what individuals’ needs are. The first question from many of my Asian buyers is, ‘Am I going to be treated differently because I’m a foreigner?’ And my response is, ‘No we’re all abused equally by the government.’ The New York market is very transparent. It’s not like Europe where there’s a special tax if you’re a foreigner. There was a survey done in New Delhi recently and a question came up, ‘Why are you investing in US real estate?’ The number one reason was health. You go to Bejing, New Delhi, you cannot breathe, you cannot see the sun. The Chinese and Indians work so hard for their money. Now all of sudden they’ll have health issues by the time they’re thirty. The second reason was on transparency. I compare it to going on a plane and the person next to you paid a different price for their seat than you did. There’s no rhyme or reason for the price. In other countries that’s how real estate is handled. No one has a handle on it. Here in the US we have a really good system. You know what real estate sold for. There are no hidden fees. Everything is disclosed. The third reason would be for schooling. We have a great education system and foreign buyers want their children to benefit from that.
VASISHTA: What New York neighborhoods and projects are you excited about at the moment?
BROWN: The Financial District. It’s not even a case of gentrification of a neighborhood. Battery Park, is a brand new neighborhood. That whole area is just taking off. New schools, new restaurants. Brookfield Place, it is just so impressive. Now there’ll be a train going from there to Newark airport. The Four Seasons downtown is a great building. I’ve sold 8 apartments there.
VASISHTA: Who to? International buyers?
BROWN: To Australians, Saudis Chinese, Americans.
VASISHTA: How did you find them?
BROWN: They came through the web presence and the strength of the Sotheby’s name and my reputation. The Australians came to me looking for exclusives. One thing led to another and now they’ve bought numerous properties from me. Forty to fifty percent of my business now comes through referrals through the Sotheby’s International Realty network. I work with a lot of other brokers within our network. It’s not so much a referral as a partnership. Another project I really love and I’ve sold a number of apartments in is 53 W 53rd. 53rd St between 5th & 6th Ave will be the most elegant street in New York City. They have the most sumptuous rooms of any development. It will be the same height of the Eiffel Tower.
VASISHTA: I can’t imagine your cache of buyers would relish the thought of getting into bidding wars or beaten to the punch with property. How do you ensure their money gets them what they want?
BROWN: The sales director allows me first access to many of these developments, so all of my customers are really buying wholesale. After a certain sales point they become retail.
VASISHTA: Any tips for people who will read this and think, ‘I want to do what he does’?
BROWN: For young brokers I would recommend that they create a team for themselves. Have a lawyer, an accountant, an architect and absolutely have a very thick Rolodex of other brokers you work with both in the city and out of the city. I send out 16,000 calendars every single month and it’s all about unique events that are happening in New York. It’s not heavy handed in real estate. So it’s charitable events and things like that. Every day there’s something exciting happening in New York City. Now there are other cities that have jumped on to the calendar bandwagon and so I promote their calendars and they promote mine.
VASISHTA: Does it seem as bizarre to you as perhaps it does to other people that you were considering becoming a priest at one point?
BROWN: People ask me, why aren’t I continuing in the Priesthood, why am I in real estate? Believe it or not, there is a similarity. It’s the intimacy. There are very few industries that you get to see people that close. You see their financials. You see them at their best and you see them at their worst. It’s a gift that I’ve been given to be able to participate in people’s lives.
VASISHTA: Did you ever want to become a developer yourself?
BROWN: I owned a few buildings at one point. There’s a lot of money to be made from it and I got out of it because I had children and my whole focused shifted at that point to being a dad. Now I’m exactly at the place I want to be. My kids are now 18 and 20. I get to travel around the world and have extended family members there, either from the Sotheby’s auction house or realty, so I’m happy.
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