Oren Alexander; A 20-‐Something Power Brokers By LAUREN SCHUKER BLUM
In the luxury real estate market some young brokers are making a name for themselves. Photo: Noah Rabinowitz for The Wall Street Journal In August, broker Oren Alexander shattered real-estate records when he sold the most expensive home on record in Miami, a $47 million estate in Indian Creek. Just a month earlier, he celebrated his 25th birthday. Now, he's marketing two adjacent estates in Alpine, N.J., with a total price tag of $95 million.
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Noah Rabinowitz for The Wall Street Journal Young real-estate agents, like Oren Alexander, are on the rise. "Quite frankly, I'm addicted to my job—the hours, the lifestyle. I love that I get to hang out with wealthiest people in the world and it's considered work," says Mr. Alexander, who says he is currently marketing more than $175 million in property. "Plus, being a broker is entrepreneurial—and entrepreneurship is dominating right now." Mr. Alexander is part of a growing group of well-connected, youthful brokers finding success in the world of high-end real estate. Selling houses has grown more attractive as more traditional options—such as finance and law—have grown more difficult with the downturn. In addition, reality-television shows about real-estate brokers have glamorized the profession, drawing more young, ambitious college grads who see it as a lifelong career rather than a side gig.
Rebecca Greenfield for The Wall Street Journal Twenty-nine-year-old Caroline Bass, above, found fashion personality Tim Gunn a penthouse duplex in Manhattan. "We are seeing more and more young people coming into the mix especially as the job environment has grown tougher," says Yuval Greenblatt, an executive vice president who oversees a team of about 125 brokers at Prudential Douglas Elliman in New York, including Mr. Alexander. "It's pretty hard for young people to get decent-paying jobs, while in real estate you can make $200,000 or $300,000 in the first year or two," he adds, noting that roughly 25% of his team is currently under 30, compared with just 10% five years ago.
Last year, broker Kyle Blackmon, 34, sold former Citigroup Chairman Sanford Weill's penthouse on Central Park to 20-something Russian heiress Ekaterina Rybolovleva for $88 million—the largest residential transactions on record in Manhattan. Also in New York, 29-year-old Caroline Bass found fashion personality Tim Gunn a penthouse duplex on Upper West Side. In 2010, Soly Halabi, a 29-year-old agent who is a junior-college dropout, brokered a deal for Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim to buy a 20,000square-foot mansion across the street from the Metropolitan Museum of Art for $44 million. And this month, Josh Flagg, a 27-year-old broker in Los Angeles who stars on Bravo's reality show "Million Dollar Listing," got the listing for Hollywood producer Gavin Polone's $15.9 million house in Beverly Hills, having just sold a house a few doors down for $6.3 million.
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Noah Rabinowitz for The Wall Street Journal "A decade ago, I didn't know too many kids who said 'I want to be a real-estate agent when I grow up.' Today, I hear that all the time," says Dottie Herman, chief executive of Prudential Douglas Elliman. "Being an agent is a whole different ballgame today—you have to know the financing and the market better because home buying is much bigger part of every American's investing strategy." The National Association of Realtors' Young Professionals Network—primarily a group for younger brokers—has seen its membership swell in recent years to 29,000 today, compared with 18,000 members in 2009. And Ms. Herman says the number of brokers under 30 in her Manhattan office has doubled. Enlarge Image
Noah Rabinowitz for The Wall Street Journal
Oren Alexander is one of the younger brokers at Prudential Douglas Elliman in New York. Enlarge Image
Noah Rabinowitz for The Wall Street Journal Mr. Alexander helped client Jim Ferraro, on the left, buy two penthouses in Manhattan. Many young brokers initially got into the business because of family connections. Mr. Alexander, for example, says he got his real-estate license at a young age—18 years old—because his father was a home builder in Miami and taught him a lot about high-end real estate. "My parents gave me the opportunity to see a lot of luxury real estate, and I really fell in love with the field at an early age," he says. Jared Seligman, a 25-year-old agent in New York, says he has multiple family members in the industry, including an uncle who pushed him to pursue a career selling property. Those family connections have also helped some of these younger brokers kick off their careers—and land high-profile listings. Mr. Alexander's father was one of the partners who developed the estate on Indian Creek that he sold, for example. Mr. Blackmon, who sold Mr. Weill's penthouse, was one of the first buyers in the building, 15 Central Park West, paying $2.8 million for a two-bedroom there in 2005; his mother was the founder and managing director of Farm & Home Advisory for Citigroup Private Bank. A spokeswoman
for Mr. Blackmon's brokerage, Brown Harris Stevens, says Mr. Blackmon met Mr. Weill through another client and "it is purely coincidental that at one time his mother was at Citi." Others landed listings through overlapping social circles. Mr. Seligman says he met a lot of his celebrity clients, which include actors James Franco and Kirsten Dunst, "through mutual friends and just growing up in the city," he says. Ms. Bass met Mr. Gunn when she appeared on his reality show, "Tim Gunn's Guide to Style," in 2008. "He gave me a makeover, and I helped him find an apartment," she says. Meanwhile, buyers and sellers are turning more toward younger brokers who may have a competitive advantage in today's market: technology. Sites that track home sales have made the process more transparent, and digital marketing has become necessary to draw buyers. As digital advertising and social media are rapidly remaking the home-buying process, Internet-savvy brokers are more in demand, and those tend to be younger agents, says Stuart Gabriel, the director of UCLA's Ziman Center for Real Estate and a UCLA professor. "Younger brokers are much more comfortable with digital approaches to selling and marketing homes, like social media, and that not only appeals to the buying public but also gives those younger brokers a substantive advantage over other agents," says Mr. Gabriel. Enlarge Image
Rebecca Greenfield for The Wall Street Journal Young real estate broker Caroline Bass Enlarge Image
Rebecca Greenfield for The Wall Street Journal
Caroline Bass, a broker with Citi Habitats, and her assistant, Delilah Owens, at an apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan Buyers and sellers say that younger brokers can also bring a drive and determination that a more seasoned agent might lack. In 2009, Mr. Alexander brokered a deal for trial lawyer Jim Ferraro to pay $8.2 million for a penthouse apartment in Manhattan's Park Imperial building. Three years later, Mr. Alexander helped Mr. Ferraro purchase the adjacent penthouse for $7.8 million—a deal that is closing this month. "Older brokers are often pretty set in their ways and don't want to change their style, while Oren was really opening to listening to me and to doing different kinds of deals," says Mr. Ferraro. "I knew I was taking a risk with a younger agent, but I also knew that Oren was young, hungry, and had the energy and intelligence to do a great job." Mimi Assanti, who is selling her house in a gated community north of Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles, for $8.8 million, also chose a younger broker when she and her husband decided to list her 8,400-squarefoot home last month. They asked Mr. Flagg, who went to middle and high school with their son, to take on the listing. "A lot of these more mature agents have been there, done that, and don't bring a lot of excitement to the process—it's just another house for them," she says. "But we've seen the energy and excitement Josh brings to his sellers on television—it just exudes from him—and we knew he could bring that to potential buyers." To be sure, the industry isn't getting a total youth makeover. In fact, the median age of real-estate brokers is now 56 years old, up from 52 a decade ago, according to data compiled by the National Association of Realtors. "In the past, most people have come to real estate as a second career, so it has always skewed to the older side," says the Association's spokesman, Walt Molony. And while the most successful agents can make millions each year, many take in far less. The national median income for a real-estate agent in the U.S. is $37,390 on an annual basis, according to Salary.com. Job experts say the sudden interest in real estate has taken hold in part because it's an entrepreneurial profession that students can pursue even when other jobs aren't available. Roberto Angulo, chief executive of AfterCollege, an online-recruiting service for college students, says 63% of graduates surveyed by his company had a hard time finding a job this year. Because unemployment is high among this group, he adds, many college graduates are becoming "more free agents and entrepreneurs, starting companies, working on projects, and going into things like real estate." Another factor in the youth movement in real estate: reality television. Shows about buying, selling and flipping houses proliferated on cable television alongside the housing boom earlier this past decade, which helped popularize real estate as a lucrative profession. Kennon Earl, who stars on HGTV's "Selling LA," says he currently has two interns who got into real estate because of the show and receives dozens of Twitter messages each week from fans wanting to enter the business. "The money and the glamour of being an agent definitely attracted me in the beginning," says Mr. Seligman, who caters to young star clients like designers Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen. "When I first went
into real estate, a lot of people asked me if I was crazy," he recalls. "But I think now it's considered a much more legitimate career, definitely in part because of the shows." Mr. Flagg, a star on Bravo's "Million Dollar Listing," first started selling homes nine years ago midway through his senior year at Beverly Hills High School, closing deals via text message in math class. Since then, he says he has racked up half a billion dollars in sales and that many of his friends are fleeing other careers and starting to join him in the industry. "Most of them don't realize how much work it is, but they're well aware that the payoff is tremendous, in part because they see it on TV," he says. "It's the only business where you can make so much money this quick."