The term “rising stars” is a buzzword for a lot of industries. But most of the players in the real estate industry will argue that, with the fierce competitive nature of our business, coupled with a slew of smart, hardworking people, perhaps it’s a more significant accomplishment to shine here than almost anywhere.
By Beverly Bidney
There may not be red carpeting or golden statuettes involved, but Miami Agent has identified several people and firms who are proving to be as significant to the Miami real estate community as the Oscars are to Hollywood. These rising stars of real estate have a business brilliance that is palpable.
Architects/Designers: It would be hard to imagine Miami without the contributions of talented architects and designers who are the arbiters of refinement, gurus of style and trendsetters for the rest of us.
Realtors: Hardworking Realtors present our community’s best face every day to a wide variety of clients. They are the front-line ambassadors who know the city intimately and promote it enthusiastically.
Realty Industry Companies: These firms provide a resource for buyers, but often they go above and beyond basic expectations. These companies stand out for their distinctive approach to real estate and the markets they serve.
Developers: These stars have always played a prominent role in Florida. Developers view the market very differently, adding their vision to the exciting community Miami has become.
Neighborhoods: Like any world-class city, Miami is a lot more than what appears on postcards or the slick pages of fashion magazines. Finding unique neighborhoods is one of the joys of living in a sophisticated metropolitan area, so we have focused on these up-and-coming areas.
We expect these rising stars to shine brightly for a long time to come. Read on to learn who is impacting Miami’s real estate industry.
Eric Jassin doesn’t fit the classic mold of an architect. At the age of 30, he already is a 10-year veteran. As an architect with Adache Group Architects, Jassin is involved in some of the highest profile projects in the state, including InterContinental Palazzo del Lago in Orlando, the world’s largest InterContinental hotel; Infinity at Brickell; W Fort Lauderdale Hotel & Residences and the renovation of the Delano Hotel on Miami Beach, where he also is the developer’s representative.
While still an architecture student at the University of Miami, Jassin began an internship with Kobi Karp. The internship led to a job, where he remained for four years.
“Kobi was an incredible mentor,” he says. “It was like basic training in architecture. Sunny Isles was experiencing growth like never before, and I was in the center of it.”
That experience taught Jassin the art of being diplomatic and aggressive at the same time, a skill that serves him well as project manager. His passion for architecture and dedication to the job convey a maturity beyond his years.
What sets this young star apart is his single-minded focus on coordinating every aspect of a project and examining all the details from every conceivable angle. By communicating effectively with the entire team, ensuring a high quality of work and making sure things are done properly, he has proven himself a valuable asset. The feeling of accomplishment he feels when a job is complete, on time and within budget puts a smile on Jassin’s face every time.
“I like to think I play offense and defense,” he says. “I’m that all-around player.”
Stephen Lasker, owner of Edge Design Intelligence, is a design guru who can create a remarkable environment on any budget. It is the way he does it that sets Lasker apart: He has devised a checklist to help customers determine what they want in their homes based on style instead of price. Intended for new owners or renters, the checklist is a valuable tool for both the designer and the resident.
The checklist offers upgrade packages to buyers and renters and includes flooring, window treatments, furniture, bedding, accessories and electronics. Lasker and his team spent six months researching the latest trends and can design a space for budgets as varied as $5,000 to $50,000.
“The upgrade packages are for customers who don’t have the time or inclination to design their space,” says Lasker. “Our designs include pieces that range from IKEA to Philippe Stark to Marcel Wanders of Moooi. We are the creative directors and designers for homes.”
When Lasker works with clients, his first concern is aesthetics. Using the checklist is a tool helps them determine the budget together.
“We aren’t limited to high-end design,” he notes. “We are prepared to look for bargains that make sense. I know if I was the client, I’d like to be treated that way.”
Thinking outside the proverbial box is the norm for Lasker and his design team, who work with top designers worldwide. In addition, he boasts a strong “European” work ethic and has a diligent respect for schedules. If a contractor tells a client he’ll be there at 10 a.m., Lasker makes sure he is there on time.
Javier Sanjuanbenito is the visionary who brought CASADECOR to Miami last year and will be doing it again in November. The groundbreaking design event featured 44 designers who showcased their styles in a room designed specifically for CASADECOR. The public was invited to the six-week exhibition in the historic Miami Women’s Club, where they perused the rooms and met with the designers.
“I meet many of the participants who are still getting jobs from their exposure at CASADECOR’06,” says Sanjuanbenito. “What we have done is really working. It’s my greatest satisfaction.”
Sanjuanbenito is an entrepreneur who saw a niche in the market and a need for designers to show their work to the public. The event became a network for customers, designers and vendors. His background is as varied as the designs that were on display at CASADECOR’06; he has created numerous companies during his career.
Van magazine, first published in 1995, was Sanjuanbenito’s first venture. The magazine, which is still published in Spain, is the Spanish version of Interview magazine and focuses on upcoming artists and stars. Sanjuanbenito developed an Internet software company, eUSA Networks, in the 1990s, as well as buildings in Spain.
Today, Sanjuanbenito is focused on CASADECOR’07, which will be held Nov. 8 to Dec. 16 and will feature 30,000 square feet of space that will be transformed into individual design rooms.
When Jeffery Christo, principal of Miami International Developers LLC, looked at North Beach, he saw more than a neighborhood of older rental buildings that hadn’t seen improvements in decades. Rather, he saw a diamond in the rough.
When he looked at the new construction market on Miami Beach, he saw more than enough condominiums and townhomes starting at $700,000. He saw an opportunity to fill a niche for young professionals and families by building mid-range-priced townhomes. The result is Nobe Modern, a group of four new buildings comprising 33 two- and three-bedroom townhomes with garages and private yards, priced from $400,000.
“We realized there is nothing else like it on the market in this price range,” says Christo. “We want to bring back younger people who want to live on the beach but have been priced out of the market.”
What sets Christo apart is his decision to build all four buildings at once, demonstrating a commitment to the rebirth of the neighborhood. The family friendly neighborhood, which is only four blocks from the beach, is ripe for a renaissance. The older rental buildings are small with electrical and plumbing issues, but Christo believes it is important to keep the character of the neighborhood intact.
“The neighborhood is tucked away, but it’s a hidden jewel,” he says. “Everything anyone could want is right there within walking distance. Being able to see what you envision and follow it through without swaying from the goal has been my greatest satisfaction.”
Yizhak Toledano founded Aventura-based Sky Development in 2004 and has grown the company to a $260 million real estate development firm, a sizable accomplishment considering he moved to the United States from Israel only seven years ago.
To understand how he achieved his success, one merely has to examine his early years. Toledano began his career in general contracting under his father’s tutelage; his family built thousands of affordable housing units for the Israeli government. When he moved to the U.S. in 2000, he worked as a mortgage banker before going off on his own and pursuing the acquisition and development side of the industry.
In addition to setting the strategic direction of the company, Toledano’s strength is his ability to identify profitable investment opportunities. His negotiating skills with buyers, sellers, financing institutions and other real estate professionals add to his overall success.
A dynamic individual, Toledano brings a vitality and spirit often found in driven entrepreneurs from challenging business environments abroad.
Oscar Rodriguez, senior VP of development and head of the Attainable Housing Division at The Related Group, is helping to redefine urban living in downtown Miami. With the affordably priced loft condominiums, Rodriguez is making the urban lifestyle available to more than just the affluent.
The lack of workforce housing in urban areas is an ongoing issue in Miami and other cities around the nation. Commuting to and from the suburbs puts a strain on resources and takes a significant human toll. The four downtown Miami Loft projects, which are conveniently located near Metromover stations, were designed specifically to alleviate the problem.
“Our goal is to give the city back to its workforce through affordable and desirable homes,” says Rodriguez. “By bringing people into downtown to work and live, we are able to sustain jobs needed to make the city a true urban destination.”
Rodriguez works with employment centers, and municipal and county governments to promote the properties. The attractively priced units fill a need and sell quickly.
“For Miami to blossom into a world-class city, and I believe it will, the downtown renaissance has to include residents of all income levels, ages and professional backgrounds,” says Rodriguez. “Look at the residents of any vibrant city in the world, and you will find the people living there are those who work in the executive suites, their mid-level managers and their secretaries. Having an economically diverse population gives a city its character and its identity.”
With his philosophy on urban living and passion to make Miami all it has the potential to be, Rodriguez is clearly a trendsetter whose star is rising.
The Health District
Poised to become one of Miami’s vibrant new neighborhoods, the Health District is a logical place for residential development, considering about 30,000 people work at hospitals, government agencies, the courthouse and the medical school there. About 20 percent of the Miami-Dade workforce is employed in the district, which was formerly known as the Civic Center.
The Health District’s location, bordered by NW 20th Street to the north, S.R. 836 to the south, I-95 on the east and 17th Avenue on the west, makes it easily accessible to Downtown, Brickell, the beaches and the airport. The centerpiece of the area is the University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine, which is well on its way to becoming one of the world’s greatest medical research universities. The university is planning 3 million square feet of new state-of-the-art health care, fitness and research facilities within the next decade, which will attract even more workers to the area.
The medical school has already opened a 336,000-square-foot clinical research building and a 60,000-square-foot wellness center. A 182,000-square-foot biomedical research institute is under construction.
To meet the need for living space, about 7,500 residences are planned for the area, many of which will be geared toward middle-income households. To date, $174 million in new projects is underway with another $600 million in the planning stages. The Health District will boast beautiful streetscapes, a shuttle system to allow residents to leave their cars at home and a lively retail and restaurant component.
Wynwood Art District/Midtown
Imagine Soho in its earliest days, combined with big-box, mass-market shopping convenience and brand new condominium projects, and you have the up-and-coming Wynwood Art District/Midtown Miami.
Located between I-395 to the south, I-195 to the north, I-95 to the west and Biscayne Bay to the east, the district has two distinct personalities. The Wynwood Art District, chock full of warehouse-space art galleries, art studios, collections, alternative art spaces and a few private art museums, was an important component of Art Basel last spring.
The Midtown Miami area, when complete, will encompass 600,000 square feet of retail space and 3,000 condominiums. The project already is transforming the neighborhood into a vibrant urban center destined to become one of the most dynamic locations in Miami. A few of the stores, including Target and Circuit City, are open.
But the soul of the district lies in its artistic history, which began in the 1980s with the Bakehouse Art Complex, an artists’ cooperative. Other artists, galleries and studios followed, and soon the Wynwood Art District association was formed, which organizes gallery walks and other art events. Like South Beach of the 1980s, it is an interesting, multicultural neighborhood.
With the advent of the new condominium developments, the goal will be to keep the character of the arts district while bringing the convenience of a modern urban lifestyle to fruition. Plans call for wide sidewalks, cafes and parking garages along with abundant gallery space. Striking the right balance appears to be an achievable goal.
Perched like a jewel on the edge of Biscayne Bay, Miami is a world-class city in the making. Widely known as a hotbed of hipness, Miami has an incredibly promising Downtown with an ability to be an area that caters to people from all walks of life.
Downtown is a business center that merges a fast-paced, urban lifestyle with the more laid-back, sub-tropical vibe. People are drawn to views of the glistening waters of the bay, the sophisticated nightlife and the excitement of the city. The popularity of Downtown has grown enormously during the last few years, sparking a boom of new residential construction.
Today the skyline is jungle of construction cranes. As the gleaming, high-rise condominiums take their places, residents will bring energy to the city befitting its Magic City moniker. There is something for every budget downtown, from the most luxurious penthouse imaginable to affordable loft buildings conveniently located near the MetroMover.
To be a truly world-class city, Downtown Miami should be a vibrant, 24-hour metropolis where every need is within walking distance. Demographically, the city should be mixed with people of all income levels. Miami’s menu of cultural activities is vast, including art, museums, music, theater, sporting events, shopping and dining. With all it has to offer, Downtown Miami is primed to attract people from all walks of life: young professionals, established executives, weekender Baby Boomers and the working class.
Yet, with all its growth and residential renaissance, Downtown Miami retains its own unique identity. While many metropolitan cities can say they have culture, entertainment and business, few can claim they have beautiful beaches and a dynamic rhythm.
As a New Yorker, Perci Pietro doesn’t see Miami like a native and has created a real estate firm to support his vision of the Magic City. World Real Estate Exchange, the result of his global viewpoint, is an international brokerage with affiliate brokers in Istanbul, Dubai, Brazil and the Bahamas.
“We aren’t limited to what we can do,” says Pietro. “We tap into other markets. When you deal on a global level, the sky’s the limit.”
With the firm belief that future success will belong to those firms that are willing to expand into the international arena, Pietro’s company pursues buyers from other areas of the United States, as well as overseas in Europe, Russia and Latin America.
“People around the world still want to invest in Miami,” he says. “This is the American Riviera; you have the ocean and the weather, and it’s a little jewel down here.”
Pietro also has carved out a niche with condominium developers in South Florida, to which he commits to large blocks of units. The developer offers incentives, which Pietro, in turn, gives to his clients. When the market is down, the clients get a good deal on a unit and the developer sells inventory.
“When the market turns down, you don’t just run to the hills,” he says. “It’s a time to look for deals, because when the market turns around, you’ll have a great investment to sell or hold onto.”
This dual approach to real estate sets Pietro apart from the pack in the ever-changing Miami real estate market.
Mayi de la Vega
Mayi de la Vega, principal of the Stewart de la Vega Group in Coral Gables, believes the key to her success is nurturing relationships with clients. With her specialty in the high-end, luxury, single-family home market, de la Vega works with a sophisticated clientele.
“I try to do the best for my clients, but it’s more than just selling them a house,” says de la Vega. “It’s all about truly having their best interest at heart.”
Clients can perceive sincerity, so de la Vega is always up front with them while she guides them into their dream homes. Knowing the marketplace, the inventory and maintaining good relationships in the community helps de la Vega do her job with panache.
Trust plays a huge part in any successful client-broker relationship, and de la Vega prides herself on her integrity with clients. Knowing something about human psychology helps her understand the root reasons why clients may react to features in a home positively or negatively. Using that skill allows her to assist her clients through any emotional detours that may crop up.
It is clear de la Vega has mastered the art of human relations and real estate sales and her long list of satisfied customers is a testament to her skills.
“The greatest compliment is when a client refers me to a friend years after the sale,” she says. “When someone is completely happy in their home, it gives me great satisfaction.”
Jeff Barton, an associate with International Sales Group (ISG), was recently named Rookie of the Year. In his first year, he learned the importance of technology, which is essential in his specialty of luxury residential pre-construction sales for projects such as Trump Ocean Club in Panama.
“Although I’m based in Miami, about half of our customers are from outside the U.S.,” Barton explained. “I learned the tools of technology-based real estate sales in a hurry.”
In Barton’s world, time is of the essence. Most purchasers are very excited when they first learn about the project, so getting information to them quickly is the key to his success. To do that, the Internet is his virtual office. Long-distance purchasers want to get as much information as they can from a Web site, so Barton makes sure interactive features, including floor plans, virtual tours and views from the building, are prominent and accurate. He also makes sure to respond to inquiries quickly, often within minutes, with a telephone call or an email.
“The fact is, purchasers today can see more properties in a matter of minutes than they could in a week of visiting sales centers in person,” he says. “This creates a lot of competition between communities on the market as well as between purchasers looking for the perfect unit.”
The Internet has downscaled the world and delivered an enormous number of international buyers to the project, allowing Barton to complete sales quicker than ever before. But the basic tenets of real estate, including building relationships with potential clients and the value of hard work, are as important as ever.
“The more you put into the job, the more you get out of it,” he says.
Realty Industry Companies:
Alterra Capital Group
Giving back to the community where they have prospered has become so important to the founders of the Alterra Capital Group that they have launched their own charity to accomplish their goals. Matt Papunen, Matthew Wanderer and Adam Singer, principals of the real estate investment company, along with business associate Rob Sena, are creating a buzz in the community as successful, young entrepreneurs and as pillars of the community.
The group, all under age 40, have launched Spotlight Charity, a local organization that promotes philanthropic activity within their peer group. The organization is operated and managed by the business associates, who have convinced family members and friends to serve as volunteers.
In lieu of contributing some of the company’s profits and personal wealth to one designated charity, they select a new 501(c)3 every six months to “spotlight” and bring together friends and colleagues in a formal setting to raise awareness and contributions.
“We wanted to leverage our company and business network as platforms to raise awareness about worthy local causes and provide hands-on support,” explains Singer. “It’s quite rewarding to be able to help organizations and inspire young professionals to get involved at the same time.”
The group recently hosted a spotlight of Project Sunshine, raising more than $20,000 for the nonprofit organization that provides free social, educational and recreational programs to children and families affected by medical challenges. Their latest endeavor spotlighted the Boys & Girls Clubs of Miami-Dade Hank Kline Club. The group of spotlight volunteers completed a cosmetic renovation of the facility by upgrading the landscaping, paint, signage and walkways in conjunction with Hands On Miami.
A provider of multifamily real estate investment and management services specializing in acquiring and repositioning distressed properties, Alterra has a $70-million-plus portfolio comprised primarily of properties in Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee. Alterra currently owns 1,500 units across the United States, with a goal to grow the portfolio to 10,000 units by the end of 2008.
Affinity International Realty
Proving that the whole is more than the sum of its parts, Samuel Strauch and Alexander Sherman made a smart decision when they merged their $1 billion of sales experience to form Affinity International. The Brickell Avenue-based, full-service real estate brokerage firm specializes in luxury, residential, commercial, pre-construction and investment properties in Florida, Las Vegas and Panama.
These successful real estate pros were at the top of their game, but those at the top always enjoy a challenge. With that in mind, they wanted to see how they could parlay their individual successes into something more. Thus, Affinity was born and is exceeding all their expectations. The key to their success was the decision to focus their marketing efforts primarily in Panama.
The country has emerged as one of this hemisphere’s most vibrant economies, and Affinity has emerged as one of its leading real estate specialists, fueling its growth with every successful sale. In a mere three months, the firm sold out four high-rise condominium properties. Affinity works exclusively with Panama’s leading developers on some of the country’s most visible projects.
“With our extensive experience in Panama, we are the leading authority in terms of knowledge, resources, implementation and execution of real estate projects in that country,” says Sherman. “Our reach is both domestic and international, so we are able to get buyers from around the globe.”
Americans account for two-thirds of all foreign resident visas. Panama makes retirement easy with a variety of programs, including tax breaks, designed to make living in the country economically viable. With its considerable knowledge and experience, Affinity has considerable expertise for purchasers interested in Panama real estate.
Affinity International Realty
Alterra Capital Group
International Sales Group
Miami International Developers
Mayi de la Vega
Stewart de la Vega Group
Adache Group Architects
Edge Design Intelligence
World Real Estate Exchange
The Related Group