By Orlando Lee Rodriguez
Each morning Richard Bernstein engages in a ritual so key that he leaves his home two hours before he needs to, many times before the sun has crept above the horizon.
The reason? Just so he can understand more of what Beethoven was really trying to say.
“I built a studio in the Graybar building,” said Bernstein, an executive vice chairman at Cassidy Turley and classically-trained pianist. “Every morning I get there at ten [minutes] to six and I play until eight and then I go to work.”
Ironically, on paper, market performance charts mimic the movement of musical notes, and like a Tchaikovsky composition, market movements also shift direction, rarely repeating as they move forward. So it is understandable that Bernstein would be able to recognize market changes, particularly as the brokerage business has become more complex and multifaceted.
“Years back, it was sufficient really just to be informed about supply and then to match a tenants needs to a space, but to analyze little else,” he said. “The business has gotten much more sophisticated and much more specialized.
“Today it is incumbent on a broker to really provide advice which is derived from having an understanding of all these different areas of expertise. It’s really changed tremendously.
“The team I work with is required to provide much more expertise. There is a lot more intellectual firepower and resources that go into what is essentially the same execution cycle,” he said.
Bernstein, the former president of Trammell Crow New York, has seen plenty of changes in the close to 25 years he has spent in the real estate industry. A transition, Bernstein says, was more like an abrupt jump than a smooth segway.
“My family owned an apparel business and I made the decision in the mid-80’s to sell,” he said. “I had a lease that had grown in value in one of the first mid-block Garment Center buildings to re-position itself. When I sold the lease [in 1986], I said, ‘I’m going to go into real estate’.” Bernstein first made an attempt to begin as a small developer, looking for unimproved land and small construction projects, but in 1987, the stock market crashed leaving Bernstein with a choice.
“The staying power to withstand a long period of downtime in the market was something that I couldn’t afford,” he said. “Through some friends, I was able to get some introductions to important people in the commercial real estate business here. In 1989, I accepted my first position in brokerage.”
That position with ESG would be a turning point for Bernstein. With a Bachelor’s degree in Economics from Hofstra University, Bernstein excelled at ESG as the brokerage metamorphosed — like classical music movements — into Insignia/ESG and later CB Richard Ellis.
Bernstein then left to become president of Trammell Crow New York until it was bought by CBRE, when he joined Colliers ABR, which was reborn as Cassidy Turley.
The firm, which was born in 2010, has expanded quickly, picking up 250 brokers on the west coast with the acquisition of Grubb and Ellis’ BT Commercial. Cassidy Turley’s growth in the city has been significant as well, with the New York office now at almost 400 employees and close to 60 brokers.
Bernstein says that although Cassidy Turley has a national footprint, they are essentially smaller in terms of employee head count compared to other large commercial brokerages. He predicts more growth for Cassidy Turley while others slim down.
“I think you are going to see the big firms reduce their brokerage count,” he said. “There has been a lot of consolidation in New York City and there has been fee compression. [They] will have a slightly lower headcount and people like us will be expanding. We’ll increase our head count so we have enough scale in a huge market.”
But because of that fee compression, Cassidy Turley’s expansion will mean that competition for brokerage positions will come down to a battle between the best and the brightest with required areas of expertise.
And for Bernstein, there is a connection between practicing your craft and performance on the big stage. He says understanding the market and your client’s needs is like understanding a great composer before you start to play.
“To me, providing good, sound, smart real estate advice in large part reflects really an understanding of the client,” he said. “Like, what’s making the publishing industry tick today as opposed to 10 years ago when digital media wasn’t available? You really have to understand what a business has and how it’s thinking. It’s [like] the difference between understanding music theory and understanding what a composer is trying to say.
“Where was the genius in Beethoven? What is so special about the late sonatas compared to his earlier work? If you understand that, you understand it theoretically and in the context of how music was evolving,” he said.