After more than 30 years in the real estate industry, Roberta Benzilio wanted to contribute something else to the world outside her successful career.
She had spent 23 years rising through the ranks to become president of William B. May Company before joining Halstead in 2006 as a director of sales,.
“I really wanted to give back because I’ve had such a successful career and it’s important to do something for other people who may not be as successful.”
It took her five years to rise to the position of executive vice president of Terra Development Marketing.
She has sold hundreds of homes throughout New York and brought dozens of new developments and conversions to market, mentored young guns and counselled veterans. There certainly wasn’t a hole in her life, but there was definitely something missing.
She explained, “I really wanted to give back because I’ve had such a successful career and it’s important to do something for other people who may not be as successful.
“And secondly, my whole life is consumed by real estate 24/7, so I wanted to have another focus where I could accomplish something in a different way.”
Last March, Benzilio co-founded Walk With Us NYC alongside her industry colleagues Stephen McArdle from Brown Harris Stevens and Michael Goodgold from Real Estate Arts as another avenue through which they could help the city’s homeless.
“There are several organizations that help with housing, but when we started to look at how to give back, we found the biggest need that homeless people have are shoes and socks,” Benzilio explained.
Since their founding, they’ve donated more than 1,000 pairs of shoes and socks and have partnered with organizations like Women in Need and companies such as Bombas Socks.
The effort has been the latest an altruistic lifestyle that has seen Benzilio volunteer for charities ranging from the American Cancer Society to the Epilepsy Foundation.
But in starting Walk With Us NYC, she wanted to be more committed to a cause despite the extra work involved. She said Walk With Us NYC brings dignity, comfort and relief to homeless children, women and men and she thrives on being able to pair people who can help with those who need that help.
Matching pairs has been a theme of her career, too. She parlayed an early passion for renovating and restoring brownstones into a real estate license when the same broker who had sold her properties recommended that Benzilio get her real estate license.
A native of New Jersey who earned a degree from the College of New Jersey in psychology and speech pathology, she traded her job in the travel sector for a sales position with William B. May and has never looked back.
From her early days at William B. May to Terra, she’s experienced most aspects of real estate, including residential, commercial, industrial and new development. As for her favorite sector, she favors new development as it’s “a revolving door of new people and projects.”
“You’re involved in the construction and design of the building, then you get to be involved with how it’s going to look, and then helping people find their homes and bringing them happiness,” Benzilio said or pairing a buyer with a new home.
“Each job is like a project where you start from the bottom up and when it’s done, you have great satisfaction with it and then you move onto the next one.”
For Benzilio, the cyclical nature suits her as she’s enjoys working with a different cast of characters each time. In the business of new development, it’s not just her colleagues that constantly change, Benzilio said, there has also been notable evolutions within the new development market and its apartment design and amenity offerings.
“The amenities have gone from very little to way over the top,” Benzilio said. “I think it has to come back to what’s practical and useful and what people really value in their life.”
She stressed that it was the basics that tenants were after, like gyms, kids’ rooms, bike storage, and possibly dog daycares.
Recently though, Benzilio said that pools are becoming more of a desired amenity as well as co-working spaces as a rising number of telecommuters look for live/work space. Most importantly, she said rooftop space is being utilized extremely well.
“Now they’re becoming living spaces with fire pits, movie screens, reflecting pools, kitchens or cabanas,” Benzilio said of roofs. “The roof has become another whole usable luxury space and I find a lot of buyers gravitate towards that.”
As a Terra executive, Benzilio has been involved in major new developments such as 200 Amsterdam Avenue, one of the tallest buildings to come to the Upper West Side at more than 660 feet tall that offers one- to five-bedroom condos, and the 32-story The Vandewater in Morningside Heights with its 183 one- to four-bedroom apartments.
“Buyers appreciated thoughtful well-designed spaces. They don’t have to have large hallways that are wasted space because they’re paying for them.”
Terra also recently launched Vitre at 302 East 96th Street on the Upper East Side that offers a roof terrace and second-floor lounge equipped with a sundeck patio.
Benzilio believes that buyers are becoming more aware of apartment design overall.
“Buyers appreciated thoughtful well-designed spaces,” Benzilio said. “They don’t have to have large hallways that are wasted space because they’re paying for them.”
She said that plans with large windows and high ceilings that allow for light and air always attract tenants.
And she pointed out that trends come and go, but designers should stick with quality finishes that stand the test of time.
And with all the new projects that have been hinted at or are in the development stages, she cautioned buyers that new development takes at least two years to come to market. And once they’re on the market, Benzilio said there will always been an appetite for new development in the city.
“The new development market in New York City has always been steady and strong and it gets absorbed,” she said. “More and more buyers are interested in new development because they want the latest and greatest.”
And while she sees no looming slowdown on her work front, Benzilio hopes that Walk With Us NYC can also enjoy some growth.
She explained, “We are a charity that helps charities that support the impoverished. Shoes and socks are a primary crucial need for many homeless New Yorkers but a logistical nightmare for organizations because of the sheer number of sizes and specifications that they would need to source and house.
“The donations we receive help us source products from our collaborating brands and deliver to inspiring organizations. We are working to grow our network of providing partner companies, as well as the charities aligned with our mission.“
To learn more about Walk With Us NYC, visit www.walkwithusnyc.org. For more information about corporate sponsorships, product donations and cause marketing, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
To donate to Walk with Us and help supply shoes and socks to homeless men, women, and children visit Network for Good.