By Sarah Trefethen
For Norman Bobrow, real estate is a family affair.
“I grew up in a house where we talked real estate morning, noon and night,” he says.
Today, the 60-year-old grandson of Brooklyn developer Isaac Muss, and son of developer Louis Bobrow, maintains a family-like atmosphere in the offices of Norman Bobrow & Company, the 30-broker tenant representation firm he founded in 1980.
Bobrow prides himself on the time he spends mentoring the junior members of his team, and says he never takes a commission for himself when he works with one of his brokers on a deal.
“I’ll work a whole deal with a broker and not take more than the house usually gets,” he says, adding later, “That’s the role of a person who owns a company.”
Bobrow also creates a family of sorts amongst his clients — a family of investors, that is.
While most of his tenant clients lease their space in New York City, Bobrow also invites them to invest in a portfolio of commercial properties he manages outside of the city.
“I asked myself, how do you network with clients?” he says. While a broker may fade from a client’s mind after a deal is done, he said, “if they buy a shopping center, they get a check every month.”
Bobrow and his many partners — who also include “all the widows and orphans in my neighborhood” — own over 100 properties in 22 states. He says that of all the deals he’s arranged, only two have not worked out. They own 300 Wendy’s restaurants, ten office buildings and a number of post offices.
Some of Bobrow’s Manhattan leasing deals have included Perry Ellis’ midtown offices, and 15 leases for the fashion designer Elie Tahari since 1996.
Bobrow also sold Tahari’s building at 510 Fifth Avenue to Vornado for approximately $925 per square foot in 2010. The firm recently relocated three Taiwanese banks and four Korean banks in New York, including SKUSA -SKTelecom, a Korean conglomerate which moved from Fort Lee, N.J. to a 25,000 s/f office condominium at 55 East 59th Street (the former Delmonico Hotel).
A tenant rep to the core, Bobrow is optimistic about the Manhattan office and retail markets, but can’t resist a little grumbling about what he sees as recent greediness on the parts of landlords, including a trend towards recalculating space in a building that seems to always increase loss factors for tenants.
“It’s unbelievable how people have bought buildings and they’ve grown by 100 feet,” he said.
Bobrow started his real estate career in 1971 working for Centex Corporation, a large publicly-held real estate development firm. He moved on to IEC Properties in 1971, and in 1979 he became a vice president at R.B. Schlessinger, a commercial real estate company in Manhattan.
Watching Schlessinger at work gave Bobrow the training he needed to become a successful broker on his own, he says.
Bobrow and his wife Julia live in Jamaica Estates in Queens, in the house they moved into when they were married 30 years ago. The couple has four children and nine grandchildren. Bobrow’s mother lives two blocks away, and he has one son and one son-in-law who work with him in his firm.
Real estate may have been his destiny, but Bobrow studied horticulture in college. He still spends his free time gardening in two greenhouses outside his home.
An enthusiastic philanthropist, he is involved in approximately 100 charities, he said, including Chabad’s Children of Chernobyl, an organization that evacuates children from the radioactive Chernobyl region in Russia and provides them with medical care, new homes, and education in Israel.
Bobrow is dyslexic and he says his experiences growing up with the learning disability have informed his entire life.
“Because I needed help when I was young, and I had the help,” he says he feels inclined to help others.
When it comes to real estate, Bobrow’s attitude is that it’s a tough business, but anyone with the right kind of talent who puts in the effort has a chance to succeed.
“If you have the chemistry, there’s enough business out there for everyone,” he says.