By Roland Li
On the first day of March, the venerable Costas Kondylis spoke in Soho. But the setting wasn’t in the halls of academia, or at a high profile groundbreaking. Rather, the room was full of young real estate professionals, who gathered in a semicircle around one of the first so-called starchitects.
Kondylis was pragmatic in some of his advice: the best way to be a successful architect was to make money, because you’re guaranteed to get more work. He has followed that maxim – starting with 279 Central Park West in 1988 – and partnered with some of the largest developers to place an indelible imprint on the skyline of New York.
The group that heard him speak, Specialized Real Estate Investment Group (SREIG), hopes to do the same thing for the social world of the real estate industry. Founded by Justin Stewart and a group of friends in the summer of 2009, it now has around 45 members, including eight women.
SREIG eschews many of the hallmarks of similar social groups: there are no fees to join, and its members often do business, but in a manner that suggests cooperation and partnership, according to Stewart.
“Everyone respected and liked each other enough to work with each other,” he said.
A diverse number of first are represented, from smaller developers such as Benchmark Real Estate Group to big names like Prudential Douglas Elliman and Marcus & Millichap. Members include developers and brokers, but also title attorneys and professionals involved in financing and debt. New members are being added on a referral basis.
The group picks speakers that will expand the minds of its members, rather than just their wallets.
“It’s more of an education – how can I grow from learning this from this person,“ said Stewart. “It’s not just about money.”
However, SREIG has partnered with other companies to finance the events. Each event is at a different location and has a different sponsor.
Although Kondylis wasn’t compensated, Harrah’s Marketing Services Corporation, the owner of Caesars casinos, sponsored the event, providing food, drink and a space at its office at 120 Wooster Street. It also raffled off tickets for a night at its Atlantic City casino.
Julie Halpern, the New York regional director for Harrah’s, said that she met Stewart at a networking event. As a New York agent for Shanghai-based Windham Realty Group, Stewart works with Chinese investors who have their eyes set on American real estate, and like many foreign buyers, they have a taste for condos, for example, at the Extell developments on the Upper West Side, the Related Companies’ portfolio, and the Setai Fifth Avenue.
When the investors travel to Windham’s Las Vegas office and look at properties, Halpern said, they stay at a Caesars building, as part of the company’s strategy to tap into the Asian markets.
Similarly, Halpern said, Caesars started the New York office to expand the company’s presence in Manhattan. Although local laws prevent casinos in the city, the proximity of Atlantic City makes the upper crust of Manhattan a very strong target for casinos.
The partnership between SREIG and Caesars, as well as its other sponsors, is indicative of the transforming social landscape throughout the city. As information overload overtakes traditional forms of marketing, companies are looking for more creative ways of connecting with their target demographics. And in the sometimes stuffy world of real estate events, a group based on relationships, rather than affiliations, might just change the norm.