By Holly Dutton
Like a lot of people in the industry, investment sales specialist David Robinov got his earliest lessons in real estate through playing Monopoly as a kid.
But Robinov’s father, Gil Robinov, a commercial leasing broker, took it to the next level.
“If he landed on one of your properties, he would say ‘I don’t owe you any money, because I actually own the land underneath it, it’s a ground lease,’” said Robinov.
“If you were running low on money, instead of just wiping you out, he would create a joint venture where he’d let you stay in business, but you had to give him all your money. He’d sort of keep you alive like a JV partner, where you were the poor developer and he was the one with all the money, and he was sort of in partnership with you.”
Gil Robinov is executive managing director of an international advisory group at Murray Hill Properties, where he works with global clients and specializes in buying office space and buildings around the United Nations in Midtown East.
“I’ve always tried to make my career one where we don’t overlap,” said Robinov, who joined the ranks of real estate advisory firm Ackman Ziff last year with a remit to grow its investment sales business. “My father’s always done leasing, I’ve always done sales and finance.”
Besides learning the ins and outs of real estate early on through Monopoly, Robinov’s father taught his son that real estate is all about personal connections.
“It’s all about personality and people,” he said. “You’re dealing with real estate, but you’re really just in a people position; you’re making deals and making connections.”
“After a while, buildings are just buildings, but people are what makes the buildings and the business interesting.” A native of White Plains, Robinov attended the University of Pennsylvania as an engineering major. He ended up graduating with a degree in civil engineering as well as a degree in real estate finance from Wharton.
He started his career at Eastdil Secured, where he become involved with the development of the Westchester Mall in his hometown of White Plains, one of the projects he is most proud of in his career.
“I got to see that from the ground up all the way through to the official opening,” said Robinov. “I kind of fell in love with retail as opposed to hotels or offices.”
“It was in a part of the city that was really neglected, it was a vacant department store. The new building created something of value, it created jobs and created revenue. it also created a place where people could get together,” he said. “I feel like it really added to the community, it wasn’t just selling a property.”
In the 20 years he spent as Eastdil, he continued to do office building sales, but also began to amass retail deals. By the time he left in 2008, almost all of his deals were sales and financing of large retail projects.
Robinov joined Acadia in 2009 to help complete acquisitions, looking to acquire distressed properties after the economic crash, but was surprised by the lack of distressed real estate there was to purchase.
“The banks held on to a lot and gave borrowers more time,” he said. “It worked well for the banks, but not nearly as well for the people who had raised money for acquisitions and were looking to acquire distressed properties.”
Last year, Robinov decided he wanted to return to being a broker, and reacquainted himself with Simon Ziff, whom he’d known for most of his real estate career.
“His company’s a best in class boutique for fundraising; debt, joint venture, equity, mezz; but they’ve never done sales,” he said. “So I joined there to grow a sales platform.”
Since joining Ackman-Ziff, Robinov has done a number of joint venture assignments where he brought equity to a client as well as debt.
Robinov, who lives with his wife and two teenage sons in Stamford, feels most passionate about creating projects that are meaningful to the community.
“I really hope to do more value-add deals,” said Robinov. “Not value-add in the sense of taking a broken piece of property and fixing it, but something that gets sold or renovated that contributes back to the community, whether it’s creating jobs, renovating a part of town, bringing retail to a part of a city that’s under-retailed.
“There’s such a transformation of a lot of cities right now, back to building urban cores, and retail can be a catalyst for that.”
Robinov, who spoke to Real Estate Weekly on Sunday night in Las Vegas, predicted that the first day on the leasing floor at REcon would be “like Woodstock indoors.”
“Three years ago when the conference was at it’s absolute doldrums, there was still a pulse,” said Robinov. “But it’s going to be just crazy, just bedlam.
“There’s always a crazy amount of energy here, one, because it’s Vegas; two, because you’ve got a room full of real estate people who, by nature, especially developers, are always just a little bit high on life. They’re always drinking the Kool-aid. I think some of the optimism is warranted.”