Elite Agent - - CONTENTS - Sarah Bell is a in­house fea­tures writer and reg­u­lar con­trib­u­tor to Elite Agent and EPM Mag­a­zines.

IN ONLY FIVE YEARS, the artists turned real es­tate agents at Bo­hemia Re­alty Group of Up­per Man­hat­tan have es­tab­lished dom­i­nant mar­ket share in the world's coolest neigh­bour­hoods. The agency has grown from its two co-founders to over 140 agents, many of whom came to real es­tate from the tribe of artists that de­fine Up­per Man­hat­tan as a global hub for cul­ture, art and fash­ion.

THE WORLDS OF real es­tate and art col­lide at Bo­hemia. The group has carved out a lu­cra­tive niche in the sell­ing and let­ting of res­i­den­tial real es­tate by be­ing au­then­ti­cally, mean­ing­fully and com­mer­cially con­nected to the com­mu­nity of artists that they know bet­ter than any­one. When we asked Bo­hemia’s co-founder Sarah Saltzberg, “Who are Bo­hemia?” the an­swer was sim­ple. “We are Up­town”. By ‘Up­town’ Saltzberg is re­fer­ring to two things.

Firstly, Up­town is a ge­o­graph­i­cal area. Bo­hemia spe­cialises in Up­town, the name given to the New York City neigh­bour­hoods of Up­per Man­hat­tan that lie be­tween 96th Street and 220th. Th­ese are neigh­bour­hoods that star in hit TV shows and movies, the kind that peo­ple write songs about, like Har­lem, Wash­ing­ton Heights, Man­hat­tan Valley and the Up­per West Side.

‘Up­town’ has another mean­ing, as it has long been a cul­tural and artis­tic hub for the world. It is a district that has ac­com­mo­dated artists from all over the globe, cradling and in­spir­ing tal­ent in theatre, mu­sic, fine arts and fash­ion. That le­gacy has given the area its unique soul.

To busi­ness peo­ple, there is no value to be found in ‘soul’ – it is an in­tan­gi­ble concept bet­ter ap­pre­ci­ated by artists and those who seek to un­der­stand the hu­man ex­pe­ri­ence. It seems for­tu­nate, then, that Bo­hemia’s two co-founders were not busi­ness peo­ple but the types of artists and in­tel­lec­tu­als who con­verge on com­mu­ni­ties like Up­per Man­hat­tan. Although a prin­ci­pal agent of Bo­hemia now, Sarah Saltzberg’s first love was the per­form­ing arts.

Saltzberg was liv­ing Up­town, work­ing as an ac­tress and try­ing to get fund­ing for a show she had co-writ­ten for Broad­way. Af­ter a men­tor (Wendy Wasser­stein – the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize) sug­gested that artists had done worse things than sell real es­tate for their art, Saltzberg qual­i­fied for her real es­tate li­cence and set out to find some clients.

“I rang the owner of my own build­ing again and again. Hang-up af­ter hang-up. I finally con­vinced him by say­ing, ‘You want me in th­ese build­ings. I live here. I know this com­mu­nity. I am the peo­ple who want to live in th­ese build­ings’,” Saltzberg re­calls. “Even­tu­ally he [my own land­lord] gave me a shot to rent three apart­ments in the build­ing where I was liv­ing over a week­end and I did it, just out of my per­sonal net­work of peo­ple I knew who were want­ing to move into the city to work as artists.”

This break led to a ma­jor ac­count of over 140 build­ings. The orig­i­nal mis­sion to fund the show was suc­cess­ful too – Saltzberg’s show made it on Broad­way and ran for three years.

While star­ring in the show for two of its three years, Saltzberg be­came more and more drawn to real es­tate for all the rea­sons peo­ple fall in love with the busi­ness. “Ev­ery­one I know gets into real es­tate for the money, but you stay for other things: you stay be­cause you love the art of a deal, or be­cause you en­joy be­ing with peo­ple for the emo­tional jour­ney of trans­act­ing prop­erty, or you want to be a part of a com­mu­nity.”

Saltzberg and her busi­ness part­ner, Jon Good­ell, de­cided to launch Bo­hemia Re­alty Group in 2012, seiz­ing the op­por­tu­nity to cre­ate a firm that in­te­grated with the Up­town com­mu­nity. Bo­hemia has made an im­pact where the tra­di­tional, ho­moge­nous real es­tate busi­nesses had not been able to cap­ture the imag­i­na­tion of the unique Up­town res­i­dents.

The Bo­hemia ap­proach to busi­ness is more about help­ing peo­ple to find en­rich­ment. The web­site ex­plains the Bo­hemian mis­sion: “We have a three-pronged ap­proach to im­prov­ing qual­ity of life: to ser­vice clients in an ef­fi­cient, friendly way; to cre­ate a pos­i­tive work en­vi­ron­ment for our agents and em­ploy­ees; and to en­rich the com­mu­nity above 96th Street.”

When peo­ple and re­la­tion­ships come be­fore the deal, the deal hap­pens and it leads to more deals.

The web­site hosts an in­ter­ac­tive map of the Up­per Man­hat­tan neigh­bour­hoods with in­for­ma­tion about their his­tory, cul­ture and prop­erty as well as in­sider tips on where to eat and how to get around. A hy­per-lo­cal fo­cus is one of Bo­hemia’s great­est de­fences against mar­ket com­peti­tors and the forces of dis­rup­tion.

“We have a site over here [in the United States] called Zil­low.com that gives Zes­ti­mates, which are au­to­mated val­u­a­tions of prop­erty and are no­to­ri­ously un­re­li­able,” said Saltzberg. “In our neigh­bour­hoods, val­ues will change greatly and you have to have lived here and im­mersed your­self to un­der­stand that some­times you have to take it block by block [to un­der­stand chang­ing prop­erty val­ues].”

Bo­hemia’s 120 agents are deeply con­nected to their neigh­bour­hoods, not only un­der­stand­ing the com­mu­nity but also con­tribut­ing to that com­mu­nity in a mean­ing­ful way. “Ninety per cent of our agents live Up­town, and many of them were our clients who started part time and fell in love with real es­tate like I did. Many of the agents own cafes, bars and restau­rants in the neigh­bour­hoods,” says Saltzberg.

Be­ing lo­cal res­i­dents and busi­ness own­ers in the Up­town com­mu­nity po­si­tions the Bo­hemia agents as in­sid­ers, ar­guably the best place to add value to all clients on the prop­erty jour­ney. It also aligns agents with the com­mu­nity and en­cour­ages the in­vest­ment by agents back into their com­mu­nity to con­trib­ute in ways that re­plen­ish the soul of the area, so that it isn’t lost in the wake of de­vel­op­ment and gen­tri­fi­ca­tion.

“As agents we have lim­ited con­trol over the tran­si­tions that oc­cur in our neigh­bour­hoods, but there is a lot that we can do to help make that change re­spon­si­ble,” says Saltzberg. “Our agents are find­ing ways to lead the com­mu­nity by us­ing their tal­ents to en­rich [it] with things like teach­ing a ball­room dance class at NYU, a baby mu­sic class, yoga or a work­out in the park.”

Com­mu­nity lead­er­ship has con­verted to mar­ket lead­er­ship for the team at Bo­hemia, with list­ing sites such as streeteasy.com ver­i­fy­ing their mar­ket dom­i­nance of ex­clu­sive prop­er­ties in Up­per Man­hat­tan.

The peo­ple-first ap­proach to busi­ness is a pow­er­ful take­away from the Bo­hemia ex­am­ple. When peo­ple and re­la­tion­ships come be­fore the deal, the deal hap­pens and it leads to more deals. “What we have found is that if you prove your worth with the port­fo­lio [of land­lord clients], the port­fo­lio stays with you [when it is time to sell],” ex­plains Saltzberg.

Bo­hemia Re­alty Group may be founded on a sim­ple vi­sion of artists serv­ing artists in the com­mu­nity they love. But, Bo­hemia has a recipe that can help all real es­tate busi­nesses to in­te­grate and work with the com­mu­ni­ties they serve: lo­cal with global, hu­man with brand, and peo­ple with profit.

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