If Gordon Gekko stepped out of the 1987 film “Wall Street” and into today’s New York real estate market, he might look like Michael Shvo. The character played by Michael Douglas often touted the sheer thrill of dominating the deal any deal and became the fictional personification of the heady days of the late 1980s stock market.
Shvo, founder and CEO of his eponymous firm, could be considered the embodiment of the still-booming New York housing market.
Reviled by some and admired by others, barely into his thirties and less than a decade into real estate, Shvo, formerly a top producer at Douglas Elliman, is head of a year-old company that’s marketed luxury condos such as the Lumiere and Bryant Park Tower, and paired noted architects with developers. The controversial marketer said his edge is bucking conventional wisdom when it comes to understanding buyers, especially younger ones.
The Real Deal recently sat down for a chat with Shvo as part of our regular podcast series. The entire interview can be heard under the “Audio Interviews” section of the Web site.
THE REAL DEAL: How do you market projects differently than your competitors?
SHVO: We look at real estate as a luxury brand. I’m not selling four walls. What we do is probably 20 percent real estate, 80 percent branding and marketing. Real estate to me today is a complete luxury brand. I’m marketing real estate the same way that Gucci is marketing their sunglasses, Chanel is marketing their perfume, the same way that Ferrari is marketing their new F430. Our whole idea is not to market real estate as another piece of real estate.
TRD: Where do you draw your employees from?
SHVO: A lot of people I’ve hired are not real estate people. I bring in a lot of people from fashion companies, people from investment banking, some people from other marketing companies. Right now, we have over 50 people working here. We are not a brokerage company that’s something that most people know or don’t know.
TRD: This is sort of the requisite question to be asked: Do you think there’s a housing bubble above the New York market?
SHVO: The people that have created the bubble is the press. If you look at the fundamentals of the market, there is no real reason for the market to go the other way. I still don’t think that the supply is going to overdo the demand in New York. If you think of the fundamentals of the housing market in New York, there are just over 2 million residential units in the city. There are 65,000 condo units. The proportions are so wrong between the two numbers.
But if we are going to see the press continually write negative articles and talk about the bubble and say that there is a bubble, eventually they will be able to get into people’s heads and change their mood. Because people today are not only buying because they necessarily need housing, they are buying because they are in the mood.
[However], I do believe that a year from now and you have this on tape you are going to see products sit on the market. It doesn’t mean that the market is going to go down. But today people are buying like herds. Right now, there is very little inventory still, so they are buying what’s out there. The minute that you are going to want to live in Chelsea, and there are eight buildings and you can go to eight sales offices, you are going to be able to decide where you want to live, and the market is not going to decide for you where you’re going to live.
TRD: Are you doing any new developments in Queens?
SHVO: We’re working on two towers right now in Flushing two high-rises. We’re talking about probably the tallest buildings in Queens today. The marketing for that crowd is similar to how you’d be marketing in the city, you just have to understand the needs of those buyers.
TRD: How do you market your company?
SHVO: I think that our reputation is out there already, that we are the innovators of the business. What you are going to see from us, you’re not going to see from anyone else.
I always say, it’s like asking Picasso to draw. You don’t ask him to draw, it comes to you. I was the first one to put refrigerators in lobbies for Fresh Direct. We put hot tubs on the roof for the Lumiere. People are copying that now. What really makes me happy is to see that we are a trendsetter. That’s why you are never going to see me do the same thing twice.
TRD: Was [the marketing slogan] “Let’s Shvo” your idea?
SHVO: Yes. The great thing about it, and what satisfies me the most, is that people walk into my office or walk up to me on the street and say to me, “Let’s Shvo.” People email it to me. Instead of saying, “Let’s do a deal,” they’ll say, “Let’s Shvo.”
TRD: Can you give me an idea of the compensation you get? Even estimates.
SHVO: Even estimates? Wow. That’s a ballsy question. Since you’re not the IRS, and you’re not my wife that I don’t have, I don’t think so.
TRD: How many apartments do you personally own in New York?
SHVO: That’s a good question, and funnily enough, in New York magazine, I said approximately 30, but I don’t remember how many, and [Corcoran CEO] Pam Liebman very nicely said, ‘how can he not know how many apartments he has?’
I’ve had up to 40 apartments, as low as 20 apartments, and probably right now in the middle we just sold eight different apartments and bought three more. We see something I like, we buy it. It’s just a passion.
In all the developments I’m involved in, I buy at least one or two apartments. The reason I can’t always tell you exactly how many is that I have someone here that gets a salary just to buy and sell apartments for me.
TRD: When you get to the end of your career in real estate, what do you want people to say about you?
SHVO: That’s a very heavy question. I don’t know how I’m ever going to be able to retire because I love what I do. This is my life. When people say I have no life, they just don’t know what they are talking about, because this is my life. There is nothing I enjoy doing more. I don’t have to do what I do. I’ve made enough money.