The Real Deal New York

Day in the life of: James Nelson

Cushman & Wakefield’s vice chair on jogging with his rescued mutts, eating unhip lunches and helping Paul Massey run for mayor
By Mark Maurer | February 01, 2017 07:00AM

James Nelson (Photo by Larry Ford)

James Nelson is a vice chair of Cushman & Wakefield, where he runs a 10-broker investment sales team and is marketing about $1 billion in New York City properties. His team handled $963.2 million in deals over the past two years, according to Cushman data. Nelson, 41, grew up in Madison, Wisconsin, and Bethesda, Maryland. He studied English at Colgate University in upstate New York. In 1998, fresh out of school, he joined Massey Knakal Realty Services. He was named a partner there in 2004 and is among the many Massey Knakal alumni working at Cushman after the 2014 merger. One of his biggest deals was Tishman Speyer’s $238 million purchase of the Hudson Spire site in Hudson Yards in 2014. He also brokered the sales of two large Brooklyn development sites at 263-277 South 5th Street and 9 Dekalb Avenue, both slated for new towers from Tavros Development Partners and JDS Development Group, respectively.

5 a.m.   I wake up in Old Greenwich, Connecticut, and start the day running with my two rescued mutts. We go on a quick jog of a two-mile loop near the beach. Unlike me, the dogs get to go back to bed afterward.

5:50 a.m.   I’m on the train. It takes the whole ride to catch up on emails from the night before. I get off at Grand Central and grab a bagel at Zaro’s. I’m not a patient person. So if I see a line at Starbucks, I’m not going to stop in. I’ve heard you can now order the drink on your phone and walk in, but I’m not a technology person either.

6:45 a.m.   I get into the office at 275 Madison Avenue. At least once a week, I hold a meeting with my team for up to an hour and a half. We talk about what listings we’re handling, how we’re conducting business and ways to improve. Sometimes the founder of a new technology platform or a residential broker comes in to speak.

9 a.m.   We try to be religious about “the call hour.” Everyone on the team, myself included, reaches out to active investors, clients and leads.

10 a.m.   We do a lot of valuation work. Every single property we value, we go to for an inspection. If it’s a development site, we can do a drive-by. Owners call me and ask, “What do you think my property is worth? Give me a number off the top of your head.” I really do not do that. I’ll take a property tour, meet with the owner and review the numbers with them. We run the numbers in the office and then meet with the owner again a week later to discuss our findings.

12 p.m.   Twice a week, I go to the gym at the Yale Club and eat lunch there. I do weights and a little cardio. I meet with at least one owner or client a day, and I usually take them here for a chicken Caesar salad or a turkey club. It’s very nice, but it’s not one of the hot, new restaurants. I recently ate with Tom Durels of  Empire State Realty Trust. If I’m meeting with an attorney or architect, I’ll do coffee instead, usually at 2Beans.

1:30 p.m.   I could be going over a listing on the phone with a client. Or I might take a call with one of the nonprofits I’m involved with. I’m on the board of the Catalog for Giving, and I’m chair of the commercial board of directors at REBNY. My wife and I also started a program for disadvantaged college-age students looking for real estate internships called Rising Realty Stars.

2:30 p.m.   We work on deals in our territory: Greenwich Village and the West and East Village. When we sell property outside of those neighborhoods, we bring in the local broker to assist. Of the roughly 40 deals we do in a year, we’ll do 10 in our territory. There used to be a disconnect in values between the West Village and East Village, but it seems like the East Village has caught up. Four years ago, East Village properties were selling for half of what the West Village was, yet the rents were the same.

3:30 p.m.   I go to Cushman’s New York headquarters at 1290 Sixth Avenue once a week. Doug Harmon and Adam Spies’ institutional investment sales team and some other departments are located there. I’m sure one day we’ll all be under one roof. I’ve worked my entire career out of a cubicle. My whole team at 275 Madison is situated within 10 feet, so we’re constantly talking. It’s pretty much like a trading floor. In the old office, Bob and I were on the same floor. Now, he sits directly above me (on another floor) and we’ve joked that we should have a fire pole.

4:30 p.m.   I work about five hours a week on Paul Massey’s campaign for mayor. This is my own personal support. I make calls to spread the word and help raise money. People say something like, “I’ve got an idea to remove some of the traffic congestion in town. Do you think you could bring it to Paul?” I enjoy that strategic thinking. At Massey Knakal, Paul and his management team were obsessed with the five-year plan. I’m very concerned with the direction the city’s going in now because I don’t feel like there’s a vision.

5:30 p.m.   I’ve got a guy who drives me home. This way, I can be on the phone until we pull into my driveway. I need that extra hour at the end of the day to follow up on things or get a contract out.

6:30 p.m.   A big part of my life is getting home for dinner. We have three sons, ages 12, 9 and 6. My wife makes chicken or pasta. I’m not a cook. I can barely boil water, but I’m very good at dishes.

7:30 p.m.   I’m an assistant coach for my middle son’s basketball team at Old Greenwich School, even though I don’t really know how to play basketball; I only did a brief stint in the seventh grade. But I’ve started playing water polo over the past couple months.

9 p.m.   My middle son plays the trumpet, my eldest plays the drums, and I’m trying to get the little guy to play piano. We help the kids with their homework and get them ready for bed, which is definitely all hands on deck. My wife and I are outnumbered. I tell my team, “If you think it’s busy here, you should come to my house.”

9:45 p.m.   I take the dogs out one last time and do some reading. I recently started “The Power Broker.” Robert Moses’ legacy is mind-blowing. I’m 150 pages in. At this rate, it’ll probably take me 10 years to finish it.

10 p.m.   I sleep very well. When I lived in the city, I thought about real estate 24-7. Where we live, we don’t have skyscrapers and I can be focused on the family.