The Real Deal New York

Elliman’s Florida CEO on her nine new offices and what’s up with buyers

By Melanie Gray | May 01, 2013 07:00AM

Vanessa Grout

Vanessa Grout was a Miamian living and working in the heart of Manhattan when she got the call to head Douglas Elliman Real Estate’s Florida operation.

Grout didn’t have to think about the offer long. She knew the brokerage from her job as a vice president of its parent company, Vector Group Ltd. She knew her hometown, of course. And she knew real estate would give her the chance to use both her MBA from New York University and her law degree from St. Thomas University.

“It is a natural fit for me — I get to use my legal background and my background in finance just about every day,” Grout, who still holds her title with Vector, said. “Real estate is such a vibrant industry — you get to work at the intersection of architecture and design, the economy and popular culture.”

Since coming on board in 2010, Grout has opened nine offices across Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties as well as a development division, which is the exclusive marketer for Ian Schrager’s Residences at the Miami Beach Edition, Alan Faena’s Faena House and Palau at Sunset Harbour.

That Grout has accomplished so much at such a young age — 34 — fascinates industry insiders and outside observers alike — something that she herself finds perfectly understandable.

“Opinion on age is so relative!” Grout wrote. “I’ve been pretty focused all of my life on expanding my knowledge both through formal education and by looking to role models for guidance.”

Now, here are a few thoughts that Grout shared about the Miami and Manhattan real estate worlds and what’s happening with the South Florida market:

How are New York brokers different from Miami brokers?

New York creates the most competitive environment on the planet for brokers. The cost of living is sky-high and there are really talented people everywhere, so everyone is trying to stay one step ahead. By comparison, Miami is less economically challenging, and the lifestyle can be distracting for some. But, the best brokers in Miami have intense drive and passion — they stay focused even when the beaches and clubs are tempting.

Where are the next areas that you’re looking at to open up offices? And what’s your timetable?

We plan to expand [more] throughout Florida’s Palm Beach County in the near future.

In March, you opened an office in Aventura. What opportunities do you see there?

Many of the residents of Aventura and Sunny Isles are originally from the northeast, so they have a historic connection to Douglas Elliman. It was a logical move for us because we want to continue serving them.

A single-family home sold for $47 million and a condo sold for $34 million, both breaking records for Miami. Will we see new price records soon?

In fact, Douglas Elliman was a broker on both of those sales. And yes, I think we will continue to see new records set as demand drivers like cash, foreign interest and low interest rates continue.

Do such high prices concern you?

I find record-breaking prices encouraging. Unlike the last cycle, our market today is not credit-driven. While an eventual reset is probably inevitable, we believe that our buyers today will have far more staying power owning an unlevered asset than buyers before.

What’s the biggest change as far as buyers?

There is a major wave of luxury buyers coming from New York City. Even if there’s a market correction, I think this is going to be one of those permanent trends.

Are Americans willing to adapt the pay-as-you-go model that South Americans are?

Buyers will pay incrementally if they are comfortable with the developer and the project. It’s not a credit-driven market — financing can be found later. We do employ this method [with Americans] and continue to see success in sales.

What is the most surprising thing about the South Florida market now?

That inventory was absorbed so fast and condo development is returning, despite some projects not even being sufficiently capitalized.

What is the most troubling thing?

I’ve been hearing some rumors about the return of no-money-down condo financing. Now that, if it is true, which I don’t think it is, would be troubling!