Day in the life of
The BlackHouse chief talks about Chinese salutations, painting murals and late-night fried chicken
Sean Ludwick is the co-founder and principal at BlackHouse Development, best known for developing the 56-room Hotel Americano in Chelsea in 2011. He said his firm has a portfolio of more than 30 New York City buildings and has developed roughly $500 million worth of real estate projects since launching in 2007. Ludwick — who started out in investment banking and later worked at the Manhattan-based development firm RWO Acquisitions — told TRD that he’s currently a partner on a Hudson Yards hotel-condo tower being developed by Chinese investor Kuafu Properties. Earlier this year, he made headlines when he was accused of entering his ex-girlfriend’s apartment and creating lewd drawings on murals he had painted. Ludwick said the apartment belongs to him. (In April, he pleaded guilty to second-degree harassment, according to the Manhattan district attorney’s office.) Generally the 41-year-old divides his time between Manhattan, the Hamptons and China — where he is often sourcing capital for his New York City projects. When he’s not traveling, he uses a Citi Bike to scope out Manhattan neighborhoods for potential investments.
7:30 a.m. I wake up in my townhouse at Sutton Place and drink green juice. I like to have a lot of ginger.
8 a.m. A tutor comes over twice a week and teaches me how to have informal conversations in Chinese. When I don’t have a lesson, I drive my sons [ages 8 and 10] to school.
9 a.m. I go to the gym. I’ll take either a boxing class or a yoga class. Then I take a shower, check emails and read newspapers.
10 a.m. I arrive at the BlackHouse office [at 520 West 27th Street]. I make phone calls to check in with colleagues and brokers. A lot of my work is finding the deal — researching opportunities, finding partnerships and finding the capital. Then I kick it off to other people to run on a day-to-day basis.
11:30 a.m. I operate and manage an assemblage of multi-family apartment buildings in Northern Manhattan and the Bronx, so I [visit our apartment buildings a couple times a week] to check in. I meet with the property manager to review the progress of renovations. I catch up with the leasing broker because we always have apartments for rent. Multi-family assets are like slow-burning grains. They’re very nutritious, but not very tasty, in that they’re low yield, so … you won’t make more than 8 or 9 percent.
1 p.m. I typically meet with Asian investors for lunch, rather than drinks. Lunch is more of a formal process. It’s a bit more of a ritual. We go to Del Posto, Bondst or the Four Seasons Restaurant’s Pool Room. I usually eat tuna or sashimi with a bowl of white rice. We started another company, Ludwick China LLC, to focus on raising capital throughout China to buy more real estate in Manhattan. The projects are either high-end condos or hotels. These deals have more risk but also a greater return.
2:30 p.m. I meet with my partner Zhao Jin, who runs a Chinese investor network, and we discuss the status of our prospective investors. It’s easy to find investors abroad for Manhattan, less so for Brooklyn, the Bronx and Queens. But those areas have great fundamentals.
4 p.m. I pick up my sons from school, and take my youngest to soccer league or lacrosse practice and my oldest to Asphalt Green for a karate lesson.
6 p.m. I go to dinner and drinks with a realty or mortgage broker, banker or property owner. We get a cocktail on the 18th floor of the Standard Hotel or the roof of Hotel Americano. I often meet with Jordan Roeschlaub of Newmark Grubb Knight Frank, James Nelson of Massey Knakal [Realty Services] and Simon Ziff [of Ackman-Ziff Real Estate Group]. Right now, I’m looking to sell some buildings in the Bronx … There’s a lot of trepidation in the market at the moment because everything is so expensive. People have a lot of fear we’re in another bubble.
9 p.m. After I put my boys to sleep, I paint 10-by-6-foot abstract oil murals in the art studio in my house. I find it very therapeutic. I have painted about 30 of them; several hang in hallways of the buildings I own.
10 p.m. I shift to dealing with China and have several conference calls with investment trusts and vehicles looking to bring money to the U.S. I don’t speak Chinese, but I work with someone at BlackHouse who does. I have spent time in Singapore, Hong Kong and Shanghai. I also have a degree in international affairs from the University of Pennsylvania.
12 a.m. I spend a lot of time watching TV shows such as “Breaking Bad” and “Sons of Anarchy.” In around one week, I watched all 62 episodes of “Breaking Bad.”
1 a.m. I read the Economist magazine, which puts me to sleep nicely. If I’m out, I get fried chicken as a late-night snack at the Blue Ribbon [in the East Village], sometimes with work colleagues or with a girl.