We recently sat down with Alex Saltalamacchia, Senior Managing Director of our Williamsburg office to chat about his past, present, and future in the world of Brooklyn real estate.
Citi Habitats: When did you begin in real estate and what was the path that led you into it?
Alex: I started my real estate career in Williamsburg in 2002. Prior to real estate I was in the insurance field. I grew up in Brooklyn and so did a college friend of mine who was also in the insurance field. We both starting noticing some of the trends in Williamsburg, specifically with the new people who were seeking out Williamsburg for rental properties around the Bedford L stop. In 2002 he took it upon himself to leave the industry and start a real estate endeavor and he asked me if I’d be interested in doing the same. Even though my fiancée (now wife) was not crazy about the idea because I had stability, a guaranteed salary, and a 401K, I decided to jump into it.
Citi Habitats: What was Williamsburg like and how did it go when you jumped into it?
Alex: Luckily it went really well. We were in a place that people really wanted to be and there wasn’t a lot of competition. Not too many people were paying attention to Williamsburg or Brooklyn at the time. We found our niche in the marketplace. We were younger and we were able to connect to the client that was coming over from Manhattan or from other places around the country. It gave us an advantage. We worked very, very hard. Put in very, very long hours, and we started to make the necessary connections in the real estate world with clients who were looking to buy or rent, and the folks who were interested in renting or selling their properties.
Citi Habitats: Was there a learning curve?
Alex: Oh, yeah, you could say that. [Laughter] I mean, each Agent goes through the schooling that’s mandated by the state of New York. A lot of times, you just learn basic essentials, a lot of stuff you’ll never utilize such as information about septic tanks and other things that have to do with the suburbs of New York State but not New York City. But once you actually hit the pavement, you really start to learn. You learn by association. You learn what is working and what isn’t working. You learn how to adjust, which by the way is something you’ll do throughout your career.
What I was able to determine very early on was that this business, like most businesses, is really based on the relationships you form. Instead of looking at each individual person as an opportunity to make money, I thought instead, “Hey, if I build a relationship with this person, yes hopefully I’ll make some money, but also they’ll recommend me to their friends, their colleagues, their peers, et cetera, which will be ten times more rewarding – financially, professionally, personally – than just closing a deal.”
Citi Habitats: Do you have a mission statement or philosophy about how you do real estate?
Alex: Yes but it’s not only specific to real estate. What I often tell the people that work for me is, “Doing the right thing is always the right thing.” I think you can apply that to all different facets of life and certainly all different facets of real estate, no doubt about it. We’re in the hospitality business and it’s a marathon, not a sprint. If you’re in it for the short term and you’re in it just for that individual transaction, then you won’t be in it for very long at all.
Citi Habitats: You’ve gone full circle from 2002 in Williamsburg to now being the Senior Managing Director of the Williamsburg office. How much has Williamsburg changed since you started?
Alex: Oh, dramatically – dramatically. There was a point in time, when we first started, where folks were coming in with very specific requirements: they wanted to between a five-or-six block radius, close to the Bedford L train, and they would not go further than that. If we couldn’t find them a property in that radius, they’d move on or stay where they were. In 2002, folks would rarely consider leaving Manhattan or wherever they were in the world to come to Brooklyn. Fast-forward to 2018, now Brooklyn is a name brand. Back then, it was more of the younger demographic, the artist type, the freelance type. Now, we’re seeing all walks of life. Professionals, CEOs, founders of companies, you name it. People are coming to Williamsburg because they want to be a part of the culture, a part of the buzz.
Citi Habitats: What were the prices like back then compared to now?
Alex: My first deal was a $1,000 rental. If someone called the office today and said, “Hey, I want to be in Williamsburg and I can spend 1,000 bucks,” we’d have a hard time accommodating. Yeah, it was very, very, very different. There was a time when we were selling a one bedroom in new development condominiums for under $400,000. I mean fast forward, height of the market, one bedrooms are trading at a million dollars. One-bedroom apartments now trade upwards of $3,000 – $3,500 depending on the type of property and location.
Citi Habitats: Tell us about your first sale.
Alex: The address was 62 Conselyea Street. The couple were looking at condos in the area and had a budget of about $700,000 for a two bedroom. I recommended they take a look at a townhouse instead of a 2 bed, 2 bath condo. The one I suggested to them was a two family, income generating home with a first floor apartment and an upstairs duplex. They paid $680,000 for it. Fast-forward to 2014 and I was able to sell it for them for over $1.4M. Not bad.
Citi Habitats: When did you realize this would be your long-term career?
Alex: I realized almost as soon as I got into it. I first started seeing the transactions happening, I started meeting the people that were coming through, I was dealing with people who were around my age or not much older, and they were interesting to me. Growing up in Brooklyn, I was meeting people from California, Seattle, overseas. I found that really, really interesting and it was cool to have that connection with some of these folks who were coming from all walks of life. I was immediately drawn to it and, obviously, being able to earn a good living by doing it helped a lot as well.
Citi Habitats: What do you like most about real estate?
Alex: From an Agent perspective, I think it’s all that I just mentioned; you are always meeting super interesting folks. You form relationships because you get very involved with your clients and they really count on you. Helping them find the right home is a very important task to take on. You really have to put yourself in your clients’ shoes and say, “How would I want someone to treat me? How would I want someone to help me find a place?”
As a Sales Director I really like being able to help my team based on my experiences. I enjoy coaching them through the processes, especially the newer Agents that are coming into real estate wet behind the ears and not knowing what to expect. Letting them know I was in their position and that it’s possible to be successful. Back when we started we didn’t have the tools. We didn’t have the resources, we didn’t have the training, and yet we were able to be successful. If you accept the responsibilities of putting yourself out there and being of service, there’s no reason why you should not be successful. I say all the time, “It’s a super easy business,” even though the fail rate is probably 80-85%, but at the end of the day I really believe that if you connect with someone and you’re willing to get yourself out there and do the right thing by them, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be successful.
Citi Habitats: What makes the best Agent or Broker today?
Alex: Someone who’s willing to really be of service to clients. Someone who’s willing to set aside commission. Put the relationship as a priority, the best Agents or Brokers make finding their clients the perfect home a priority. They are flexible, ask a lot of questions, listen, and do not need to do a lot of talking.
Citi Habitats: What has changed the most for you in the real estate business since you started in 2002?
Alex: So many things have changed. The prices, the inventory, the product, the types of people living here, the services – just about everything.
Citi Habitats: Most memorable deals?
Alex: I have a few:
Way back when, Craigslist used to be a viable option for both landlords and renters. I noticed a landlord posted on Craigslist in an attempt to find a renter. I called her, established a relationship, and was lucky enough to rent her home and also sell her loft at 138 Broadway, perhaps my favorite building in Williamsburg.
When I first started my career, the premier loft building was 184 Kent Avenue, located right on the Williamsburg waterfront. The units were super large and the hallways were even larger. We always joked you could start a roller hockey league in the hallways. Many of the lofts had windows that felt like they opened directly onto the river. A few years later, my team and I were hired to consult on the conversion from artist lofts to high end residential lofts – we worked on that project for several years and it became perhaps the highest profile rental building of its time here in Brooklyn. Since the building was sold to Kushner Companies, it has again gone through a transformation as a luxury condo development.
Citi Habitats: Thanks so much for your time, Alex.
Alex: It’s been a pleasure.