Burt Minkoff, senior director of luxury sales at Douglas Elliman Real Estate in West Palm Beach. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)
Business is becoming global. So when it comes to selling real estate in Palm Beach County, thinking locally isn’t enough. That’s why real estate agent Burt Minkoff recently jumped from an East Coast-oriented firm to one that is worldwide.
At Douglas Elliman, Minkoff hopes to continue his unique brand of marketing real estate to people who not only care about owning a home but want a lifestyle, too.
Minkoff says his interests in art, antiques and design have given him an edge in understanding a client’s needs, especially those who share his passions. Many of them bring their hefty art collections along with all their other possessions to their new homes, he said.
Real estate is as much art as it is science, aesthetics as well as square footage. For the creative, trend-spotting Minkoff, making deals at all price levels, for all types of buyers and sellers, is his goal.
Name: Burt Minkoff
Job title: Senior director of luxury sales, Douglas Elliman, in the Royal Poinciana Plaza office on Palm Beach
Hometown: Raised in Rockville Center, N.Y., lived in Manhattan for 25 years. I now live in the Villas on Antique Row in West Palm Beach. It has amazing space for art and is the most convenient place I’ve ever lived.
Education: BBA Goizueta Business School, Emory University
Family: Oscar, my dog.
About your company (revenue, clients/caseload, employees, mission): Real estate agents are independent contractors, but we work for companies that help brand us and support our efforts. I recently joined Douglas Elliman. They have a large Florida and U.S. reach and a referral relationship with Knight Frank Real Estate, which transforms us into a huge global network.
I do very well. This year has been amazing. I’ve already surpassed last year. But I hate to jinx it by talking about it. Real estate is never on an even keel. I think we all learned that in 2008. I never thought I would be dealing with foreclosures, reverse mortgages or short sales like most of us did at that time.
So, I try not to discount the volatility. I just keep plugging away.
In my marketing business in New York, I had 23 full-time employees and over 350 independent contractors each year. Now I have my assistant, Amy Goorsky, who keeps me focused and running on time. I also work with hundreds of agents, different inspectors, appraisers and attorneys. It’s similar without the overhead.
My mission now is to expand my referral business attracting more buyers looking to relocate to this area and also attract more listings. Possibly build a few houses. That, though, is all about timing.
First paying job and what you learned from it: In high school, I worked part time in a gift store, wrapping packages. The owner quickly realized that I was outselling him, so he put me on the sales floor.
First break in the business: My first job out of college was working as an account executive in an Atlanta ad agency. When I moved to NYC, I became a sales rep for a graphic design studio. I turned the job down twice. They did mediocre work for the financial and movie industry.
One of my financial clients said to me, “Burt, you can go anywhere else and you have our business. but the creative here is not up to our standard.” The movie industry was our largest source of revenue. So, I racked my brain—who else had to create a fantasy out of nothing like the movie business?
I decided it was the toy industry. You had a piece of plastic in a box and you had to create the fantasy of what that toy could be. Within two years, the toy industry became our largest source of revenue.
How your business has changed: I came to Palm Beach because I thought we, the baby boom generation, would change Palm Beach like we changed NYC, the Hamptons, etc. Now, with so many baby boomers retiring and the recent tax changes, it’s happening much faster.
At the same time, for real estate, the internet has changed everything. Buyer and sellers are more informed, but not always accurately or for the better. As agents, we need to be one to two steps ahead of our clients in terms of understanding the market and values.
Best business book: “Who Moved My Cheese,” by Spencer Johnson. You have to recognize change and embrace it. The cheese is always moving. Just look at Amazon and retail. Uber and taxis. In real estate, we are dealing with change every day — not just prices and inventory but technology companies trying to eat away at our market share and profit margins.
Best piece of business advice you ever received: It’s not about you. I don’t care if it’s a marketing project, a design project, or a house. You have a client in front of you and they have a tremendous amount of anxiety about their project or their purchase.
Buyers really don’t always know what they want. It’s our job to be an analyst—to decipher what they are looking for, educate them about the market and then to give them the confidence that they are making the right choice.
I don’t care if a client is purchasing a $10 million house or a $500,000 condo. If it’s a home, it’s one of the most expensive and meaningful purchases in their lifetime.
What you tell young people about your business: Real estate is hard work. It’s not a part-time job. It’s 24 hours, seven days a week. It’s totally interruptive, whether it’s Sunday afternoon reading the paper or Saturday morning at the gym. You need to be on and ready to respond.
Many successful people learn from failure. Do you have a failure you can share and what you learned from it? After I left Mediaworks, my marketing company, I went to work as the sixth employee for an internet company for art and antiques. I was hired to develop the website and the customer experience. After launching the site, seven months later, I realized the investors didn’t really understand the business or the market. I left. Six months later the business was closed.
I took a year and a half off. It was the worst thing I could have done and the best. When you step off the treadmill in New York it’s not very forgiving. You’re road kill. You have to keep going as fast as everyone else. If you’re not, your phone calls are returned a day or two later — if at all.
As I searched for a new opportunity, I took my marketing knowledge and thought about my generation’s next steps . I targeted Florida. I then combined it with my love of design and architecture and decided to move to Palm Beach to go into real estate. What I originally viewed as a failure actually became an evolution.
What do you see ahead for Palm Beach County? Amazing growth. There is life after New York, Boston, Washington, D.C., etc. It is easier to commute from Palm Beach to New York City or the Hamptons then it is to commute between the two. There are 20 flights a day in each direction. We have the beaches, the reasonable cost of living and a simpler lifestyle. We just need to work on improving the variety of our cultural offerings and educational institutions.
Power lunch spot: I’m all about high and low. Sant Ambroeus, Surfside and City Diner.
Where we’d find you when you’re not at the office: The Peloton bike, going to great restaurants, museums and galleries. The best part is that I can do this all over the world — walking in great cities and seeing great architecture and design.
Favorite smartphone app: The MLS, Artnet and 1stdibs. They are pornography for real estate, art and design lovers.
What is the most important trait you look for when hiring? Passion for the business, someone I can mentor and most important, someone who has aspiration to be more.