Tech enabled real estate brokerages like Redfin and Compass may be very hot these days, however, back in 1984, Diane M. Ramirez and Clark Halstead had already pitched and raised VC funding to The Halstead Property Company from investors like Bessemer Venture Partners. Together, they co-founded the firm with the simple guiding principle that the mission of a service company must, indeed, beservice.
In 2001, Halstead was acquired by Terra Holdings, which is owned by legendary icons in the real estate business like David A. Burris, Kent M. Swig, Arthur W. Zeckendorf and William Lie Zeckendorf. Today, Halstead Property offices throughout the New York Metropolitan Area are among the most strategically located in highly trafficked areas. The company has more than 1,300 sales and rental agents located in premier retail storefronts in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, the Hamptons, Fairfield County, Connecticut, New Jersey and the Hudson Valley.
Diane M. Ramirez is the Chairman and CEO of Halstead. She has been an active real estate executive and broker for more than three decades. She started her career in Palm Beach, Florida where she worked as an agent for a number of years before returning to her hometown – New York City – where she quickly became a top real estate broker. I had the opportunity to chat with her on entrepreneurship, technology and real estate innovation:
Omri Barzilay: More than 3o years ago, you pitched to VC’s to get your initial funding. What was your pitch?
Diane M. Ramirez: In the 1980’s, New York City housing stock started to transition from rentals to co-ops. Many people who had rented for years were starting to buy. As you can imagine, this created some buzz and became increasingly attractive to VCs. Clark pulled in the venture capital because he wanted to start off with a bang – opening three storefront offices and bringing elegance and style to a brand new concept for a real estate brokerage. Along with this came our computer system and a London taxi that was like a rolling billboard for our brand.
Omri Barzilay: How important is the technology to your business?
M. Ramirez: From the beginning, we recognized the important role that sophisticated technology played in the conduct of a service-based business in a rapidly evolving economy. We were the first company to hire a programmer to develop a listing system rather than working from index cards. We also had a computer in our branded, chauffeur-driven London taxi – it took what seemed like forever to deliver information but it was cutting edge at the time. Fast forward to today, and we are still deeply committed to continuously investing in and enhancing technology for our agents and customers. Just in the last year, for instance, we launched reSOURCE, the industry’s most sophisticated listing system and database; an Analytics tool that enables agents to create customizable market reports based on individual clients’ needs as well as delivers data that covers not just the supply side but the demand side too, capturing searches from the users of our website so we can analyze their requests; and Instant Value, a proprietary appraisal tool that assists with the pricing of Manhattan and Brooklyn apartments.
Omri Barzilay: What is the secret behind Halstead’s long years of success?
M. Ramirez: There are three things that have really contributed to our success over the years: 1) we have always stayed true to our vision of strategic growth, 2) we have created an environment at Halstead that focuses on culture, and 3) we constantly strive to stay ahead of the curve with industry-leading technology.