Thanks to marketing expertise that includes local, national, and international projects, Forman is considered one of the most highly qualified real estate professionals in New York. By utilizing both traditional and nontraditional marketing and selling techniques, Forman has built a stellar reputation among developers as a results-oriented sales executive.
So it isn’t surprising that real estate industry newcomer Bond Property Marketing Group has hired Forman to head the company’s new project development division. Besides overseeing staff recruitment and training, market research, onsite office management, and pricing, Forman collaborates with developers on advertising concepts, project brand positioning, and marketing strategies like Bond’s new one-stop shop for realtors and the public, showcasing local and international properties, at its new Columbus Circle sales office.
Let’s start with your first job at Essex House Hotel in the 1970s.
I graduated with a degree in travel and tourism. Getting a job in a hotel was obviously a goal, but the first job I got was in the condominium sales and leasing office of Essex House Hotel, which had been converted by Marriott Corporation to America’s first condo hotel. They were slowly taking hotel rooms adjacent to each other and converting them into apartments, reducing the hotel room count from a little over 1,000 to about 604. We created beautiful apartments with magnificent park or city views, fully furnished and with all hotel services available. It was very attractive for corporations to buy at Essex House.
How did your career evolve?
At Essex House I continued moving up in rank within the condominium sales and leasing office. I was there from 1977 to 1995, with a two-year hiatus when my daughter was born. In my last 10 years there, I was executive vice president of sales rentals. I was on the board of managers, so I assisted the hotel management company in dealing with the issues involved in operating a hotel and a condominium, all integrated, and the issues that the unit owners might have, and a little bit of the conflict of interest that is inherent in that type of a setup.
What kept you going in real estate?
I was extremely lucky to work in one of the most iconic buildings in New York City, so that in itself was a thrill. Also, I had Central Park at my doorstep. I worked for Marriott for my first 10 years and then for Nikko Hotels, which bought Essex House from Marriott in 1985. Both companies were absolutely outstanding.
And I got to meet incredibly interesting people like Frank Bennack, the CEO of Hearst Corporation, who had three apartments at Essex House, and Daniel Tully, former CEO of Merrill Lynch. I knew Miles Davis quite well, and Jacqueline Smith, whose daughter slept in my daughter’s crib. She was doing a play at the time, and she resided there for six months. Her baby daughter had just been born and I brought in my daughter’s crib for her daughter to sleep in. That sort of thing made my job incredible. David Bowie and Iman purchased an apartment there as well. These were all people I got to talk to on a consistent basis and even become friends with.
And then you joined Starwood.
I was director of residential marketing for the two best brands under the Starwood umbrella: the St. Regis and the Luxury Collection brands. About eight years ago the concept of having condominium residences within a hotel all of a sudden exploded again around the world. Hotels were experiencing very high costs of building as well as operating. With hotels that were being built, it was taking a huge amount of time to see a positive return on the investment for the investors or the company behind it. So, condominium residences started. Essex House and Marriott Corporation did it, followed by Turnberry and Trump Corporation.
For many years, old hotels had been refurbished, but none were being built. Then there was an uptake in the hotel business and it became the hot thing for developers to build hotels, sell a portion, and defray part of construction costs. Hotel companies also got into the act and began divesting themselves of the actual real estate—up until then, most companies owned all the hotels they operated. Real estate prices were at an all-time high, so they could cash in but still maintain the flag and operate the hotel and license their name. Hotel companies were getting their money back for the real estate sale, and getting the management of the hotel. That worked really well. It also worked for new construction—suddenly companies like Starwood didn’t have to put up the cash to build new hotels. Somebody else did—the developer and investors—but the hotel company kept the flag and got a new hotel and a license fee. It was a win/win situation for everybody involved.
Starwood created a new division designed to help developers market their residences and keep a lookout for the brand. I was part of that division—my brands were St. Regis and the Luxury Collection. I had 14 hotels—in Madeira, Bali, Singapore, Utah, Mexico, British West Indies, Florida, Costa Rica, Puerto Rico, the Bahamas, Georgia, and here in New York.
What attracted you to Bond?
It’s a young company with two young owners interested in moving in unusual directions. And it’s a very high-energy, fun kind of place to work.
What was your first year like?
What we do is completely different. We represent developers with projects in New York or in other countries. We do it all. Developers can showcase their projects in Costa Rica here in New York. We’re creating a sales and experience gallery—a one-stop shop for fellow real estate brokers to bring clients to see our projects, and for the general public to come after seeing an ad in the newspaper or on television. We will be their first stop, prior to their going to, say, Mexico. Here, they’ll see floor plans, samples of finishes, samples of closing documents. They’ll have a packet explaining the procedure of buying real estate in Panama. It’s all-inclusive.
This has been a volatile year for our economy. Is the unstable financial environment affecting sales?
A little bit in New York, but nothing like in the rest of the world or the rest of the country. Manhattan is a world unto itself—it takes a lot to shake us. Prices have either remained stable or dropped a little, as has activity, for the local market. But because the Euro was so strong, a lot of European investors came in and filled the gap for the local downturn. So, all in all, the market has remained pretty steady.
What makes you unique?
There are very few people in the world who have as solid a background in real estate sales, management and hotel operations, all combined. That’s very important because virtually all the properties we’re selling are mixed-use projects—located within a hotel or next to a hotel, or having a hotel in the facility. Very few people understand fully how to sell these projects, how their operations go, how to explain things to buyers.
What trends are you noticing right now?
Ecofriendly is extremely popular. Everybody realizes we’d better do something; we can’t keep on squandering resources. It’s a very sexy term to have associated with your project, but it’s not necessarily translating to a lot more sales, because it takes a whole package. It’s not just one element that’s going to sell a property. It used to be that if you had a recognized name of a developer or architect or designer associated with your project, then that almost guaranteed sales. That’s not the case anymore. You have to put together a package that buyers will look at and say, “Yes, virtually all of these elements that you are offering me are important, for me, in terms of my lifestyle.”
What else is popular?
Large, family-friendly kitchens; bathrooms that are amazing— practically full apartments unto themselves; ecofriendly materials, durability; germ-free environments; and technology—being able to do things at the touch of a button.
Where will you be a year from now?
Our extension plan is to have approximately 30 properties to showcase, and a sales team of 10 people. We have a number of people currently working at Bond and joining Bond who bring something unique to the table—fluency in foreign languages and cultural backgrounds that fit within our property module. Most people in real estate come from somewhere else, so I look for whatever makes them unique.
You’ve worked all over the world. Why do you call New York home?
There isn’t a day that goes by when you don’t meet someone who’s of a different country, culture, background, that adds a little bit more to your life by teaching you something you didn’t know before.
You’ve obviously retained a soft spot for Essex House.
I’ve got an incredible passion for real estate in general. This is my life. This is what makes me tick and feel happy on a daily basis. But Essex House was an amazing period in my life—20 years of pure joy. It made me the person I am today, on a professional and personal basis. It created an unbelievably interesting backdrop to my life. That’s where I became a real estate professional, and real estate is just an amazing joy for me.