Yosi Gil understands the pride that a person feels when he or she can point to a construction project and say, “Hey, I helped make that happen.” It’s a feeling that anyone who’s ever helped a building rise from the ground can relate to.
“The guy who built the Empire State Building will pass by and say, ‘I was one of the people who made it,’” Gil says.
That sense of pride is something Gil feels very strongly about. It’s a feeling he not only wants to share with his employees, but it’s one that he hopes his employees and customers feel too.
“You know, they say cheap is expensive,” he says. “But we always build quality. Look at my buildings; everything you see is real! Everything is real stone. Everything is quality. Nothing is fabricated.”
The accomplished real estate development executive uses that fact to make his point that quality materials and workmanship pay for themselves.
When the Pinnacle, a 246-unit luxury condominium high-rise on the ocean in Sunny Isles Beach, was launched 15 years ago, the monthly condominium maintenance fee was about $850 to $900.
“Today, the maintenance fee is $1,100,” Gil says, noting amazingly that it hasn’t climbed much in all those years. “The foundation is so good because the Pinnacle was built with quality.
“When I tell my overseas clients that I am going to build a new building, they ask me, ‘Where?’ They don’t ask me what type of quality there will be. They know there will be quality.”
Gil, principal for condominium development and executive vice president of sales at J. Milton & Associates, sums up his biggest challenge philosophically: Everything is about achievement.
“When you wake up in the morning, everyone likes to do better and better and better; that’s what I believe,” he says.
It’s about quality talent and quality leaders and the sense of accomplishment that you get when you’ve built a Pinnacle, King David, Sayan or Intracoastal Yacht Club in a small city like Sunny Isles Beach that was vacant land 17 years ago, he says.
Here are some insights into how Gil focuses on achieving quality to be a leader in the premier rental-community market.
Know your market
You’ve already taken a big step toward having your vision for your company if you’ve decided that you plan to focus on a quality, top-shelf product.
To finish that visualization, you have to research market conditions, seek opportunities, determine the feasibility of future expansions and then create a demand that ensures the company will make a profit.
“Look first at the location you intend to buy,” Gil says. “Then look at the needs of the market before you announce any project. Third, build something that the market can really afford in case it collapses. Fourth, make sure if the economy collapses you can make some substitutions to achieve what they want to achieve and not go bankrupt.
“Fifth, avoid taking any risk. We are not gamblers. We buy the land in the right way.”
Speaking of risks and contingencies, Gil fortunately had developed a vision well before the 2008 real estate market crash. Simply put, it was this: “Less is more.”
“You can see what we did; thank God we were smart enough to create some merchandise to fit the needs of the market,” he says. “Our company definitely creates the right inventory to fill the needs of the market.”
By limiting the size of a project, it better matches the demand and the chance of a sell-out. Every building that J. Milton has built in the last 12 years reflects no more than 100 to 120 units.
“We did it on purpose,” Gil says. “We did not want a building with 500 or 600 units.”
While others are chasing the big dollars with big projects, it can pay off if you are less willing to take risk.
“We are a very, very conservative company,” Gil says about the family-owned business. “It is better for us to be smart than bright. Smart people don’t get into trouble where others might.
“I would rather not go out and make $100 million. We might only make $25 million on a project, but we would make five or six projects. We definitely minimize our risk to almost nothing. ”
While there is competition in nearly all markets, you can’t attract all possible customers. Some may go to your competitors, but be realistic that the pool of potential buyers has its limits.
“If you are going to build 500 apartments in South Beach, with each apartment about 15,000 square feet, do you think you are going to do well? I don’t think so,” Gil says. “There aren’t enough people in the market to buy 500 apartments at 15,000 square feet each.”
A realistic look at supply and demand will offer you some guidelines. Gil expects to see certain types of customers: the primary resident who wants a vacation home, the owner of a second home or an investor.
“We only have a few people we sell to as investors,” he says, noting the possible risks that overleveraged investors may pose. “When we reach the amount of, let’s say, 25 percent, we stop selling to investors.”
As for planning for the primary resident, Gil puts himself in the shoes of the buyer.
“I don’t believe any worldly person likes to go to stay in a place three weeks a year and put up $7 million for real estate that he doesn’t use at other times.”
So his team designed an apartment in the 2,000-2,500 square foot range selling for about $800,000 — all with three bedrooms.
“The three bedroom apartment always fits the needs of the clients,” he says. “If you want to rent it out to an investor, it is easier to rent a three bedroom than a two-bedroom or a one-bedroom.”
Go the in-house route
One of the biggest questions for a company is whether to go in-house or outsource for its needs. The deciding factors often depend on the industry, but for Gil, who focuses on quality as a top concern, the choice has been an in-house staff.
“Everything in our company is in-house,” Gil says. “Everything from the architects, to the marketing, the financing, the banking, the management — everything is in-house. We are an A to Z operation.”
With an in-house staff, the chances of establishing loyalty are much greater than when you are outsourcing, Gil has found.
“It is much easier to manage quality because of the loyalty,” he says. “You will have control over correcting mistakes because the team is working together.
“My partner, Joseph Milton, is our building engineer. He knows how to build, how to create. Gina Milton, executive vice president, is the marketing director. I can’t move 1 inch without her approval.
“I am not going to tell you that everything in our business works perfectly,” Gil says. “But if it doesn’t work, you start all over again. You have to fix it. This is your foundation. We don’t tell you that everything is just cookies, flowers and nothing else.”
Collaboration is important, especially when you have quality people doing the work.
“Gina likes the gray kitchen for a new project, and I like the white. So we picked white and gray. Gina gets the top half and I get the bottom half. We compromised to make sure it is going to look right.”
Build your reputation
You don’t get to be a leader in any industry without establishing your reputation. You can’t buy a reputation, but you can build one through trust.
“Everything starts with the reputation of your company,” Gil says. “When I tell someone something is going to be done, it’s going to be done. Then people trust you.”
To ensure that your business continues, be professional and stand by your product, especially since in the construction business there are concerns that may arise to delay the project.
“All of us are very professional; all of us work together,” he says. “Let’s put it this way: our people are definitely very, very strong in what they do.”
A positive experience hopefully creates a return customer. Gil also focuses on buyers who follow a statistic that estimates that every four to six years, people like to move from their residence to a new location.
“I have to make sure clients fall in love with the apartment,” he says. “They know the finishing and they know the service. So why would they go someplace else? The deal with me is better. This is the way I see it.
“We will help sell the unit. The clients are very excited because they get to move to a new unit. They made a profit from the unit they bought before and they transferred everything to the next deal. They already know the quality.”
How to reach: J. Milton & Associates, (305) 460-6300 or www.j-milton.com
Know your market.
Go the in-house route.
Build your reputation.
The Gil file
principal, condominium development
executive vice president, sales
J. Milton & Associates
Education: I attended Tel Aviv University. I was in the Israeli Army and then came to America. I moved to Los Angeles to join Crescent Heights, one of the nation’s largest condominium converters and was responsible for the company’s marketing, advertising and in-house financing. In 1991, I went to Pacific International Equities as sales and marketing director for some high-profile developments, including Sunset Harbour and the Courts at South Beach.
What was your first job and what did you learn from it?
I did a lot of building in Israel. From there I moved to California and to Miami but I was always in marketing and selling real estate and development. I learned continuation in each one a different way. You have a client; you have to take care of the people, the service and everything that is leading you to do well. I also learned work ethic and work dedication.
Who do you admire?
I always admire God because he gave me the opportunity to do what I have. It was the right thing. I pray every day. I am religious, and thank God my partner is also religious. We donate to a lot of causes. My partners are helping a lot of children. We donated a synagogue; we are helping the people with everything we do. We learn how to give back what God gives us.
What is the best advice you have ever received?
Believe in God first; believe in yourself second. Don’t give up. I have learned one thing: God gave you the opportunity, and he will try you.
What is your definition of business success?
Achievement is what it is — when you see something you created and it’s already been there for many, many, many years. I promise you, the guy who went to see the Empire State Building that he built and is still there today, he will pass by and look at it, and say to himself, ‘I was one of the people who made it.’