Francis Greenburger, the founder, chairman and CEO of Time Equities Inc., has been in the real estate business for 50 years, and in that time, his company owns 28.11 million square feet of assets across 30 states, five Canadian provinces, Germany, the Netherlands and Anguilla, British Virgin Islands.
Once a market leader in New York City’s co-operative conversions (converting more than 100 buildings from rentals to co-ops), Time Equities Inc. more recently turned to converting office buildings into residential apartments in Manhattan’s Financial District.
Also in Manhattan, where Mr. Greenburger is based, the company has just developed 50 West, one of Downtown’s tallest luxury towers, at 64 stories, which is expected to be completed this year. Other recent projects the company developed are 34 Prince St. in Manhattan’s Nolita, 1000 South Michigan in Chicago, and 3111 South Dixie in West Palm Beach, Florida.
In 2003, Mr. Greenburger also founded Art-in-Buildings, a program that brings installations from upcoming contemporary artists and galleries into residential spaces. He also established Omi International Arts Center, a nonprofit artist residency program for visual artists, writers and musicians.
And in 2014, he launched a second nonprofit organization— the Greenburger Center for Social and Criminal Justice—which advocates for reforms in the criminal justice system.
We caught up with Mr. Greenburger to talk about what he loves in his many homes around the world, why he thinks globalism helps real estate and much more.
Mansion Global: Describe your dream property.
Francis Greenburger: Being in a location that we feel comfortable in, that’s suitable for our lifestyles, is important. For me, that’s Greenwich Village, because I like the relatively lower density, and the fact that most of the buildings are four and five stories.
The whole environment is something I feel very comfortable in. I’ve lived on the Upper East Side, Upper West Side, and in Kips Bay and Turtle Bay. In 1975 I moved to the village—to a different house than I’m in now—and I felt that I’d come home.
MG: Do you have a real estate property that got away?
FG: There was a house in Bedford Village [in Westchester] on 50 acres of land. It was an early 20th-century mansion with two swimming pools. It was spectacular. It was in the 1970s, and the country was in a recession so it wasn’t expensive. I applied to rent it and someone else, a VIP, rented it instead. At the end of the year, the broker said the house was available to rent or buy. Again, I put in an application, and didn’t get it.
But instead, I ended up getting a house in Columbia County near the Hudson, and I truly love where I am.
MG: What does luxury mean to you?
FG: For me, it means a view. That doesn’t mean it has to be a vista, although vistas are nice. It doesn’t have to be the Statue of Liberty, although the Statue of Liberty is nice. But it has to be something that captures my attention. My wife is French and we bought a house in the south of France last year. She was interested in another house, but it didn’t have much of a view. The other one, that we ended up getting, had amazing vistas, and my office overlooks an incredible garden. I’m happy to go out there for no other reason but to sit at my desk and look out the window.
What I look at is a very important part of luxury to me.
MG: What’s the biggest surprise in the luxury real estate market now?
FG: Real estate is as much about the experience as the space. We’re at an age of the heavily amenitized building. I had dinner recently with someone who bought at 50 West St., and she said the final coup to get them to move in was that we have a golf simulator.
Amenities and experiences have become very important, and that’s a trend being expressed in a number of different ways. If you look at the phenomenon of co-working space, for example, it’s not the space that defines the desire for people to be there, it’s the experience.
MG: What’s your favorite part of your home?
FG: Most important to me is my study, whichever one I happen to be in. Each study is a little different. In New York I use my study all the time. In France I do, too. In Colorado, I end up working at the kitchen counter. It’s okay, but not as nice as my other studies.
A wonderful study is very important for me. It’s where I do most my work.
MG: What best describes the theme to your home and why?
FG: I love good design, but I’m agnostic stylistically. In New York, it’s minimalist, modern and contemporary. My house in the Hudson Valley is country-style with lots of antiques. My house in the Caribbean is an ultra-modern structure but the interior is more comfortable contemporary.
We put a lot of time and attention into the furnishings and the look.
MG: Most valuable thing in your home?
FG: My art collection, which is primarily contemporary.
MG: What’s the most valuable amenity to have in a home right now?
FG: To me it’s a tennis court, because I’m a tennis player. To me, it’s like not having a second bathroom if you don’t have a court. The other big thing is a large, comfortable shower.
MG: What’s your best piece of real estate advice?
FG: Real estate rewards looking, meaning that if you spend time looking for things, you will become quite expert in what’s good value and what’s not. Plus, you’ll see a variety of environments and be able to decide what you connect with most viscerally. If you put in the time, look around, look at different neighborhoods, and lots of things on the market, eventually you’ll end up making the best choice and have a better sense of value and whether you’re getting a good deal.
MG: What’s going on in the news that will have the biggest impact on the luxury real estate market?
FG: We’re all affected by the economic policies that come out of Washington; choices they make will be critical to the future of luxury real estate, all real estate, and all aspects of our economy. There are unintended consequences to aspects of different policies that are not fully understood.
For instance, when we turn away from globalism because we think it’ll help a certain economic sector of our country, what we’re not seeing is what that does. Without the international expertise the tech industry imports from all over the world to America, we wouldn’t be the high performers we are in the tech world. People are now going to Canada instead. We’re seeing that already.
Our prep school and college system is propped up by students from abroad. That keeps economies of our schools alive. When we make changes we need to understand implications.
MG: What is the best area now for investing in luxury properties?
FG: I’m a contrarian so I always look for places that have gone through some economic down cycle. That’s one of the reasons I bought my house in the Caribbean. I made a great buy, and bought something that at another time would have cost five times as much.
Florida is going through some challenges now, so it might be a good time to look around. You want to look for a place you want to be, that’s going through a difficult cycle, so you’re not buying at the top of the market.
MG: If you had a choice of living in a new development or a prime resale property, which would you choose and why?
FG: I don’t think I’ve ever lived in a brand new property. My house in New York is new inside, but it’s something I bought and totally gutted. At some point, we’re thinking about moving to 50 West St., though, and that would be a brand new building.
For me, it’s about the right place, the right environment and the right aesthetics. I’m agnostic.
MG: What area currently has the best resale value?
FG: New York has a history of enduring very well. That’s why people from all over the world like it. New York, even when it tapers off, doesn’t fall off a cliff. Prices will go down 10% to 15% but not 50%. Miami, on the other hand, can swing a little more.
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