On the ups and downs of the luxury market and the ultra-wealthy in Miami
Since the Los Angeles-based Westside Estate Agency launched in Miami earlier this year, the firm has taken on sales for the now-stalled 01 MiMo, a boutique, mixed-use development. Yet, Cyril Bijaoui, who was tapped to lead the Miami office, remains focused on building WEA’s team and client base of high net-worth individuals.
Bijaoui sat down with The Real Deal to discuss his background, plans for MiMo, and how he is building a client base of wealth managers, international family offices and high-net-worth investors.
“People can ask for anything at any moment. You learn how these people operate and how they tick,” he said. “We’ve had extremely affluent investors, very prominent people but they operate with a high level of discretion and secrecy. If we ever burn that, we burn the integrity of this company.”
Why did WEA expand to South Florida?
We’re trying to take the approach of let’s bring L.A. to Miami. Miami is starting to mature. I’ve been in Miami since I was 7. I’m 39. I think Miami is growing up. California has problems with its budget, tax infrastructure. We have similar climates but a more business friendly environment.
4 Park Place is now 01 Mimo. What is its status?
The developer has decided to halt sales until they feel more comfortable with the market. There are so many projects in various stages of development throughout South Florida and this has driven build costs through the roof, but sales seem to be slowing across town. Because of this, [Vitrium Capital] is choosing to ‘wait and see.’
They do not want their first U.S. project to get caught in a stalling if/when the tides goes out – something we certainly all hope does not happen, although the ultra-luxury [market] I am confident will continue to prosper for quite some time.
What is WEA focusing on now?
My No. 1 priority is building a team. There are a lot of people who either weren’t trained right or given the right tools, or have a license for fun. It’s really about diligence and finding a team of people I can groom and grow locally.
How did you get your start in the industry?
I started in real estate in 2002 more as an investor. Our first acquisition was a family acquisition. We bought a small eight-unit apartment building in Coconut Grove that we stabilized and managed. From there, we took care of the leasing, property management. We went into the brokerage aspect and have been there ever since.
I had the benefit of the huge boom when we bought, and I thought I was extremely brilliant, and then I had the benefit of the huge crash when I realized I was a mere mortal. And now I have the benefit of hindsight. I went through huge failure.
Failure such as?
I renovated a lot of houses in Coral Gables that I bought at the height of the market. The market started turning, I was chasing a price. So I know what it’s like to hold onto ‘I want that number, I want that number’ and see it slip. If I had taken that first offer, by the end of it that was the offer I would have killed for.
What about successes?
Randomly, my father was building a house, so I ran that project as a general contractor apprentice so that I could get my license. He had a foreman on site who knew a guy who owned a building on 108th Street and Biscayne Boulevard – who may want to sell. I contacted him and he gave me a really long due diligence period. Long story short, I was able to turn that deal around and flip it to a developer before the crash. I made a tremendous amount of money off very little.
Our plan is to identify an expert in each submarket in Miami-Dade and eventually further North into Broward and Palm Beach counties and proliferate each submarket from there. We are also meeting with luxury home builders interested in our California database of clients, which as you know has a roster of customers from around the globe at the pinnacle of American and international affluence – something many are starting to pay attention to.
Who is your competition?
If you ask them, they’re going to say “Oh he’s not our competition.” Most people name Nelson Gonzalez, the Jills, Dora Puig. The average person on the street can’t name their brokerages. I’m not their competition yet but as we’re able to bring more buyers to their properties, sellers will take note that we can get them directly to the property.
I’m not trying to take over anything. I want to be a nice boutique firm that hits the benchmark of highest price per sale.