Sacks Real Estate Management is a New Firm with Old Relationships
In an industry where mitigating risk is a business’ raison d’etre, Meryl Sacks recently took the biggest risk of all — founding her own luxury residential property management firm. Sacks Real Estate Management is a rare female-owned firm in a decidedly male-dominated sector. What makes this entrepreneurship even more unusual is that Sacks is a veteran management professional who didn’t grow up in the industry — she used her own money, and a lifetime of contacts, to establish her firm.
“I do not come from a background in real estate,” she said. “I climbed the ladder. When people asked who has backed me? I backed myself.”
In her early years, Sacks’ goal was to become an attorney, but law school wasn’t in the financial cards, She took a job as an assistant at a management firm in her native Brooklyn in 1984. In 1987, she joined the closing department of M.J. Raynes, which at the time was one of the largest companies doing co-op and condominium conversions while managing some 100 apartment buildings. These included the well-known portfolio of Bing & Bing properties, located throughout the city.
“At some point, a property management position was available. The senior director of management approached me and asked if I was interested,” Sacks recalled. “Back in those days, women were far and few between. It was the old boys’ club, and I was very young.”
She approached the women managers in the office and asked their advice about the position. The unanimous answer was, “Absolutely not. You don’t want to be in property management. It’s a thankless job with long hours,” Sacks said.
She did it anyway, learning the business she needed while she managed 10 luxury Bing & Bing co-op buildings. She still manages several of them through multiple career moves and, now, her own business.
“I truly believe that’s what this business is about — trust and relationships — and about building that trust,” she said. “That’s not easy to do.”
That’s especially true in property management, which has changed dramatically in Sacks’ 30-plus years, she noted. In 1987, the job description revolved around collecting rent, issuing purchase orders, paying bills, managing repairs, capital improvements and checking in with superintendents.
“Now, that’s accelerated by 100 times in terms of what we need to know to manage a property,” Sacks noted. Managers must know how to navigate legal and financial issues and keep up with the never-ending areas in compliance established by multiple city agencies and regulations that are new every year, such as elevators, energy, asbestos, abatements, sexual harassment and more.
“The job description has completely changed,” she added. “It’s just a multitude of areas we have to keep up with.”
Eventually, Sacks became director of management for Charles H. Greenthal, which managed more than 100 buildings. Overseeing her own portfolio, she also managed other managers. She then briefly joined another firm as director of management, but when that position did not meet her expectations, Sacks was faced with a choice: continue as a top executive at another firm or strike out on her own.
“I truly believe that’s what this business is about — trust and relationships — and about building that trust.”
“At that point, I knew it was now or never,” she said. “I wanted to open my own company and use my skills and experience to do things the way I want to do them.”
She founded Sacks Real Estate Management in July 2018 with just herself, her assistant from her prior firm and six luxury buildings that have been with her for 30 years.
“It was like that scene in ‘Jerry Maguire’ where he says, ‘Who’s coming with me?’” she recalled with a laugh. “And then friends and colleagues said, ‘It’s about time.’”
Today, she manages nine buildings, including luxury pre-war residential properties, all of which are currently undergoing various types of construction projects that include Local Law 11, heating and HVAC upgrades and conversions, building-wide window replacement, ASHRAE audits, elevator modernizations and more.
She has also expanded her staff, many of whom are women, to include an accountant and a senior manager. Her plans call for the company to remain a boutique firm to continue the personal service that is Sacks’ hallmark.
“I have met and worked with people in my career in all aspects of property management, and as my company grows, I have and will hire the best of the best that believe in my philosophy of proactive, responsive, hands-on management,” she said.
That can be a challenge. Many industry veterans are retiring, and larger management companies are hiring young staff straight out of college who need proper training, she observed.
“My philosophy is that I must know and understand the needs of each board and have my finger on the pulse of every major issue in the building.”
She runs the firm with an eye to creating the next generation. Over the years, she has trained her assistants and junior property managers to advance their careers.
“If you want to be in this business and want to learn, I’m more than happy to teach,” she said. “I’ve had a lot of women who’ve worked for me over the years who are extremely successful right now. I’m very proud of that.”
But she also has had to learn to manage her own business even as she oversees her clients, including performing administrative functions that were the purview of other departments at the companies she worked for previously. Meanwhile, technology has continued to evolve exponentially, she observed, with email and the internet changing the way we communicate and do business. Time management is a learned skill that is critical for each manger.
“Property management in itself is a 24/7 business, because we have to be available in the event of an emergency, and I’ve had plenty of those in my years in the business. Fires, floods, you name it,” she said. “It’s not unusual to get a call at 2 a.m. “
She continues to look for growth by employing the personalized service that is her trademark — and a skill that she says is being lost.
“When you’re dealing with luxury buildings, which have boards that are extremely knowledgeable and affluent, their expectations are extremely high,” she said. “When a board president calls, they don’t want to hear I’m not in the office. I’ve grown these relationships because I’m available when there’s a problem or emergency.”
So while law school was never in the cards, Sacks has picked up a lot of law — and technical expertise.
“I’m self-taught when it comes to real estate management. There are so many different aspects of the business: elevator legislation, the new energy code requirements, Local Law 87,” she said. “I’ve become very involved in managing capital projects in conjunction with architects, engineers and project managers. The managing agent has to be involved in any major project.”
One of her clients, the landmarked Rockefeller Apartments, is finally replacing 700 windows after 20 years of discussion. The first building of the complex has just been completed.
“It’s a monumental job,” she said. “I’m glad to be a part of the team.”