Yair Levy is a well-known entrepreneur in the real estate community in New York and Miami. Over the last several decades, he has been responsible for the transformation of some of Manhattan’s most iconic buildings, bringing new life and excitement to once-neglected properties. Yair continues to be involved in real estate development as a consultant to the Time Century Holdings LLC, a controlled family trust.
Yair had come to the United States from Israel in 1972. His mother used to make cocktail evening dresses which was an encouragement for him to initially get involved in the fashion industry in the US. Yair learned about real estate from his father, who was a real estate broker. That experience led him to eventually become one of New York’s most prominent investor and developer of commercial and residential properties in that market.
What do you love most about the industry you are in?
I love being able to take a neglected building, develop a vision and create a new future for each property. In the past, I have taken old buildings and assembled them with adjoining buildings to either create development sites to sell or develop. Creating a new building excites because it allows me to improve neighborhoods and leave a legacy for generations to come.
What keeps you motivated?
Being creative as well as seeing my business and family succeed in bringing our vision for our projects into reality.
I grew up in an area that was not too poor or too rich, but I would spend time with friends from the richer area because that inspired me to work harder to compete with them.
How do you motivate others?
When you come up with a good concept, people get motivated and want to see the projects succeed. They want to make it happen.
Where do you get your inspiration from?
I travel around the world. I find inspiration in architectural designs and real estate trends in other countries and cultures.
How do you maintain a solid work-life balance?
I’m very lucky because I enjoy my profession. I love to work with my team. When I worked in the fashion industry and now in real estate, I always bring together people who are positive, passionate, creative, hard-working, and collaborative so we create a great working environment.
In terms of my personal life, I take time every day to work out and spend time with my family and friends.
What traits do you possess that makes a successful leader?
I have a positive attitude and a high level of energy all day long. I also get my team involved in the decision-making process, so they feel valued.
What suggestions do you have for someone starting in your industry?
Working as a broker is a good starting point to get the experience you need. Read everything you can to learn about the industry.
What has been the hardest obstacle you’ve overcome?
More than an obstacle, I would call it a challenge. Getting over the memories of 9/11 has been hard. I had three buildings next to the twin towers. Following the collapse of the towers, my buildings were covered in debris, including body parts. I still remember the smell that lingered for at least 6 months. I was very involved in the cleaning of my buildings. I spent a lot of time in that area breathing that air and seeing the devastation as I was trying to save my properties. The area was closed off for a while, and I lost my retail tenants. It was an extremely difficult period for me. I ended up selling the properties two years later to reinvest in other assets. I still try to avoid driving around that area because the memories are overwhelming.
What is one piece of advice that you have never forgotten?
My uncle, who I looked up to growing up, told me to buy real estate in the best locations. Some people buy properties betting on the future of an up-and-coming area, but I don’t. I look for properties in well-established areas experiencing high demand.
What is your biggest accomplishment?
Prior to venturing into real estate, I was in the fashion industry until the late 1990s. My biggest accomplishment was creating my own fashion line and selling it in some of the country’s largest department stores just one year after having immigrated from Israel. I was 24 years old. My English was very limited, but I let my designs speak for themself. Two years later, I was able to buy a building with cash at the corner of Lexington Avenue and East 58 street where I opened my first store in the mid-1970s.
But, having said that, I am currently working on a lot of special projects so my biggest accomplishment might be still to come.
What’s one piece of advice you would give to others?
Dream big and don’t be afraid to compete.
Outside of work, what defines you as a person?
I love to be social and spend time with my family and friends.