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How Philip Hordijk navigates working with international clients

A native of Holland, Hordijk is fluent in seven languages, and he has used this background to help him find a niche in the uber competitive New York real estate scene

Fluent in seven languages, it isn’t surprising that Philip Hordijk, a native of the Netherlands, founded a brokerage focused on serving international clientele. Hordijk sat down with RealTrends to discuss his journey in real estate and the inspiration behind his New York-based firm LEVEN Real Estate.

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Brooklee Han: Can you tell me a bit about how you first got into real estate?

Philip Hordijk: I am originally from Holland, and I went to the University of Amsterdam, where I studied economics and got a masters in real estate finance. Both my uncle and my father are in the real estate industry, with my uncle more on the commercial side and my father more on the teaching side as a professor, so I had a lot of exposure to it.

But, in 2008 I rebelled and moved to Argentina. I lived there for about a year and a half, and built a tech startup and did my own thing. I then ended up here in the U.S., and I met my wife, and I realized I had to make some changes in my life and take responsibility for things. It quickly became apparent that real estate was still what I knew really well and what I felt comfortable with.

BH: Growing up around the real estate industry, was a career in real estate something you considered as a child?

Hordijk: I really was not sure of what I wanted to do. My university studies were kind of the result of everything I didn’t want to do, and then I just picked economics because it felt broad enough to do something with afterward. Even in getting a masters in real estate, there wasn’t a real passion behind it.

The passion I have today with real estate comes from more building the brokerage and the entrepreneurialism behind it. In Europe, real estate is a bit different, and being an agent can be a salaried job, so going commission only in a competitive market like New York was a big eye opener.

BH: How did working in a tech startup environment help you in building your own firm?

Hordijk: The idea of helping people from abroad find real estate is what triggered me to create a website on a Saturday afternoon in 2012. I was studying Spanish vocabulary, because at the time I spoke Spanish but was learning Portuguese, as my wife is from Brazil. So I figured why not focus on the Latin American market and I came up with and came up with the name New York Casas, and from there, I set up the Google AdWords and used my start up experience to build the site. Then I went to bed, and the next day I had messages from Colombians and Argentinians asking me about real estate in New York.

I spent two years building a start up in Argentina and I didn’t get anything, and with this, I just put something out there, and the next day I already started to see results. The whole experience with the startup taught me to not be afraid to just try and see what comes out.

Getting that feedback right away was a big source of validation, but of course, going from there, to getting those leads, to actually transact(ing) took years. But I got some rentals out of it, and that gave me the energy and belief that this could turn into something bigger.

BH: What were some of the biggest challenges you faced during the early part of your career — and how did you overcome them?

Hordijk: Cash flow was definitely a problem in the beginning, and then also trying to understand what kind of brokerage environment I would do best in as well. I start in a very tiny brokerage just to get the higher split. Then I went to Douglas Elliman, which was like the holy grail of New York City real estate, but it didn’t feel good for me, so I went back to a boutique firm — and then I finally founded my own firm in 2017.

At first, taking care of my family and having that uncertainty about the next payment and what was going to happen if the new development project I was working on got delayed, it was all just very stressful. And it continues to this day, but on a different level.

I became more successful. I opened my own firm, but my expenses went up, and some months were lean. I even took another job at one point just to fill in the gaps a bit.

Another challenge that I think a lot of people face, but don’t think about a lot with real estate, is the solitude and loneliness of the job. Unless you are in a very friendly team environment, you have to do everything yourself, and no one is going to do things for you. And no one cares that you have a family at home depending on you because they have their own families to feed and their own worries.

But this led me to believe that I really wanted to create my own group of people and a more fun environment that inspires them. We are in touch with each other on a weekly, if not daily, basis — and I think that is essential in this business. You won’t learn as much or have the energy to keep trying and reinventing yourself without the support of others.

But now my latest challenge is that my workload just keeps exploding with running an agency and trying to keep up with my own clients. It has forced me to delegate more and more of what I do every day because there just isn’t enough time.

BH: To what do you attribute your success in real estate?

Hordijk: I have a high tolerance for risk obviously, because otherwise I wouldn’t have just jumped into everything I have. And I am fairly disciplined. I plan out my days, and of course there will be surprises, and I leave room for that, but even if I get 80% or 90% of my planned day completed, I feel like I am doing pretty good.

BH: Obviously you and your family have a very international background, but what inspired you to focus your firm to work with international clients?

Hordijk: In 2012, when I came here, I really didn’t know anyone, let alone anyone who could help me buy a house. I had really enjoyed living in Latin America, and I like the culture, and I like working with those people, so that also played into it.

But when I boiled it down to three things, I knew that I wanted to being in New York and I knew that where I could bring value was in the real estate space — and then I just was really attracted to working with international clients, because everyone’s story is different and their background is different.

It can be challenging but also very refreshing because this segment of the market is so unique.

BH: What is something about the real estate business that you wish you could change?

Hordijk: I am getting a little annoyed with it all being about the agent. It is like this Million Dollar Listing kind of approach, when they show a video and it is also about the agent, and I don’t get to see the apartment they are selling. I am not buying the agent; they aren’t part of the deal, they aren’t going to be the view I see out my window when I wake up in the morning.

I get that people are drawn in by the personalities and their stories, but I would hope that we can go back to actually talking about the real estate and its characteristics.

BH: The housing market has slowed down quite a bit in the last year compared to where it was in 2021 and early 2022, but what are you seeing when it comes to working with international buyers and sellers?

Hordijk: This past month it hasn’t felt too different. We did a bunch of sales. Our business is split roughly 50/50 these days between local and international.

But I think we are lucky because I know the volume has dropped dramatically. If rates keep going up, it will continue, because if you are in a nice two bedroom at a low rate, unless you absolutely need another bedroom, why would you go and double your monthly cost?

BH: What is your best piece of advice for a new agent starting out?

Hordijk: I would say to specialize for sure. I specialized in the beginning, and it helped me to survive. It is such a saturated market, but if you can be the leading expert of a type of property or a neighborhood, you are going to get the business.