Wealthy Africans are spending millions of dollars every year buying up property overseas. Their usual destinations of choice are London, Los Angeles, Miami, Marbella and recently, New York.
Mark Martov, a licensed American Real Estate salesperson with the Corcoran Group, has sold tens of millions of dollars worth of New York luxury real estate to tens of wealthy African and Asian clients recently. According to him, an increasing number of wealthy investors from Nigeria, Ghana, Congo, Gabon, Cameroon and Senegal are splurging on luxury property in the Big Apple. And even though there is tremendous motivation from all around the world to invest in Africa, there is significant capital outflow from the continent into foreign property investments.
Currently ranked among the top 1% of all NRT agents nationwide, Mark Martov lives in New York City where he is among the top ten agents for sales and rentals at the Corcoran Group. We recently chatted briefly in Johannesburg when he was in town for business.
So you’re in Johannesburg on business; are there a lot of South Africans buying real estate in New York?
We’re seeing a lot of strong interest from wealthy South Africans in New York luxury real estate. There’s also a lot of interest from West Africans, particularly the Nigerians and Ghanaians, and quite a number of people from Francophone Africa.
You seem to be quite popular among real estate investors around Africa; why do people come to you?
First of all, people like my life story and respect my background. Like many, my family immigrated to the United States when I was 7. In fact, I still remember very well not having a word of English and going through my homework with a dictionary, translating every single word. So nothing came easy to me, like many modern immigrants we had come to the United States with nothing but our total savings of 50$. Still living in me today, I have this immigrant mentality, and I know exactly what a quarter is worth. When I was in college, I had three jobs and was working as a waiter, parking valet, and changing brakes and oil in a mechanic shop. And I worked for about a year helping a real-estate agent renting apartments – I was really good at that. When I became a junior at the college, I got an internship at the Spartan Hedge Fund located at the New York Mercantile Commodity Exchange. There were 130 kids who applied to that position, and 5 of us were selected for a full-time job. That’s where all the global commodities were traded such as oil, gas, sugar, gold, silver, corn. I started as a clerk, working my way from the lowest position to analyst.
So how many years in total did you spend there and why did you move on to real estate?
I spent around 7 years there, and that was good. I was making a lot of money, but being as young as I am, I was replaced by the algorithm-trading machine. I think that many people around the world will soon experience this, as when I first started trading, the whole industry went electronic. My first couple of years computers where integrating, but while I was learning what we now call trading “the old way”, computers were already taking over. Algorithm trading changed the entire industry and eliminated many jobs, including mine. Wall Street became really unstable, after the recession, crash of 2008, and I actually overstayed at the trading floor. I had gotten used to it. I always felt very lucky that I ended up here on the Trading Floor
So, were you finally fired?
Not really, I had to leave—I had not been making a dollar for months. So, I thought to myself what else could I do to make enough money to pay my bills? I was not considering real estate; I was just thinking to myself, “I know how to predict risks and discover opportunities when no-one sees them, I am good at it,” because the Hedge Fund Trader mentality makes you to look at things through Risk and Reward perspective. And somehow it worked, and I picked it up naturally. I still make financial models in excel spreadsheets for properties discounting and predicting future returns.
So, to my main question – Why are wealthy Africans and choosing to invest in New York over local opportunities?
For ordinary people and investors from emerging or well-developed countries, including United Sates, location plays the most important role! New York City was ranked as number one in many global real estate ranks in 2017. Wealthy Africans understand that. Even during 2008 recession NYC real estate properties kept very stable prices, and some of them even went up. In addition, the New York area is changing quickly. My international clients do not know that just 25-30 years ago prime locations, such Times Square and Bryant Park were occupied by heroin drug dealers, prostitutes and gangsters—it was very dangerous to be there after dark, and in general NYC was a terrifying place to live. Widespread police and government officials’ corruption was destroying the city. In addition, the City experienced heavy financial crisis and 50,000 police workers lost their jobs. Constant electricity blackouts and high unemployment made things terrible. What was happening in New York in 70-90s is similar to the current situation in many third world countries. But by implementing tough regulations and law enforcements, Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who was elected in 1993, changed the city. And currently New York City is a much more gentrified metro city. Many investors understand that there are still many areas in New York City that experience gentrification process, and they want to catch this opportunity to buy at a lower cost at locations that just in two years may become a goldmine. Manhattan real estate was significantly cheaper during those bad days, but now prices are out of this world. However, just 15 min away from the center of city, in Brooklyn, there are some amazingly beautiful areas. These neighborhoods becoming more and more valued. For example, Bedford-Stuyvesant and Crown Heights architecturally are one of the most beautiful neighborhoods in all of New York City and are undergoing a gentrification process at this time. So investors are very excited to purchase real estate in such areas, as it will cost a fortunes in just a few years from now. It’s full of brownstones, dream line blocks. And International investors feel confident in the US Rule of Law. It is all about the Rule of Law, plus I represent Corcoran, which is one of the largest real estate agencies in the United States.
I foresee lasting investment from the emerging to indeed “the emerged” communities within the real estate opportunities inherent in the U.S., however, it’s in our hands to change perceptions to welcome and pivot the investment climate to places such as Africa, where opportunity so too is rife.