The Next Step Realty—a start-up offering apartment-finding services for graduates as they embark on their careers—is revolutionizing the real estate market in New York, as well as in other cities. Enter Blair Brandt, who co-founded The Next Step Realty in 2010 in order to ensure that graduates are well situated before they begin their jobs at a variety of companies, including Christie’s, Goldman Sachs, and Ralph Lauren.
The Next Step Realty serves graduates from elite schools like Harvard University, Yale University, Princeton University, the University of Virginia, Georgetown University, the University of Richmond, and Trinity College. At The Next Step Realty, graduates work with 13 exclusive, in-house agents from the same backgrounds and networks, thereby establishing a sense of camaraderie—as well as a sense of accountability—that has been proven to ensure success. With such a precedent, The Next Step Realty creates an experience that is positive and productive for everyone who is involved.
When Brandt—an alumnus of Deerfield Academy and the University of Richmond ’10—graduated, he returned home to Palm Beach, Florida, to work for Christian Angle at Christian Angle Real Estate. Soon, realizing the challenges of being a twenty-something agent—as well as the challenges of being a twenty-something in search of an agent—Brandt employed his enterprising spirit to create the company that would evolve into The Next Step Realty.
By March 2010, there was a logo: a blue and white giraffe, symbolizing the transition of the graduate. Soon, Jason Briggs—an alumnus of Tabor Academy and Columbia University ’94—invested $100,000 of seed capital, becoming chairman of the board. Within a year, he solidified his commitment to The Next Step Realty by becoming a day-to-day presence on the team, offering a different, more experienced perspective. “Why I invested is compelling,” he says. “I backed Next Step Realty because I wanted to do something to make my three-year-old proud. At best, he can work beside me in 20 years. I am trying to build this for him. I also have always had an unwavering confidence in Blair and his integrity and work ethic. I was buying into Blair. I had seen him being competitive, playing basketball. I liked his drive and knew it would translate to his company.”
Briggs recalls searching for an apartment as a young professional, calling 12 brokers from the classifieds in The New York Times. “Only one person called me back and didn’t treat me like a kid,” he says. The Next Step Realty provides a stable of agents like the one Briggs disovered, agents who are eager, rather than inconvenienced, to work with twenty-somethings.
“In the end, our brokers aren’t that much different from our clients,” says Brandt. “They’re the same age, their alma maters are the same. We’re matching our clients with like-minded people in our brokers.”
Matt Bauman—an alum of Brown University ’10—joined the team from Halstead Property in March. Speaking to what differentiates The Next Step Realty from its competitors, he says: “There’s a level of trust that is inherently created when we, as brokers, look more like our customers’ peers than their parents. Plus, the process is that much more fun when you get to walk around the city with someone who, whether literally or figuratively, just showed up to New York for the first time with a suitcase, a MetroCard, and a dream. The clients we get are serious about moving, qualified to go on an apartment tour, and excited about working with us. There is an exclusivity behind our brand, and to get paired with a Next Step broker feels more like an honor than a nuisance.”
And an honor it is—The Next Step Realty treats its customers who, on average, are paying $1,723.07/month on rent as though they were purchasing multi-million-dollar homes. As well as a standard of service from its agents, the company offers amenities like branded cars to hunt for apartments in; welcome packages after renting that include branded items like Zagat restaurant guides and benefits with companies like Uber; and monthly customer appreciation events where everyone can mix and mingle. “When clients sign up with us, they feel like they’re part of a club,” says Briggs.
The formula is working. In 2011, the company earned $98,000 in revenue; in 2012, the company earned $207,000 in revenue. This year, The Next Step Realty is poised to pull in $2.1 million in revenue, with 20 employees and 13 agents. “You know, it’s the happiness of the customers first, and then we do the math,” says Brandt.
Affirming this approach, Bauman says, “The second a customer contacts The Next Step Realty, they are immediately welcomed as a part of our family. This is integral to our success. The apartment search process, especially in New York City, can be so cold and distant; landlords often do not see you as a person. We attempt to mitigate this at all costs to make our customers feel valued. From company cars driving them around to fun swag bags delivered upon moving in, we spare no expense at The Next Step Realty to make sure our customers know how much we truly care about them. Once a Next Step customer, always a Next Step customer.”