Passing the Baton
Related Group founder Jorge Pérez has overseen every detail of a vast real estate empire over the past 40 years. Now, sons Jon Paul and Nick are guiding the company through a generational shift.
The topic for the three panelists at the real estate forum in Fort Lauderdale had nothing to do with Millennials. The focus was “Downtown Fort Lauderdale: A Dynamic Investment Opportunity.” Generational change, however, was center stage.
On the left sat Michael Harrison, senior managing director at Hines. Houston-based Hines is developing a 500-apartment, mixed-use project in the city. To the right sat local development legend Charlie Ladd, who is building a 140-room boutique hotel on Las Olas Boulevard. Sandwiched between was Nick Pérez of Miami’s Related Group. He ran through a half-dozen Fort Lauderdale real estate projects totaling more than 1,300 condos, apartments and hotel rooms in towers ranging from mid-rise to 45 stories.
Pérez is 35. Harrison was at Hines when Pérez was a toddler. Ladd began his career before Pérez was born.
“Being able to share a stage and, I guess, have that respect at a young age is a lot of responsibility,” Nick Pérez said later.
Millennials in 2019 replaced Boomers as the largest generation and are now in their prime spending years. As Boomers retire nationally at the pace of 10,000 a day, there’s a noticeable shift in leadership and responsibility to Millennials such as Pérez and his older brother and boss, Jon Paul, 38. They represent both the generational shift in the marketplace and within Related as their father, company founder, chairman and CEO Jorge Pérez, 73, scales back his involvement. Jorge Pérez has said he spends about a third of his time on Related. His sons say it’s more like half his time because he won’t let go.
Jorge Pérez is one of Florida’s most iconic business leaders. Born in Argentina to Cuban immigrants, he never forgot how his parents were ruined financially by the Communist takeover in Cuba and fought his way up stateside accordingly. After working in planning for the City of Miami, he started Related in 1979 as a developer of affordable and subsidized housing, then moved into market-rate rentals and ultimately condos — exclusively condos until the scarring 2008 Great Recession, which led to a restart of affordable housing and market-rate divisions. He’s a developer of such renown that “uber developer” and “condo king” are usually attached to his name. Along with his real estate projects, he’s known for his vast art collecting and philanthropy and for his personal intensity. For four decades, nearly every detail at Related was run by Jorge. Forbes pegs his fortune at $1.7 billion.
His children’s memories — there are four Pérez siblings — track their father’s career: Visiting low-rise apartment job sites after youth soccer games and later visiting highrises in their teens and college days. While Jon Paul (known as JP) and Nick are in the family trade, the eldest sibling, Cristina, 39, is a social worker and the youngest, Felipe, 18, is at Wake Forest University.
When Florida Trend took a detailed look at Related in 2018, the company had developed 70,000 apartments and condos since the early 1980s and had 72 projects in the pipeline in the United States, Argentina, Brazil and Mexico. Five years later, Related’s tally stands at more than 100,000 apartments and condos developed for more than $40 billion with another 90 projects in the pipeline.
The Six Fisher Island project is the smallest, with 50 condos averaging $30 million on the exclusive Miami island. The largest project, Liberty Square, covers the redevelopment of a 55-acre Miami-Dade County Public Housing site into public housing, affordable, workforce, market rate and homeownership units. Related’s largest market is Southeast Florida, followed by a major investment in Tampa. It’s active also in Orlando, Jacksonville, North Carolina, Atlanta, Phoenix, Houston, Mexico, Brazil and Argentina. It directly employs approximately 1,000.
Overseeing all of Related’s projects as president is JP. Nick is president of the firm’s condominium development division.
‘International by nature’
The brothers grew up in Miami but are graduates of Park City High in Park City, Utah. (Their parents divorced, and their mother lives there.) JP earned a business degree from the University of Miami in 2007. He left for six years for New York and Related Cos., the firm of Manhattan developer, billionaire and Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross. His Related Cos. is separate from Pérez’s Related Group, though for decades Ross had a minority interest in Pérez’s Related and Pérez had a minority interest in Ross’ Related. Contemporaries say JP worked long hours and “with humility.” He returned to Miami in 2012 to join his father.
Nick earned his degree in business administration at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, joined a private equity firm in New York and spent nearly six years, like his brother, at Ross’ Related, including a stint in Shanghai. Nick returned to Miami and his father’s firm in 2017. Both brothers have MBAs from Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management.
The brothers know that few their age run an organization with such an array of projects as Related. Nick Pérez says he was aware at the Fort Lauderdale real estate forum of presenting next to such well-respected industry figures as Harrison and Ladd. “It’s great. But, you know, I’m still learning every day. We have a great executive support team here that helps guide my brother and me when we have questions or want to spitball ideas, too. But it’s an opportunity, I think, we’re both extremely grateful for and we’re excited, right?”
They’ve won over brokers with their eagerness to help salespeople representing their developments and outside agents representing buyers. Brokers abroad appreciate the Pérez brothers traveling to attend their events promoting Florida real estate, pitching buyers on Related units as investments, hearing buyer reaction and learning what should come next.
“I think that’s very astute. They’re international by nature. One of the biggest things I could say about Related and JP and Nick — they know the market. They’re from Miami,” says Peggy Olin, president and CEO of real estate brokerage One- World Properties, which represented the Crosby, a 450-unit luxury condo tower now under construction at Miami Worldcenter. “They complement each other so well, and they’re able to cover a lot more territory,” Olin says.
Nitin Motwani, managing partner at Miami Worldcenter, who partnered with his brother Dev and Related on Crosby, says working with Related proved “very easy and seamless.” Says Motwani, “JP and I shook hands on it. We papered it very quickly. Two families being reasonable and rational.” The Motwanis share a background with the Pérez brothers — both follow parent founders in real estate. The two sets of brothers have talked business and about being brothers working together since meeting several years ago. Motwani says he’s always impressed by how deeply the Pérez brothers know the details of their large number of projects. “JP, when you ask him about any of the businesses, he has a firm grasp of what’s going on,” Motwani says.
Talking with the Pérez brothers produces a dizzying array of project details, from construction costs to appliance packages to investor types who buy at each development and current pre-sale levels. Their knowledge comes from multi-day, twice monthly staff meetings — originated by their father — in which every Related project is discussed. The brothers get into the weeds. Miami buyers, who skew international, are comfortable with putting down 50% deposits pre-construction. (Related only builds once it sells 50% of a project.) Tampa isn’t accustomed to that. There, 30% became the deposit figure on projects. Miami buyers can stomach $2,000-per-sq.-ft. prices. In Tampa, where Related built Ritz-Carlton-branded condos, “nobody would buy” at that level, JP says. (Prices per square foot run from about $790 to $1,800 for units in their second Ritz- Carlton tower there.) Tampa projects are sold almost entirely to end-users from the United States. Miami projects draw international investors — 70% of sales at some condo projects — who want to lease the units out.
The constant throughout Related offerings everywhere, whether luxury or affordable housing, is Jorge Pérez’s love of art. Even after donating his collection to the Pérez Art Museum Miami, he’s acquired so much more art that he employs two full-time curators to track it and see it displayed at projects. His sons say the attention to aesthetics pays off. Even in garden-style apartment projects, their units will produce $200 to $300 more a month in rent thanks to superior interior and exterior design and landscaping, they say. “How do we make this project appealing and better than the guy that’s selling next door? I think that’s what Related has been great at — is the creativity of continuing to be able to reinvent the wheel, come up with new ideas, push the boundaries in every aspect of the job,” JP says. “That’s the fun part. Let’s create this vision.”
Something else handed down from their father: Leave money on the table to get repeat business from investor buyers. “I think that’s been our father’s motto since he started doing condos. We have so many jobs that we don’t need to maximize every dollar,” JP says. “We’d rather pass that on to the buyer so that they have some built-in gains when they’re buying from us.”
“You can’t replace 43 years of experience,” says Nick. “Having that is invaluable.”
They’ve sold their father on new ideas, like entire buildings targeted for investors who wanted units they could lease out for short-term and vacation rentals. JP overcame his father’s concerns about developing an apartment building in mural-rich Wynwood, the trendy arts and entertainment area north of downtown. Jorge Pérez didn’t see demand for luxury rental units in a neighborhood of industrial buildings. Related now is on its seventh Wynwood project.
Partly a function of personality and partly just that there’s two of them, the brothers have expanded Related’s relationships and partnerships. Related does more deals with brands than it did historically, such as the St. Regis Residences Miami. With a $2-billion sell-out, it’s the most expensive condo Related ever built.
Related’s scale gives the brothers a statewide perspective that merits attention. Most competent approval and permitting process among their major metros? Tampa. “Probably the fastest, most efficient market that we’re in,” JP says.
Key to solving Florida’s housing shortage? Speed up the approval process. And the future of Florida is vertical. “Sustainable growth in a city is up, not out,” Nick says.
Optimal way to get more affordable housing developed? JP says there too, the time of approvals is of the essence. Waive permit and impact fees. Increase subsidies. Use government-owned land. Importantly: Mix below-market units with market-rate units in the same project so the latter subsidizes the former. Their Related Urban affordable and workforce housing division under Albert Milo Jr. has 4,000 units in the pipeline. Its Gallery brand mixes low-income, workforce and market-rate housing.
In Tampa, Related Urban, working with the Tampa Housing Authority, is the master developer for the West River area, taking the site of a notorious, torn-down public housing project and replacing it with affordable, workforce and market-rate units with higher-end finishes, granite countertops and fitness centers.
Related ventured into the Tampa Bay region a decade ago. It replaced the former Tampa Tribune headquarters with the first area condos to sell at more than a half-million dollars a unit. It brought Ritz-Carlton into the market and last year purchased six riverfront acres for $55.5 million.
The brothers as Millennials with Millennial friends have insight into what their generation wants in a real estate project, but Related isn’t Millennial focused.
Related is site-driven, looking for optimal real estate parcels and then deciding what to build. In condos, few Millennials can afford what Related builds. Rental projects are where they see more Millennials. At any project, whether buyers or renters, they know consumers want amenities: Work-from-home spaces, spas and well-equipped gyms. Every generation wants pickleball.
Florida’s popularity also bodes well for future development, JP says. “There’s definitely not enough housing for the number of people moving here,” he says. “We’re undersupplied.” Also, Miami remains a preferred choice among Latin Americans. Nick accompanied his father on a sales trip to Colombia in the fall. “South America’s always a feeder market to South Florida. That’s always going to be a continued demand driver for condos here in South Florida,” JP says.
The two brothers are sharp and polished beyond their years. Ladd, at the real estate forum dialogue, sought to underscore Fort Lauderdale’s pluses by noting how unusually close the city’s downtown is to the beach. To bolster his point, he put Nick Pérez on the spot: Wouldn’t Pérez agree the drive from Miami’s Brickell area to South Beach was a 30- to 40-minute affair?
Pérez, unperturbed, responded, “I really love Miami, so I’m going to say 10.”
SIZE: No. 21 on Florida Trend’s ranking of the state’s largest privately held companies. One of the largest Hispanic owned businesses in the nation.
90-PLUS: Current projects
IN THE PIPELINE:
- International: 1,300 units valued at $2.2 billion
- Affordable Housing: 12,000 units, $3.2 billion
- Market-Rate Rental: 12,600 units, $6.5 billion
- Condo/Mixed-Use: 9,000 units, $15 billion
LUXURY PROJECTS INCLUDE:
- Baccarat Residences Miami, Brickell, 75 stories, 360 units, starting at $1.6 million
- Ritz-Carlton Residences, Tampa, 27 stories, 100 units, $1.7 million to $5.6 million
- Casa Bella by B&B Italia, Miami, 56 stories, 317 units, $550,000 to $8 million
- NoMad Residences, Wynwood, Miami, nine stories, 329 units, $600,000 to $869,000
AFFORDABLE HOUSING PROJECTS INCLUDE:
- Gallery at West Brickell, Miami, 29 stories, 465 mixed-income rental units — 163 of them affordable or workforce, partnership with Miami-Dade public housing and Miami-Dade schools
- Boulevard 1 West River, Tampa, seven stories, 119 affordable and market-rate units
- Liberty Square, Miami, partnership with Miami-Dade County on redevelopment of a New Deal-era housing project into a more than 1,455-unit development of low-income, affordable housing and market-rate units, the market-rate helping subsidize the other housing