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Lunch at The Four Seasons with: Adrienne Albert

Published by The New York Sun on 2005-12-22

Adrienne Albert obtained a master's degree in architecture from the Massachusetts Institute of technology, and then started a catering business at a tennis academy.

What was the connection?

"Well, for one it was difficult to get decent architecture jobs in those days," Ms. Albert said. "But then a catering hall burned down, and I was asked to design and rebuild it. Then shortly after that, I got involved with running a tennis academy. It needed catering. So I started cooking in my third-floor walk-up in Boston, and brought the food to the tennis place - you know, finger food, sandwiches, and small cheesecakes."

After three years of this, she got a job at a real-estate advertising agency in Toronto. Within two years, it became the largest such agency in that Canadian city, not the least on account of Ms. Albert's energy and enterprise.

"I combined marketing and advertising in real estate," she said, explaining her strategy for success in Toronto.

That meant she had every incentive to continue in the real-estate industry. But not in Canada.

She was pregnant, and she wanted her son to be born in America.

"I'm very patriotic," Ms. Albert said. "I wanted my son to be raised in America."

Her son, Matthew Brecher, now works in the real-estate business.

Even as he was growing up in New York, his mother yearned to use the architectural skills she'd learned at MIT.

So she started building models of buildings.

Those models, along with full-size replicas of condominium homes, have enabled the president of The Marketing Directors Inc. to sell more than $15 billion in properties in America and Canada.

"You see, most developers love finance," Ms. Albert said. "Very few of them love marketing. I've been promoting the idea that if you market your property better, you will get more customers - and higher prices."

So in her scheme, a well-appointed sales office is a must. The office must be on site. It must have a welcoming atmosphere. That means fresh flowers, soothing decor, comfort food, and smiling salespersons - always smiling sales persons.

"Those smiles need to be sincere," Ms. Albert said, adding that she emphasizes sincerity in her training course for real-estate sales people all across America.

Those sales persons not only lead potential customers to the building models created by Ms. Albert, they also point to miniature versions of condominium apartments.

"You can peek into the apartments, which are fully furnished - all models, of course," Ms. Albert said. "But customers can imagine themselves living in those exquisite units. They can imagine the space."

To tap even more into customers' imagination, Ms. Albert also maintains a staff of brokers in the sales offices. The idea, simply put, is to try and arrive at a deal on site.

That technique has been successfully used at more than 50 residential projects.

So why not sell commercial space in similar fashion?

"I've always wondered about that," Ms. Albert said. "But you can't dance at every wedding."

She paused to look around the restaurant, where several well-known commercial developers were dining.

"I assume that commercial developers could benefit from the kind of marketing I provide," Ms. Albert said. "We've been raising the bar for developers. And I think we've become the standard over the years as to what real-estate sales should be."

The sales generated by her, and by other marketers, keep increasing each year. The president of Miller Samuel, New York's largest real estate valuations company, Jonathan Miller, said yesterday that the average sales price in Manhattan rose to a record 30% in 2005, or $1,317,528, up $307,530 (30.4%) from last year's $1,009,998.

Mr. Miller said that this year, sales of residential property in Manhattan alone would exceed $12 billion, a figure that fuels Ms. Albert's enthusiasm for condominium sales.

Indeed, Ms. Albert's enthusiasm is so infectious that even her 70-year-old mother Rosalind, a painter and sculptor, started taking real-estate courses, and often turned up at her daughter's sales sites.

"I got my energy and fun-loving nature from my mother," the Brooklyn-born Ms. Albert said. "And my father, Murray, who was a doctor, gave me my intellectual mooring. He was very learned, very intellectual, and very grounded. He would always say me, his only daughter, 'Never be the second best.'"

Did that mean her father hoped she would follow him into medicine?

"I was never directed toward a specific career - but I was always urged to have a career," Ms. Albert said. "I was always expected to chart my own course."

The course took her to Simmons College, a small women's institution in Boston, where Ms. Albert majored in art history and philosophy. She also took design courses and, for one academic project, designed a building complex.

Somewhere along the way, she developed a fascination for architecture. That is why she sought, and obtained, admission for a four-year master's degree program at MIT.

"Yes, that program was certainly tough," Ms. Albert said. "But I learned to be intellectually disciplined, and to be analytical."

She also learned that she was inclined more toward design than conventional brick-and-mortar architecture. In fact, during the time that she ran the tennis academy on Route 128 near Boston, Ms. Albert designed indoor courts.

In her mind, selling real-estate involves design, too.

"What sort of facility should be built? How to make the residential environment most appealing for the buyer?" Ms. Albert said. "These are the kinds of questions I raise with developers well before their projects start. We help develop understanding how to gain competitive advantage."

And what does that involve?

"That involves designing a sales campaign that enables developers make sales more effectively," Ms. Albert said. "And I'm always mindful that the end-user, the customer, is looking for a better life in a new apartment."

Pranay Gupte,
Senior Writer and Global-Affairs Columnist

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