Bill Morris in Building Operations on June 20, 2019
This article is part of our occasional series, “The Previous Lives of Property Managers.”
After graduating from the University of Rochester in 2001, Michael Feldman drove cross-country to Los Angeles simply because he was “a carefree idiot kid,” as he puts it. Feldman soon landed a job as a production assistant – a big word for gofer – on the crew making Gigli, which starred Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck and bombed spectacularly at the box office.
Undaunted, Feldman went on to work on numerous other movies with A-list stars, including Jack Nicholson and Adam Sandler, rising to the position of location scout, which taught him a number of skills, including ingenuity, that would prove invaluable later in life. In addition to cruising the city looking for photogenic spots, Feldman worked on the set during shoots, where one of his duties was to make sure no street noises bled into a scene during filming.
“I had a fanny pack stuffed with cash,” recalls Feldman, now 40. “If I heard a noise – lawnmowers, dogs barking, kids playing – I wouldn’t walk, I would run to the source and ask them nicely to stop. If that didn’t work, I’d give them 100, 200 dollars to be quiet.”
After a couple of years in Hollywood, Feldman started to burn out. The divorce rate among movie crews, he notes, rivals that of movie stars. So he headed back east and started working as a broker of residential and commercial mortgages in New York. He and his brother bought an apartment together on the Lower East Side, and Michael eventually served on several co-op and condo boards, which acquainted him with property managers, some good, others not. He had three preconceptions about property managers. He says the first two – that they’re lazy and not smart – proved wrong, while the third – that many were technologically behind the curve – proved right.
And so in the scary year of 2009, while the Great Recession was gathering its full fury, Feldman and a fellow commercial broker, Ben Bottner, opened Choice New York Management. They had little capital and no clients, but they were willing to work hard and learn fast. The business took off, thanks in part to Feldman’s previous life in Hollywood.
“The logistics of being a location scout and a property manager are very similar,” he says, sitting in his office across the street from Madison Square Garden. “You wake up in the morning and the bullets start flying. Both jobs involve volume task management – lots of jobs that don’t take very long but give you an instantaneous reward. It’s a very similar mentality: attack, hustle, do right by people, be honest. You can’t do any service job without hustling. Ninety-five percent of it is outworking your competition and treating everyone fairly – your clients, employees, and vendors.”
From its humble beginnings a decade ago, Choice New York has added a division dedicated to hiring building staffs and a residential brokerage, and it now employs 135 people. As he was building the business – now called Choice New York Companies – Feldman started dating Erica Laden, who had started out as a page at NBC and rose to become an entertainment executive. They got married and now have an 8-year-old son and a 6-year-old daughter.
During his own youth in Washington, D.C., Feldman came in touch with the whole social spectrum. His father was an assistant U.S. Attorney, his mother was a guidance counselor at a tough high school in southeast D.C., and as a teenager Feldman attended board meetings of companies run by uncles who were successful entrepreneurs.
“I’m able to go up and down,” he says. “I can relate to all different kinds of people because I was exposed to street smarts and book smarts. I’m not intimidated by anyone, but I actually get more excited about meeting a new porter than I do about meeting another movie star. A movie star doesn’t help my business. A porter does.”
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