Jorge Perez: Miami’s King of Luxury
Perhaps one of the most iconic real estate developers in the country, a man whose Related Group has built enough buildings to change completely the Miami skyline, has had his ups and downs, and here’s the story of how he’s risen from ashes, like a phoenix.
Jorge Perez, a real estate developer and urban planner of The Related Group, proves that the ability to achieve maximum entrepreneurial growth is not a far-fetched dream as it may seem.
Perez, founder, chairman, and CEO of the Related Group began his company in the affordable housing industry, serving the needs of the elderly and those qualified for low-income housing. “We started in public housing development in Florida: Little Havana, Wynwood 40 years ago for the elderly, poor, Latinos,” he said. “It’s what I liked, doing something to benefit society.”
In the late 70s and early 80s, he began development projects in urban areas of Miami such as Little Havana where a number of Cuban exiles settled following the Mariel Boatlift in which a mass exodus from the Caribbean island led Cuban nationals to the United States. The government backed the financing of his projects through government-issued loans. Partnered with Stephen Ross, a New York developer and cofounder of the Related Group of Florida, one of their largest projects at the time was remodeling a 21-unit apartment complex in Little Havana. In the years that followed, larger and more upscale projects took off, including condos and luxury living facilities such as the Murano at Portofino, The Manor at Flagler, New River Yacht Club and The Luxury Skyrise Courtyards in City Place in West Palm Beach.
By the year 2000, Perez had almost entirely left the urban housing industry, allowing him to focus on luxury residencies until 2008 when the housing and economic crisis hit the nation. Perez was driven back into the affordable housing industry. Billions of dollars worth in properties were purchased at the time because due to the housing crisis, which set the country into panic mode following a number of homeowners who had purchased properties without appropriate credit and affordability, causing a national financial meltdown. Banks and owners wanted to sell properties quickly, expecting a more mediocre market and attempting to get rid of their properties for fast cash.
In recent years, The Related Group has generated about four billion in building production, escalating the firm into one of the largest real-estate companies in the country, and signature developer of upscale living in Florida with numerous projects, such as the Auberge Residences in Miami’s Art District. More than half of the condominium buyers in Miami are foreigners who purchase luxury properties in the United States. The company, which has many properties that begin at more than one million dollars to purchase, has sprouted overseas with upscale condos and hotels in Playa del Carmen, Acapulco and other Mexican getaway destinations. The Related Group has already begun other projects in other parts of the world.
“We have 70 projects surrounding the Americas and three or four in India,” said Perez, dubbed the Condo King. Perez said there are currently up to a dozen condos under construction in South Beach, particularly in Ft. Lauderdale and Miami. He also said there is an international division, which oversees projects in the Bahamas, Mexico, Brazil, and Argentina. “All luxury products,” he said. The Related Group boasts having other divisions such as affordable housing-low income, workforce housing for the middle class and high-end apartments being produced in Atlanta, St. Petersburg, Orlando and other cities. Each division has a president, construction team, management and other roles.
“We’re best in class,” Perez said as he noted taking pride in the strides The Related Group has taken over the years. “One of my greatest prides is that I’ve created the DNA of the company,” he added.
Brickell Heights is the latest project in Miami. The double tower condos will include shopping areas and a gym and 690 units. He credits part of the success of the inception of these projects to his marketing efforts, which allows them to expand creativity through art and architecture. “Our brand and form of marketing allow us to enter even those markets overseas,” he said. He used a recent project in Cancun as an example, which sold 30 percent higher than it would have sold in the average market. The design and vision of the projects are contributed by members of his staff: two full-time curators and a construction department, which checks all of the projects and reports back to the project managers. Perez calls his team the renaissance men because the project managers know various tasks and are knowledgeable, able to train assistant managers and develop them into strong project managers. Long gone are the days when Perez racked up loans for projects, which are financed through equity partners, minimizing the company’s debt. In the past, Perez has partnered with President Trump for projects in Florida.
As many other entrepreneurial endeavors, Perez, who was born in Argentina to Cuban parents, endured a few setbacks and hardships along the story of his successful company. “Sometimes we’re not strong enough and things can go wrong,” he said. “Leverage is a double-edged sword. It lets you produce so much with a small investment but when things go bad you have to pay.”
This was the situation Perez was challenged with after receiving two billion dollars in loans and three billion in sales that practically dissolved. With 80 banks to deal with, Perez was involved with too many loans. “Even though they allow you to grow faster it can become a huge problem,” he said. “You can’t have all your eggs in one basket, and yet when things go too well people tell you-you’re a genius and you begin believing that.”
Alongside his business endeavors, Perez is also committed to a number of philanthropic efforts. He said he wants the community to grow in sustainability and balance. He takes pleasure in community efforts because it makes him feel like a better human. Along with his family and Puerto Rican singer and close friend Marc Anthony, monies are awarded to pushing efforts for international arts, especially promoting Latin American art. One such example is promoting the art of Cuban artists and offering them scholarships so that they can come to the United States and have opportunities to improve their art and showcases their work in this country. For Perez, it’s also an opportunity for better communication between the United States and Latin America, with Miami serving as the central hub to connect both.
“Many of our immigrants lack the education and have to build from the bottom up and it costs them,” he said. “Many Cubans who arrive to the United States were successful because they had an education so they had a leg up, some were upper class. But if you come from a ranch, can’t write, it’s hard to be successful, especially if you’re different or illegal. And so those are the ones who need to be helped and told, ‘Yes you can!’”