Kaya Wittenburg‘s Story
Welcome to the Sky Five Properties Blog. I’d like to make the majority of this post highly personal. In reading other blogs, I always seem to enjoy the business talk a bit more if I know the filter by which that person views the world. What kind of person are they? What are their passions and motivations?
So, a good place to start would be to jump into answering these relevant questions and more. Why am I doing this anyway? What is Sky Five Properties all about? And who is this Kaya guy, the person, behind the words in this blog? I’ll start with who is this Kaya guy and why is he writing a blog about real estate in South Florida.
Ever since I was a child growing up in the friendly Mid-western suburb of Brookfield, Wisconsin, I always enjoyed creative writing. I was incredibly shy, so writing was a way to express myself in a thoughtful and detailed, yet emotionally safe way. Some of my most vivid memories were eagerly waiting for my mother to get home from work so that she could tell me all about the real estate deals that she was negotiating in one of her exclusive gated communities. I was particularly drawn to the negotiation processes themselves. It was fascinating to hear about the subtle, and sometimes not so subtle, gamesmanship that went on through the property acquisitions. Each closing had its own unique trials and tribulations, which my mom openly shared with me as if I were an adult. And when closing day arrived, there was always a celebration in the Wittenburg household once mom’s buyers moved into their new homes. The part of real estate that I really had grown to admire was the fact that if you work exceptionally hard at what you do, good things happen – luck eventually falls in your direction, and your life improves in countless ways. I watched both of my parents work seven days a week – week after week. I grew up watching dedication and hard work as critical success and fulfillment behaviors, second to only love and family.
Learning the Value of Investment Property
The real estate friendships formed were also interesting to hear about. My mother’s clients often turned into some of our best family friends, attending dinners and other fun community events with us. If I was lucky and behaving well, I’d get to venture off with my mom through some of the houses or get paid to rake leaves or cut the grass at some of the properties. At the homes of my mother’s clients, I was always greeted with a smile. They’d often bring me out some lemonade or hot chocolate and ask me questions about what I wanted to do when I grew up. Most of the conversations centered on real estate. I was in awe learning that most of the families had multiple homes in really cool places for ‘investment’ purposes. At that point, I realized that investment property was exciting. Who wouldn’t want to own and vacation in some of the best places in the world outside of Wisconsin? I decided that my dream would be to live in a place with an endless summer.
Real estate turned out to be the secondary path along my career trajectory. My first ten years in business were spent traveling around the world as a fashion model. I got a little lucky in landing the Gianni Versace show as my first big casting in Milan, and from there the job took me to every continent except Antarctica (still want to make it there one day, but I haven’t heard much good feedback about those old Russian ships that make the trip down). I’ll save some of those modeling stories for another time. There are many, and they are quite entertaining, but for now we’ll focus on real estate. Overall, the extensive international travel through modeling allowed me to experience countless different cultures. I learned a lot about people, trends, and especially style. Fashion, art, architecture and interior design all seemed to be appreciated by the friends that I had met around the world. The modeling world taught me a couple of key points that would help me in developing my real estate career.
#1 Visual Design is something to take very seriously. I learned to focus on making anything that I create or touch look appealing. Quality design, photography, architecture, and fashion all make a statement about who you are. There are certain people that are tastemakers in the world. The Versace Empire featured not only fashion, but their home furnishings division was thriving and incredibly decadent. I happened to be working every day with Gianni and Donatella Versace, and it was quite an amazing experience to see firsthand the level of passion that they had for visual details. Everything that they touched needed to be made beautiful; it was an absolute necessity of life. This principle of ‘beautification’ has stuck with me strongly. It has served me well long past my modeling years – allowing me to bring strong added value to the creative process behind condo tower development.
#2 Travel broadens your sensibilities and empathy for those that are different than you. In traveling around the world through modeling, I gained a much deeper understanding of cultures and customs different than my limited experiences of someone raised in a small suburban town in Wisconsin. I grew to crave being around people with backgrounds much different than my own. Today – drop me now into say, Tokyo, Prague or Capetown and I’ll feel like I’d be able to assimilate with the culture very quickly. This really helps overall in working with real estate consumers and investors. I have learned to listen and embrace the specific desires of each and every customer that I interact with.
A Drive for Self-improvement
In the modeling world, you have a lot of down time amongst the photo shoots and travel days. Most of my male model colleagues passed the idol time by going out and drinking for free and flirting with the female models at the various hot spots of the cities that they were living in. However, for me, I just knew that there was something different that was waiting for me ahead. I knew that a transition out of modeling and into the real businesses world would be inevitable. And when it did happen, I wanted to hit the ground running – fast. So, I constantly read self-improvement and business educational material whenever I was standing in a long line, traveling or before bed. I read every issue of the Harvard Business Review even though some of the article concepts seemed rather distant and quite complicated at the time. Nevertheless, I stuck with it. I read every book that I could possibly read from Robert Kiyosaki, starting out first with Rich Dad Poor Dad. If have you haven’t read this already, I highly encourage you to. I see it not really as a book, but a work of art – a masterpiece in financial literacy. And finally, I listened to as much material from Tony Robbins that I possibly could. Personal Power was simply amazing, and from Tony’s tapes I learned the power of self-motivation for accomplishing big goals. When the time came to make the leap into real estate and the world of big business, I was ready. And that time came around in the year 2003. It was then that I became a licensed real estate agent in California and went hunting for my first deal while I was living in Beverly Hills.
Within a month of passing my real estate exam, I located a condominium conversion opportunity. It was situated in a great area of Santa Monica close to the Ocean and was just the right size, a manageable thirteen units. A little over a year later, I gained tremendous lessons along the way through a very successful project. Running a full team of contractors for a complete rehabilitation of the exterior grounds and all interior units was no small feat for a rookie. On the real estate brokerage side, I learned how to list, market and sell the individual condos to investors and end-users. It was the perfect project for me at the time, highly stressful with a massive learning curve – as the old saying goes… pressure creates diamonds. And I certainly felt the pressure to complete my first project successfully.
It was now the year 2004, and the Miami pre-construction condo market was booming. Well, the entire market was on fire, but the biggest consumer interest was in purchasing new condos. Real estate developers in Miami were planning and building new condo towers as fast as they possibly could. All of South Florida was gaining tens of thousands of new residential units through the launch of new luxurious condo tower after condo tower. I was an avid reader of Ocean Drive Magazine from back in my modeling days and couldn’t help but be in awe at all of the newly designed condo towers. The architecture and designs were all so modern and clean – right in-line with my preferred style. With lots of friends living in Miami, I kept tabs on what was happening in the city, and it paid off. Soon, I was introduced to the owner of a large brokerage firm heading the sales and marketing for countless new pre-construction condo developments in Miami. I took the meeting in Las Vegas and was hired on the spot to be the Sales Director of a breathtaking new 47-story building with a $400,000,000 sellout figure.
Paramount Bay was my new baby. Within two weeks, I moved across the country and rented an apartment directly across the street from Paramount Bay. I could actually see the lot from my bedroom window. My goal was to spend as much of my waking life dedicated to selling out the building.
My Sales Director position afforded me the opportunity of learning so much about big time real estate in Miami. I hand-selected a team of seven agents to market and sell the pre-construction condos to buyers from around the world. A great deal of my time was spent working with my agents to develop their marketing and networking skills. I also focused on dedicating supreme attention to the needs of potential clients. Really listening, being present, and ultimately, being accountable each and every day for progress with an individuals career. (It’s amazing now to see that several of my sales team members are now some the top producing agents in all of South Florida). In my weekly development meetings with architects, interior designers, advertising firms and the developer’s staff, I learned everything that you could know about how to bring a $400,000,000 condo tower from concept (plans) to reality. A big part of that reality dealt with my team producing the required amount of pre-sales (buyers putting down hard deposits) to satisfy the requirements of the construction lender. A year and a half later I set records for the Biscayne Corridor area with a $550/SF average sale price of the units in Paramount Bay. We hit our goals with an incredible launch of the project and soon I was off the project – promoted to be the Chief Operating Officer of the entire company – in charge of all fifteen new condo towers that we were running the sales and marketing for. Yes, I was now in charge of selling Billions of dollars in real estate in some of the most incredible mixed-use projects in the United States, maybe even the world – Canyon Ranch, Midtown Miami, Marquis, Ten Museum Park and the Caribbean.
I was also the co-managing broker for a roster of hundreds of real estate agents. From there, I watched my problem-solving skills take quantum leaps forward. Virtually each new deal had some sort of problem, and as a responsible managing broker, it was important for me to constantly create solutions. I grew equally well versed in residential and commercial transactions. I’m a big fan of the Tony Robbins Time of Your Life time management system. Time management also became an incredibly important factor in my life. I learned a great deal about working with attorneys and negotiating out Joint Venture, Operating, and Listing Agreements for some massive projects with hundreds of millions of dollars in sellable real estate. The lawyer collaboration was interesting. Once you have been around the block a bit, it’s important to understand that attorneys are best off focusing on the legal language of the deal – not the business points. The principals of any deal should have the wherewithal to
iron-out the business points prior to getting the lawyers involved.
It’s the proper way of doing things from an efficiency perspective, but sometimes attorneys overstep their boundaries and dominate a transaction. Which brings me to my most important point on the topic. In putting deals together your support team is critical. The people involved in the transaction all have their own unique personalities, which I believe can easily be divided into two categories: dealmakers and deal breakers. The deal breakers are generally negatively oriented people that focus on the problems (or potential problems) within a situation. They get stuck in the mud, spinning their wheels and disable the vehicle from moving forward. The dealmakers, on the other hand, are those that focus the vast majority of their energy on solutions. They are my preferred partners, as they make collaborating not only efficient, but oftentimes fun. My next move forward into real estate was to expand into the international arena of destination resorts. In the fall of 2008, the financial collapse of Lehman Brothers was hitting the local markets, so it was a good move to expand my real estate endeavors internationally. I became a master development consultant for large-scale international resort projects in Brazil, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Panama and the Bahamas.
Becoming a Road Warrior
My travel schedule was rather brutal, but my early days of modeling conditioned me to be a pretty savvy road warrior, and well… my American Airlines frequently flier miles crossed the 500,000-mile threshold. Next stop – one million, although I must admit that depressing George Clooney movie has muted some of my enthusiasm for hitting that million-mile mark. The work on the international resorts taught me a lot about the value of relationships. I often dealt with high-powered, Minister-level, governmental officials in order to devise strategies for development and tourism expansion. The United States, of course has its economic challenges, but it is still viewed as having the best group of international homebuyers. I also learned that the city of Miami is the ultimate model for chic, cutting-edge modern residential developments. In strolling though Panama City, I was astonished to see that their developers had copied the names and (oftentimes architecture) of our condo towers. Was this even legal? Well, I guess imitation is the highest form of flattery. Work also became quite hazardous at times. Within the same calendar year, I was involved in a small plane crash landing in the Bahamas, stranded on the Pearl Islands in Panama, and nearly kidnapped by a group of thugs in Southern Mexico near the border of Guatemala. Luck must have been on my side, as each time, I escaped unharmed.
Sky Five Properties Comes to Life
After all of that chaos, I was ready for something completely different. I traveled to twenty-five countries in search of the most beautiful women of the world to form my own modeling agency and international television show. The Ocean Models series was completed in early 2013 and the real estate markets were back stronger than ever. It was in this year that Sky Five Properties was formed. I’d like to think that Sky Five is my opportunity to share with my friends a decade of intense real estate experience. I’m here to help you with any real estate need that you can possibly think of, from the smallest house to the largest mixed-use projects valued in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Feel free to reach out to me at any time. The future is ours to grow and prosper together!