Following in the footsteps of his cousin, Alabama native Spencer Means moved to New York City more than three decades ago to pursue a career in fashion merchandising. A series of chance meetings and unexpected opportunities, however, led the FIT grad to the real estate business. He has since brokered deals for Spike Lee, Samuel L. Jackson and other A-list clients, and individually generated more than $100 million in sales—putting him in the top 1 percent of sales associates in the nation.
We recently sat down with Means, who handles both commercial and residential sales, to discuss his unique career path, what it’s like to work with high-profile clients, and how a chance celebrity encounter at Tiffany & Co. inspired him to persevere in New York City and pursue a real estate career.
INHABIT: Was there any experience or encounter that lead you to the real estate business?
SM: [The legendary singer-actress] Lena Horne entered into Tiffany & Co.while I was working there and struck up a conversation. We spoke of my cousin—I moved to New York with him, and he had recently passed of AIDS. I had expressed to Lena that I had found a new opportunity in real estate, however, my family wanted me to move back home to Birmingham. She then said to me, “Stay here in New York and enter in to real estate, you are going to be a star, baby!”
INHABIT: Can you point to a sale or experience early in your real estate career that you believe helped pave the way for your success?
SM: Selling Spike Lee’s home in Brooklyn. I got that house through a friend of Mrs. Lee, and it was one of the first houses Corcoran sold in Brooklyn. Because the Lees trusted me, [the sale] was a conduit to other celebrities.
INHABIT: Since this sale, you’ve worked with a lot of high-profile clients. Does the occupation of a client affect your approach?
SM: I treat everyone the same in regards to privacy and attention to detail. But artists need a creative space to live in—to allow their mind to open up, to expand. I try to listen, look at the world through their creative eye, and find the right place for them. If you’re not listening to someone, you’re not learning.
INHABIT: What’s the most valuable piece of advice you’ve ever received?
SM: [Actor] Samuel L. Jackson and his wife, LaTanya Richardson, told me to never get caught up in the present moment. You must always look to the future and to constant betterment.
INHABIT: What’s a common real estate mistake you see in this market?
SM: To overthink it. If the space speaks to you, that’s the space you should go for.
INHABIT: Do you have any tips for first-time home buyers?
SM: It’s hard to get in the game, but don’t be afraid of taking that punch. Real estate is always the best investment.
INHABIT: Aside from real estate, what are some of your hobbies and interests?
SM: I’ve always been a lover of the arts and fashion. I sit on two committees at the Metropolitan Museum of Art: the Multicultural Audience Development Initiative and the Costume Institute. I also sit on the board of tourism for New York City and the board of the Dance Theater of Harlem.
INHABIT: You live in Manhattan’s Upper West Side—what drew you there?
SM: Throughout my many years living in New York City, I have lived in almost every neighborhood. The Upper West Side is a very relaxed part of town, and I’ve lived here for over 20 years. I’ve seen the gentrification of the neighborhood, and it’s still one of the most diverse parts of the city.
INHABIT: How would you describe your personal interior design aesthetic?
SM: Mid-century and monochromatic. I was raised in a very traditional household, and I have steered myself toward more clean lines. I still have a few pieces that have been with me my entire life, like a mirror I got from my mother’s house, but I think people go the direct opposite of their parents’ style.
INHABIT: Finish this statement: ‘If I wasn’t working in real estate, I’d be…’
SM: An interior designer.
INHABIT: Please complete the following sentence: ‘My home wouldn’t be home without…’
SM: Fresh flowers and candles.