“Dirt poor would probably be the right term,” Corcoran agent Mark Martov says about his childhood. Martov’s family moved from Russia to New York when he was seven. He already had held a number of jobs — from catering to car repair — when he stumbled upon the real estate industry as a college student. How hard could it be to rent a few apartments, he thought.
Real estate turned out to be more complex than he imagined, but Martov displayed an aptitude for the business. He left real estate for several years for a trading job on Wall Street, returning in 2014 with a sharper analytic skill set and a love of Excel spreadsheets. In the three years that followed, he ranked among the Top 10 agents in Brooklyn for sales and rentals. Today, his team is one of Corcoran’s top performers in the borough.
Martov talks about balancing emotions and practicalities when buying a home, where TV home renovation shows miss the mark and why he loves living in Coney Island.
INHABIT: How did your background shape your work ethic?
Martov: I grew up in an immigrant family, living in a one bedroom, my dad working three jobs. There’s a term “pay it forward,” but for me it was more like “pay it back.” People are motivated by different things, I wanted to do right by my family.
INHABIT: You started in real estate, moved to a hedge fund, and then returned. What aspects of your financial training did you bring back with you?
Martov: On the trading floor, I learned to read people really well. These days, I’ll walk into an apartment with new clients and a few minutes later say, “Guys, this is probably not for you. Let’s go to the next one.” I always tell clients to be honest with me, but some people have trouble expressing their opinion. Being able to intuit how they feel is helpful.
Sellers love working with me, especially developers or builders, because I can pull together all the relevant numbers really quickly. I can get an Excel spreadsheet done in like 15 seconds. On the buying side, I present my clients with a report showing everything that’s happened in the neighborhood in the past six years in terms of sales, what I’m projecting will happen in the future and the reasons why.
Buying a home is a huge emotional transaction. But the average person moves four to five times in their lifetime and every single time it’s an investment. One of the biggest things that they’re going to remember isn’t that Little Johnny took his first steps in the apartment, it’s that they bought it for $300,000 and sold it five years later for a million.
INHABIT: When it comes to your work, do you have a personal motto or guiding principle?
Martov: I think having a sense of humor is incredibly important — and trust matters a lot to me. I’d rather lose the deal than the client. I don’t put that on my email signature, but it definitely guides my work. My clients come from referrals, people saying, “That guy Mark did right by me.”
INHABIT: With so many shows about house flipping and home renovations, do you find people have a false sense of cost, time and scope?
Martov: That happens all the time. A client will mention wanting to do a “light renovation,” and they mean the kitchen and bathrooms. The pipes that reach the kitchen and bath run throughout your whole entire house. You have to rip up the floors, and once you do that, you’re breaking walls, too. That’s a gut renovation.
When it comes to assessing a property in that way, I have a whole team of architects, plumbers and lawyers I can consult. It’s probably easier to find your significant other — and I mean a soulmate — than it is to find a good contractor. I’ve been burned in the past, but I now have people I can really count on.
INHABIT: What advice would you give to an investment buyer interested in Brooklyn?
Martov: I think Bedford-Stuyvesant is one of the most underrated neighborhoods in all of America. Brownstones are more affordable than in the surrounding neighborhoods; there’s great access to transportation and fun restaurants. It’s a cool neighborhood.
INHABIT: You just moved to Coney Island. Why did it appeal to you?
Martov: I love the water. I open my windows at night and can hear the waves crash. At the same time, I’m a 20-minute commute from downtown Brooklyn by car, 30 by train. When people think of Coney Island, they just think of the Cyclone and Nathan’s. But there’s a lot of great food beyond hot dogs; some of the best pizzerias started in Coney Island. I was at Totonno’s last night, which I highly recommend. Also, Coney Island is probably the last place in New York where you can get a little bit of property without being a multi-multi-millionaire.
INHABIT: Tell me a little bit about your home and your kind of design aesthetic?
Martov: I call it transitional. I mean, I’m a sucker for original details and woodworking. I love a good mantel, but at the same time you’ve got to have central air becauase it was 100 degrees this summer. If it’s too hot to breathe in your house, you’re definitely not going to appreciate that mantel. You can keep original details when adding modern conveniences. It doesn’t have to be one or the other. If you look at a listing of mine in Bushwick, you’ll see the owners preserved every original detail. That would be a perfect example of what I love to see.
INHABIT: Please complete the sentence: Home wouldn’t be home without…