Five Questions with Essex Principal Steve Livaditis

July 24, 2020

Welcome to “Five Questions,” a monthly series where Essex Realty Group, Inc. brokers share their observations and experiences gained while working in Chicago’s real estate world. This month we are getting to know Essex Principal Steve Livaditis.

Introduction: Steven B. Livaditis is a principal and managing director of Essex Realty Group, Inc. He joined Essex after serving a 20-year career as vice president of investment sales for a national real estate brokerage firm. During his tenure, Steven has transacted nearly every different product type while maintaining his primary focus and specialization on multifamily properties throughout the Chicagoland market.

Dedicating a lifelong business plan directed towards client relationships, having transacted nearly $1 billion of investment real estate sales, Steven prides himself on being an advisor to the creation and preservation of his clients’ wealth. He works closely with the private sector market and has represented numerous institutional clients. His honors include multiple sales awards and he has been inducted several times to the prestigious National Achievement Awards.

Steven is a graduate of DePaul University and received his Bachelor of Science in Finance with minors in Real Estate and Economics. Outside of brokerage, Steven is an active member of the Greek American community and volunteers his time in multiple nonprofit organizations, having served on the board of The Greek America Foundation, The Gabby Awards and SAE- World Council of Hellenes.

Q: Why did you decide to start a career in real estate?

Steve: For me, as I look back, it is very clear that real estate was not an independent interest, but rather a lifestyle. My father grew up in a post-World War Two era and immigrated to America in search of opportunities that were non-existent back home. He worked every odd job imaginable when he first arrived, and within a very short period of time he was able to start a small business in California that ultimately gained great traction. Through hard work and a vision to better support his family, he began purchasing small homes with any net proceeds from his business. Eventually he graduated to small apartment buildings and later into larger assets. A motto he lived by was, “if you are given an opportunity, you have to honor it through hard work,” and this was something he instilled to all of us. I started working with my father over the summers at the age of 13. I learned how to paint, perform light electrical work, rehab kitchens, and by the time I turned 16, I was able to independently turn over apartment units and retail spaces. It was at this time, that I also started managing his properties, so I was regularly renovating units, showing units, and managing the leasing process. While I was studying at DePaul University, I also worked at Coldwell Banker selling residential homes on the weekends. By the time I graduated from DePaul, I knew my future career path was already tailored towards real estate, through all the years I had already spent in the industry. It was a natural progression for me. As I look back on my experiences in the real estate world it is clear it was not something I ever became interested in, and instead it became my life.

Q: What is your favorite thing to do when you are not doing brokerage?

Steve: To be honest, it can be hard for me to completely turn off the brokerage light switch. With that in mind, in order to have somewhat of a balance in my life I have trained myself to operate on five hours of sleep a night. It seemed that this was the only way I can positively dedicate time to my family, live an active lifestyle, and stay engaged with clients and partners in brokerage and investments. I am not one that you will find lounging around or taking afternoon naps in the shade. I am always working on something, and if I find myself with nothing to do, guess what, I will find something to do. I can never fathom a moment that is not being maximized. First and foremost, my favorite thing to do is spend time with my family. My children are almost 11 years apart, so daily activities are extremely diverse between them. We try and spend as much time out of the house as possible, juggling between soccer games, the skatepark, bike trails, and the lakefront; we are always in motion! Another activity I am extremely passionate about is motocross. I grew up in the 70s and 80s era of BMX and skateboarding and began riding motocross at an early age, and continue to ride to this day, both here in the Midwest and in California. I get out to California once a month to ride motocross out there, and it has become my personal therapy. COVID has made travel a little more difficult, so I recently purchased a Peloton and I absolutely love it! If there is one activity that I don’t care for, it would definitely be golf… I like to tell my clients I would rather jump over their heads on my dirt bike at the 18th hole rather than try to putt on the green!

Q: Tell me about one major difference you notice between being a broker today vs. being a broker 26 years ago, when you first started out in the industry.

Steve: You know the saying you can’t teach an old dog new tricks? I think it is completely inaccurate and out the window! I make it a big point to always focus on learning and adapting to keep up with new technology and I think the same can be said for the clients I work with regularly. One significant change I have noticed is that over the last 26 years, a new generation of investors and property owners has taken over and there has been a paradigm shift in the way they operate. While clients were once, more of hands-on operators, they are now true investors. When I first started, clients didn’t know what cap rates and GRM really meant, and over the years they have adapted and grown to be so knowledgeable about our industry. Clients started using a scientific calculator, then transitioning to excel spreadsheets, performing yield and cash flow analysis and raising capital. This is one major evolution in our industry I notice, and I love seeing the new generation coming in and changing things up.

Another way younger investors are changing the industry is their general approach to real estate and the way they initially view a property and make assumptions. How they analyze a property is different, the adaptive reuse trend in newer, how investors are looking to add amenity space is newer as well. I remember when I first heard about investors pitching the idea of smaller units or micro-units coupled with more amenity space in buildings. At first, I didn’t understand the concept, and thought that Chicago was never going to be like New York, but I was corrected. I have learned from these fresh investors and will continue to do so.

Of course, there have also been changes in technology over the last 26 years. When I first started, the way we looked up properties was by flipping through these massive record books called Sanborn Maps that featured property PIN numbers and photos of each plot. These books were thousands of pages. I was one of the first brokers that began converting the data of Sanborn Maps and coupling it with physical property photos and actual ownership and management data. I walked every street and photographed every building from the neighborhoods of Old Town to the south and Rogers Park to north. I took all this data and had it converted to CD-ROMS, and it was a financial gamble for me back then as they would cost ~$1,000 to put 100 photos on a CD-ROM for clients to review. This was just a small step in the evolution of technology within our industry. Today, the impact of technology is massive, it seems that almost every week, a new wonderful idea evolves that gives us so much new data at the tip of our fingers. Within a few keystrokes you can learn about all the new trends within our industry on a local and national level.

Q: If you could teach someone starting as a broker tomorrow just one thing, what would it be?

Steve: I truly believe that some things cannot be taught, and traits like passion, integrity, and hard work, are natural. To be a great broker you don’t have to be a naturally born salesperson, but I believe you do have to have these fundamental traits.

Early in my brokerage career I would do whatever it took to break through. In the beginning, I had just started dating my wife, and I was living at my parent’s house trying to save every penny possible as I was kickstarting my career. I implemented the following schedule, Monday through Friday I worked from 7:00 am to 8:30 pm, with a 30-minute lunch break and a one-hour workout break. On Saturdays I worked from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm, and Sundays I worked from 9:00 am to noon. In between I would take my future wife on romantic dates that consisted of driving through East Rogers Park looking at real estate and documenting ownership while treating ourselves with lunch or dinner at the old Heartland Café. When I mentor young brokers today, I tell them you don’t have to follow my old routine, but you do need to be able to commit to a specific schedule that will push yourself but can also me manageable. Brokerage can be a tough career because our success is measured on other people’s emotions and business success rather than our own. So even though you are a hard worker and may have executed your role perfectly, a buyer for example can still back out of a deal for any reason, and at the end of the day you may not earn a commission. So, you have to work extra hard, and work all the time to be able to manage through the peaks and valleys.

I would also highlight the importance of understanding the value of the client relationship over the value of the transaction. When you focus on the client with the goal of assisting their needs first, you begin to foster a strong relationship of trust and respect which could ultimately lead to a friend and client for life. Which I believe is better than chasing paychecks. Our business is also about persistence, constantly trying to hone our craft, understanding our markets and being an advisor rather than a salesperson.

Q: The world has changed a lot in the last few months, how do you think our industry will continue to change over the next 6 months of 2020?

Steve: The current pandemic is a horrible thing that has affected everyone. Over the last few months I have tried to look past the turbulent situation and towards the future in order to try to build upon something that can become a positive. I think this situation has caused us all to dig deep to figure out how to reinvent ourselves and evolve. And this isn’t just about brokerage, as it will be interesting to watch how other industries change, for example, will big box retailers become smaller and more specialized towards consumers? How will the restaurant industry reinvent themselves? At Essex we had to reinvent ourselves and adapt as well. We were just about to start an office renovation project at Essex in early March that emphasized the co-working model and now that we understand our vulnerabilities that project will be altered towards a new, creative model that will not only be effective, but will foster the health and safety for our staff, agents and clients at the forefront.

Since 1990, Essex Realty Group, Inc. has served Chicago’s investment real estate market as a top multifamily brokerage firm. Contact us today to learn more about our recent multifamily and mixed-use property sales.

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