The Harlem resident with a southern twang and a Harlem heart, owner of Harlem Lofts, President of The Manhattan MLS and VP of The Manhattan Association of REALTORS. Here, he talks about real estate, family and his love of Harlem.
Harlem World: What made you move from Virginia to Harlem?
Robb Pair: I was born and raised in Richmond, Virginia, and came to New York a decade ago. I got married, we first lived in a condo around mid-town, but it didn’t feel like home. So, when I trained for the NY Marathon, I would pass through Harlem and see the brownstones. The brownstones reminded me of the homes in Richmond and I fell in love with the location, history and architecture of Harlem. So, I decided to come to Harlem with it’s great prices (at the time) and I realized it was a neighborhood where we could start a family.
HW: How do you strike a balance between work and family?
RP: I love my work, I have 3 boys, I work 80-90 hours a week, but Sunday’s are with the family. I spend those Sunday’s with my boys, my wife, and I don’t answer my phone for anyone (laughter).
HW: What is Harlem Lofts and what do you do?
RP: It’s a boutique real estate company, to help people make smart decisions about the Harlem real estate market. In 2002-2003, we handled the acquisition, renovation and management of properties. In 2004, we added bookkeeping, and maintenance services. Today, we have a property management division that manages units and provide services for buyers.
HW: The Harlem Loft offices are within the old James Zan Der Zee studio (on Lenox Avenue and 123rd Street), how did you find out about the space?
RP: We purchased a townhouse for investors in 2003, the Van Der Zee studio happened to be one of the buildings. It had been on the market forever and they didn’t capitalize on the fact that it was historic. Also, the building next to it was purchased, it has a plaque that says, “Cora Walker was the first African American female attorney to be admitted to the NY Bar.”
HW: I read somewhere that the vision of 125th Street is more in line with a 34th Street vision, than a 42nd Street vision. What do you think is a great vision for 125th Street in the future?
RP: I hope they are both wrong, absolutely not. I live on 119th Street and I can get what I need right where I am. I know we have a need for tourism, but you need to balance the need with the history, and the vibe of Harlem. I love what’s here, its great when people come visit me they love (the history) and the community. There should be a balance keeping that (local) vibe alive.
HW: Where do you see Harlem 20-30 years from now?
RP: More international, but still Harlem. Look at Little Italy or Chinatown, how is it Chinatown without it being Chinese, how is it Little Italy without it being Italian. So, Harlem should stay African American , we don’t want Harlem to change and loose it’s African American history. My (European) investors called me saying they have seen people in Sweden wearing Harlem shirts, I love that.
HW: When do you think the real estate market will return to where it was afew years ago or will it?
RP: The market has changed, the developers that are here have stopped developing like they had in the past and the others have left Harlem. Something had to happen when people were buying without care. Now that they are gone today the end users are buying the buildings and the government has stepped in with FHA loans, etc., to save the economy. That has driven the end users to the community it’s the best thing that could have happened in Harlem. Now the need is to support the homeowners. Everyone wants to live here!
HW: Harlem Lofts was the first agency in Harlem to join The National Association of Realtors, The Manhattan Association of Realtors, The New York State Association of Realtors, and The Real Estate Board of New York. Why did you feel it was important to become President of The Manhattan MLS and VP of The Manhattan
Association of REALTORS?
RP: I wanted to help create a uniform system in Harlem and nationally in the real estate industry that including agents, overviews, code of ethics, activities, and membership support.
HW: With all the competition that’s in Harlem what has been the secret to your success?
RP: Business is family, but financially we have been able to get through this crisis by rolling with the punches. We stayed small and changed as the environment around us changed and changed direction. My gut tells my a lot, then I use logic at the same time. I grew up poor, you have to pay attention and you have to stick with the play you started. My gut told me things were happening and become the anchor in those areas.
HW: What are your feelings about the Emmit Smith backed Hyatt Hotel coming to Harlem on 125th Street and Lenox Avenue?
RP: I’m a big Emmit Smith fan, I embrace it and I look forward to it. Also, I’m looking forward to better security around the area, it’s still not as safe as it can be for kids and residents. Harlem is a drop-off place for drug addicts around the borough.
HW: If you were king of Harlem what would be some of the first things you would do?
RP: I would create a substantial infrastructure with a plan. You have to know where you’re going and have a plan to know what you want out of Harlem, how to preserve what we have, bring in the new and build an infrastructure around it. You have to think long term, and know that once you destroy it, its gone. If we did not save the Van der Zee building, I would have had to live with those actions and it would be my fault. We want to protect what we have.
HW: What are some of your favorite places to hang out in Harlem?
RP: I love food, I love food, I love Le Chez, Sette Pani (laughter). I love to sit in a restaurant in Harlem, Harlem seems to surround you. I especially love the outside cafes, the (Studio) Museum, at times Harlem seems like a living museum.