Corrections or additions?

This article by Barbara Fox was prepared for the September 29,

2004 issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

New Home for the Re/Max Man

Rob Lyszczarz got bitten by the real estate bug when he was in sixth

grade, when his family bought a house at the Jersey shore, and he

watched property values soar.

Just eight years after buying his first Re/Max brokerage, Lyszczarz

owns 23 Re/Max Properties Unlimited offices, including the one at 600

Alexander Road. With 400 people and $1.6 billion in sales, he has the

largest Re/Max operation in the northeast, plus a ski resort in

Vermont, 20 properties in New Jersey, and a mortgage company. Yet this

real estate mogul is just 35 years old and has no real estate license

of his own.

"I never had a license – I hire someone who does," says Lyszczarz in

the flat-toned voice that is his trademark. "I’m the guy behind the

scenes. I hire good managers and let them do their work."

Not having a license sounds bizarre, but this defect is an important

part of his business model. Knowing full well that he did not have the

personality for sales, Lyszczarz came through real estate’s back door

– through the mortgage business. He also bought undervalued properties

and rehabilitated them. Leveraging his portfolio and financial acumen,

he acquired Re/Max branches, and he housed them in his properties he

owned, guaranteeing himself good tenants.

"Others have more branches or more agents, but we are an anomaly with

regard to the time period it took us to get there," says Lyszczarz.

"We bought existing Re/Max offices and we also recruited agents to

franchises we created from scratch. It helped that many of the

communities have distinct marketing areas, identities, and therefore

separate sales forces."

As for his personal holdings, he has "on spec" construction projects

totaling 18,000 square feet that are not leased, 13,000 vacant feet in

Princeton, and he has just signed a letter of intent to buy a 27-room

hotel near his ski resort. It remains to be seen whether his

risk-taking strategies will succeed in the long run.

Earlier this year he moved his 10-person headquarters from State Road

to an old-made-new farmhouse on Orchard Road, right near Bristol-Myers

Squibb’s Convatec in Montgomery Township. It had been the home of

American List Counsel before ALC moved to the Dow Jones campus. An

all-office picnic with all the trimmings on September 12 was Four

Winds Farm’s official debut. On a bright, sunny day, kids waited in

line for pony rides, a DJ spun tunes, teens spun cotton candy, and

Re/Max agents ate burgers under the tent by the swimming pool.

"It’s a very easy place to get people to come out to," says Lyszczarz.

Not many properties come with their own swimming pools, and this place

has other charms as well. The original structure, built in the Civil

War era or even earlier, has wide-beam pine floors, big working

fireplaces, and post-and-beam ceilings. "Many people who used to work

for ALC had tremendous interest in this property," he says. "They

didn’t want us to knock it down. One woman said, ‘Don’t take out the

pool – my husband proposed to me here.’"

Lyszczarz spent $1.35 million for 13,600 square feet of office space

with gorgeous grounds plus about $425,000 in renovations – to dredge

the pond, rebuild a small storage barn, renovate the pool, re-lay

pavers, repair stone walls, rescue neglected trees, and replace a

moldy greenhouse with a two-story addition.

He kept the historic part for his own office – he likes older

buildings – has leased the carriage house to Visionary Strategies, and

is trying to rent the remaining 8,400 square feet. This part, a

prize-winning addition designed by Short & Ford, has had minor

renovations by architect Maximilian Hayden and engineer Dave Schmidt.

"It had been neglected for several years," says Hayden, "so it was fun

to spruce it up and bring it back to life to make it as good – if not

better – than it had been before."

Hayden appreciates the owner’s commitment to keep the farm properties

intact, and that he has even restored the spring house. "If he decided

to make the big barn into offices, it would be an amazing space,

because all the heavy timber framing is intact, and it has large clear

spaces."

Lyszczarz likes to buy properties that need work and are located on

the edge of a prestigious area. His very first purchase was a

two-family house in South Amboy, which still produces a monthly income

of $850. Three years ago he bought Mapleton Mills, the cluster of

buildings formerly owned by Ford Farewell Mills & Gatsch on Route 1

South. Its only current tenant is Icon 5 Architects, and there are

5,500 square feet available in two buildings.

"Rehabbing buildings is something I really enjoy," says Lyszczarz.

"Most buildings I do, we are running our real estate offices out of

them, and I have a lifelong tenant that I know intimately. It is part

of the economical way of doing business."

In several interviews, in person and by cell phone, Lyszczarz explains

his business model and himself. He does not shy away from tough

questions, like how he deals with conflict, and how he responds to

jealousy.

"There are always people who are jealous, who stand to gain from

seeing you take a step backward," says Lyszczarz. "I have experienced

a lot of success in a short period of time, and people try to make

excuses as to why you are there and they are not. I am there because I

have a pretty rational business head and I will investigate something

before I act."

"I like to push the decision-making down to the business unit level,"

he says, "so the managers make their own decisions and justify them to

me, rather than me micromanaging or shouting out orders from the ivory

tower."

The fact that Lyszczarz’s personality is the exact opposite of the

sales personality may be key to his success. If revealing emotions

could be measured on a scale of 1 to 10, Lyszczarz shows an emotional

range of between 4 and 4.5.

In contrast, he says, real estate people, by virtue of being good

sales people, tend to be very emotional. "They are very high on

accolades and awards. Whereas I am just running my business. Realtors

like to know how they compare to the next person, and that is how they

judge their performance. And I just try to go to work and let the

chips fall where they may."

He says he gets his cool head from his father, a general manager for a

manufacturing and printing company. "He would manage, not by fear, but

kind of the same way I do. When jobs went bad, heads did not roll. He

would say, ‘Let’s come in on Saturday and fix it.’"

"People say to me, ‘Do you ever get worked up?’ And I say, ‘I can play

to the level that I need.’" Once one Re/Max office lost its phone

system during a storm. "The agents were going nuts, yelling at the

office manager," says Lyszczarz. "’Let’s break the problem down into

pieces,’ I said.’" He directed one person to take the listing records

and drive three miles to the next Re/Max office. Meanwhile, he had the

phones forwarded. "Your computers are down, but you can take messages

with paper and pencil."

"You have to have the right mindset," says Lyszczarz. "I’m just

analytical." One Saturday evening during the storm season, all the

lights were on in the Orchard Road house, all the doors were open, and

big fans blew from every window and door. It seems the cellar had

flooded. Lyszczarz was out there carting boxes of records to dry

safety. When asked about this, he just shrugs and says, "I just called

to get a pump." Was he upset? "No," he claims. "It’s a game. And I am

going to win."

Lyszczarz is six feet tall and has the compact body of the football

player and wrestler that he used to be. At Edison High School he was a

defensive end and captain of the wrestling team. As a Rutgers

undergraduate, Class of 1990, he did not play sports, but when he

returned to Rutgers for his MBA he was captain of the wrestling team.

In business as well as sports, Lyszczarz likes risk, and he searched

for an lifelong pursuit that allowed for that. "I thought accounting

might have some appeal, but it wasn’t my passion," he says. The stock

market could have been the place to apply his skills, but he found

real estate more tangible "and easier to understand," he says, "than

what I perceived as the irrational pricing mechanics of Wall Street. I

missed the big runs, but I also missed the big fall."

"For an agent that takes a career seriously, the Re/Max business model

is the best, bar none," says Lyszczarz, explaining how Re/Max hires

established agents that pay a fee (on the order of $1,200 to $1,600

monthly, he says) toward rent and management and keep their

commissions, as opposed to splitting commissions with the broker.

"Traditional companies bring in new agents and create rules to shield

themselves from inexperienced people. At Re/Max, you have the autonomy

to make the decisions of a business owner. High producing brokers

don’t like to be micro-managed," he says. "They make their own

advertising decisions. They are given more leeway because they deserve

it."

Lyszczarz started out as a mortgage lender for a Countryside firm,

Integrity Home Loans, for the Re/Max office at 600 Alexander Road. In

1997 he bought that office from New Jersey franchise owners Joe

Ventresca and Jeff Snyder, and then he started to open other

facilities. Now he owns 23 offices plus the Orchard Road headquarters.

His portfolio does not include the Greater Princeton franchise or the

TriCounty or Platinum Team Re/Maxes.

Most of his offices are within a 30-mile radius of Morristown, but

Lyszczarz deliberately chooses to keep his headquarters in Princeton,

partly because he lives there but really because, as he frankly

admits, it is more efficient for him to be less accessible. "If my

office were up north, it would be easy for people to come in, trying

to circumvent their manager."

This interview takes place in the low-ceilinged room that is nearly

200 years old, its charm mitigated by folders and papers strewn

everywhere. Though Lyszczarz focuses patiently on a reporter’s

questions on this day, his interviews by cell phone are punctuated by

"mind if I put you on hold" interruptions (he has three cell phones)

and side conversations with contractors. Lyszczarz is a busy guy and

typically does at least two tasks at once, probably three. "I am good

at multi-tasking," he says.

He does like to ski and to escape to Londonderry, Vermont, "away from

the hustle and bustle." But those trips, too, are part business: He

owns 69 percent of the Magic Mountain ski resort, with its 750 acres

and 40 trails, and has just signed a letter of intent to buy a

slopeside hotel for about $750,000.

How he got it: The bank had foreclosed on the over-leveraged property

and it had been bought by a Pennsylvania dentist. At first Lyszczarz

offered to finance the liquidation, but he found someone to operate it

instead. "I entered as the creditor with less than five percent

ownership in October, 1997, and we were open the following June." He

upped his ownership to the majority share when other investors didn’t

want to ante up for improvements.

Lyszczarz works about 40 hours a week on his real estate business and

averages eight hours a week on the ski resort. (During the fall

preparation season this turns into three days a week.) He says his

real estate development projects occupy 10 to 15 hours weekly – he

works with attorneys, municipal zoning and planning employees,

accountants, and tradesmen.

It seems like a foregone conclusion that a fellow this busy has no

family obligations, and that’s the case. Lyszczarz is single but

insists he would enjoy having a family in the near future, and when

questioned how he would find the time, says "you found ways to make

time for everything."

One time saver is simplicity. Lyszczarz sticks to the basics of

appearance. For a workday morning, he wears a plaid sport shirt,

khakis, and work boots, and he drives a Suburban. (He doesn’t like to

pay for a lot for fancy designs for his renovations either. "I give

them a clear idea of what I want, and that saves a lot of professional

fees.")

Future challenges include trying to delegate more. "I’m a hands-on

person, trying to get away from doing everything myself. I have eight

years of running a real estate company, and 14 years experience in the

mortgage business, and I need to delegate tasks." The person to whom

he delegates "will have to get behind my eyes and see how I work," he

says, "so I can have more time off – or do more different things."

He has hired a construction project manager, the person who had

handled his account at First Washington State Bank. That she does not

have construction experience is a plus, he says, because he wants to

teach her to do things his way.

The real estate team can handle 95 percent of the problems that arise,

he says, and the recent hiring of an overall real estate manager (John

Ocquist) and a commercial property agent (John Gross) will free

Lyszczarz up to do higher level projects. "Somebody can run with 80

percent of what I’m doing, but some parts of the business, such as

acquisition, you can’t transfer."

"Another thing I am not a master of, yet, is motivation," says

Lyszczarz. "I don’t need to motivate the sales people, but I do need

to motivate the leaders. If we are not growing, the agents feel that

the organization has less value."

Also in the future, his own title company, similar to his mortgage

company. It is part of his overall plan to leverage the opportunities

that size brings. "My new title company will have an audience of

400-plus realtors, and it needs to be spectacular, to have a great

fulfillment model." He does not want to buy a medium-sized title

company, he reasons, "because it would not be doing as well as it

should be, or it would not be for sale. And a small company would have

no experience working at the capacity that our realtors would

generate, and if the top person left, I’m stuck."

Current plans call for him to partner with a large national title firm

to do the fulfillment in exchange for half of the profits. He also is

on the board of directors for 1-800-Attorneys, a referral website

started in the dot.com era.

As does anyone who has amassed wealth, Lyszczarz has his detractors.

"I’m comfortable with the decisions I made that got me where I am,"

says Lyszczarz. "I try not to make rash decisions, or to prejudge

people, but sometimes you are in a position where you can’t get out

clean. You have to make a call, so you stick to your core beliefs."

As captain of the wrestling team, he recalls, referring to the

legendary Alabama coach, "I did not do a Bear Bryant speech before the

game." Instead he focused on developing the team before the match so

that everyone felt good that they had worked hard and deserved to win.

"Nobody is helping you when you are out there on the mat by yourself,"

says Lyszczarz.

His tactics for business: "Hold the line. When you are in real estate,

but stocks are doing well, don’t change your game plan. Stick to what

you know and what you believe in."

Mat strategies also hold for acquiring and developing real estate: "My

approach was to slow the match down so I could outlast the opponent

and control the pace. You don’t always win, but it works for me."

Re/Max Properties Unlimited, 88 Orchard Road, Skillman 08558. Rob

Lyszczarz, owner. 908-431-1900; fax, 908-431-1901. Home page:

www.propertiesunlimited-nj.com

Orchard Road Start-Up

Kathie De Chirico had been long eying the Orchard Road office/farm, as

a spot for Visionary Marketing and Management Strategies, a

one-year-old branding and licensing firm for fashion apparel. "My

vision was always that we would work in an environment that allowed us

to work intuitively," she says. "It was such a very positive energy

environment, and I kept thinking what a great place it would be to

have an office."

In May she moved from Princeton Forrestal Village, where her husband,

William D’Arienzo, has his own company, WDA Marketing and Management,

at HQ. Her new quarters is the 1,500 square-foot carriage house. "We

can be very hectic and since we are by ourselves, our creative area

can be a mess. We also have the opportunity to move into additional

space next door, for support staff."

De Chirico and her husband (who was her supervisor in their previous

jobs) have a son who is doing a film internship in Manhattan and a

daughter who will graduate this year from Montgomery High School. A

big plus for De Chirico’s new office is its nearness to the school, so

she can maximize her time with her daughter’s during her last year at

home.

"And Rob has been an incredible landlord," she says. "Over the summer

he would invite our company on Thursdays, and he would cook on the

grill."

A 25-year veteran of the fashion industry, she grew up in Piscataway,

where her father was the chief of police and her mother the

transportation supervisor. She went to Rutgers’ Douglass College,

Class of 1976, and has worked for such companies as Macy’s, Basic

Elements, and Kids Headquarters.

A previous project for the firm had paired Jaytex, a Canadian firm,

with Union Bay, a junior and young men’s company. "It was phenomenally

successful, she says.

Her current project is to do lifestyle branding for department stores

for the singer, Carlos Santana, and his wife. The market, she says, is

men and women, ages 25 to 44. "We are in the middle of launching a

fragrance license, and have in place a successful shoe license by

Brown Shoe." These high fashion style shoes for women are sold in New

York City as "impulse buys," she says, "for the woman who is a leader,

not a follower, and very self confident. It is high fashion styling

for the price point."

De Chirico puts herself in that category. Asked to inventory her

outfit working "in the country" on the day of this telephone

interview, she said she was wearing a denim Gap jacket, a sleeveless

Banana Republic teeshirt knotted at the waist, a DKNY black skirt with

pleats at the end, and pink and black mesh Carlos Santana shoes with

very high heels. Never mind comfort; fashion must prevail. "I would

wear this in the city, too," she says.

Visionary Marketing and Management Strategies, 88 Orchard

Road, Skillman 08558. Kathie De Chirico. 908-281-3833; fax,

908-281-3834. Home page: www.visionarymms.com


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