Editor’s note: Published by the residential real estate strategic consulting and information firm Swanepoel T3 Group each January, the Swanepoel Power 200 (SP200) ranks the real estate industry’s most powerful, influential leaders. It also recognizes leaders in several subcategories, from technology execs to social influencers.
The SP200 rankings reflect a rigorous, careful evaluation process supported by data and a detailed methodology. To help make its selections, the Swanepoel T3 Group maintains a robust database, with stats and information on more than 3,000 real estate executives and leaders. It spends hundreds of hours poring over data, debating internally and verifying all candidates before settling on its list each year.
In the wake of the release of the 2017 list, the fourth, on January 9, the Swanepoel T3 Group is profiling leaders and executives included on one of the 10 2017 SP200 lists.
Mark Choey, 46, co-founded San Francisco-based boutique brokerage Climb Real Estate in 2010 with a crisp brand and a focus on innovation and technology. The firm has grown rapidly to over 100 agents and is now one of the Golden City’s most prominent real estate brands.
This trajectory, borne from what Choey described as “many years of grinding hard work, hustle, and many ups and downs,” caught the eye of the nation’s largest brokerage, NRT, which acquired Climb in August 2016.
As new brokerage models crop up, such as the agent flat-fee brokerages trend chronicled in the 2017 Swanepoel Trends Report, Choey and the Climb team built a traditional brokerage ready for the future.
Choey, who serves as Climb’s chief technology officer, says he has always had a passion for applying technology to find new ways to solve old problems, exemplified by his practice of programming simple games on his Atari 400 when he was 9 years old.
He came to real estate from the tech world. After receiving his Master’s Degree in Electrical and Computer Engineering with concentrations in wireless technology and artificial intelligence, he held research positions at several tech-based companies. A growing interest in real estate investment eventually pulled him to the industry full-time.
Choey and Climb’s remarkable success earned Choey (and fellow Climb co-founder Chris Lim) a spot on the SP2017 Trendsetters list. Choey answered some questions about his real estate career and leadership philosophy in a Q&A with the Swanepoel T3 Group, presented below.
Briefly describe your career trajectory.
I raised money to start a dot-com business in the early 2000s, but, when the NASDAQ crashed in March 2000, we had to close the company and I came back to the states. I then joined Citigroup’s corporate technology office in New York City in the early 2000s to study emerging wireless technologies and their applications to Citigroup’s various business units. It was during this time that I started investing in real estate on the side and caught the real estate bug.
I began investing in real estate nationwide and came out to San Francisco to do that full time. In the mid-2000s, San Francisco had ambitious development plans to add thousands housing and commercial units in the South of Market area to house technology companies coming up from Silicon Valley. This is where we saw an opportunity to start a real estate brokerage, to specialize in this area and take advantage of its potential, and that’s how Climb Real Estate was born.
Why’d you decide to sell Climb to, and join, NRT?
When Climb was a small brokerage of 25 agents, it was manageable. We were scrappy and hard-working and we could handle all the problems that came our way. However, when you start getting to the 50- to 80-agent mark, you need a different type of company. You need to invest in “infrastructure” such as more office space, marketing resources, staffing and managers. You either decide to do it yourself, or you go out and find a partner. We chose the latter.
We have big aspirations for Climb and we think we can get there faster by partnering with someone that shares our vision. Realogy is that company.
Favorite “leadership” books, resources?
I really love “The Lean Startup” by Eric Reis. Another favorite is “Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future” and “The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon.”
Routines you practice to stay on point as a leader?
Constantly injecting inspiration and excitement to our staff and agents with ideas and plans of where we are taking Climb. It’s a constant challenge to find new and exciting ideas in marketing and technology from inside or outside the industry to bring in-house, to constantly innovate and improve our agents and company.
What’s at the top of your to-do list this quarter?
We are focused on one thing and one thing only — growing Climb throughout the San Francisco Bay Area and beyond. The brand, our systems and concepts have legs and we feel can translate throughout the region, especially in urban markets.
Mark Choey’s desk at Climb Real Estate’s San Francisco headquarters.
Next trip not for work?
Vietnam. It is the next frontier of rapid growth. As China industrializes and modernizes, it is increasingly becoming more expensive to live and do business there, and nearby countries such as Vietnam are poised to absorb some of the overflow. I’m very excited to see a country raw with potential.
Favorite video game (if you play video games) and favorite dish to cook?
I’m so addicted to “Clash of Clans” and am part of a clan that regularly fights wars. I recently started playing “Little Alchemy” with my kids, where you combine everyday objects to discover new ones. You start with four elements — water, fire, air and earth — and it’s up to you to discover all 500-plus. I’m about halfway through right now.
At home, I love to cook Hainanese chicken rice, the unofficial national food of Singapore, where my folks are from!
Is San Francisco in a real estate bubble?
San Francisco booms and busts with technology. I would say if you think that the tech industry is in a bubble, then San Francisco is in a real estate bubble, too. The startup technology and venture capital industries increasingly dominate San Francisco’s economy and real estate rises and falls with them.
What are the biggest trends you see in the industry right now?
Automation! Lead automation, marketing automation, escrow automation — everything is being “automated,” not just inside our industry but outside it, too. Advances in computing power and its obsessive miniaturization is giving rise to an increasing number of possibilities to make our lives easier, at work and at home.
I love the possibilities of artificial intelligence and especially speech recognition and natural language-processing apps such as Alexa and Siri.