Based in a brownstone in the heart of Park Slope is a bustling enterprise run by Josh Blackman, the founder of Brownstone Property Group. A lawyer turned landlord, Brownstone Property Group now manages over 100 properties, mostly concentrated in Brooklyn, with a vertically integrated team covering licensed skills including general contractors, appraisers, and insurance brokerage. To add to that, Blackman is also the founder of BrownstoneBin, an answer to his client’s requests for an aesthetically pleasing and rodent-proof trash storage bin.
We sat down with the entrepreneur to learn more.
You didn’t start your career in property management—in fact, you were an attorney—so what inspired you to start Brownstone Property Group in 2004?
The book that really made the difference for me was Cashflow Quadrant. In that book, the author talks about the four ways that we make a living, and he also talks about how most people think that their home is their biggest asset. In fact, it's really their biggest drain. We spend 30 years paying the bank—so the thing to do instead of buying a single family home is to buy multifamily property, so the tenants pay the mortgage. I thought, good idea. So I went out and bought some properties with a friend.
I realized, oh, I had a job already. At that time, I was full time in-house counsel at a public company, and needed somebody to manage the properties. I’d never heard of property management before, but I found it kind of expensive. So then I thought, we can do this. And that was the start of the company right there.
You’ve recently started another venture, BrownstoneBin. How did that get started, and how does that tie in?
We had client requests for ways to address their garbage storage in an attractive, manageable way. It started with us building custom trash enclosures for our buildings that helped keep the garbage organized and enhanced the property’s curb appeal.
As an entrepreneur, I realized that there might be a market for durable, rat-proof trash storage, and that it’d be better for us to make the product in a way that makes sense for that market. I hired an industrial designer, who helped us build an all aluminum product with stainless hardware. BrownstoneBin uses a soft-close friction-hinge on the lid, so there’s no hydraulic strut to break. Another BrownstoneBin feature is that it’s rat-proof and raccoon-proof. Because it's built of rugged solid aluminum panels, nothing can get through this thing to access your trash.
We're installing BrownstoneBin at our managed-portfolio of over 100 client properties. In addition, we're hearing from property managers, pest control companies, restaurants and architects. So there's broad interest in the product.
How has building a vertically integrated business, with staff to field emergency repairs and complete the maintenance work changed your approach to management?
We employ a team of handymen who are available 24/7 and who double as BrownstoneBin installers.
If a client retains our management and/or maintenance services, we provide 24/7 property-care service in addition to ensuring the property is in compliance with the many local laws and requirements of New York City. All of the team live in Brooklyn, so we can get virtually anywhere within an hour.
You’ve been doing this for nearly 20 years. How has the industry evolved and changed over the decades?
Your being here is part of the change, in that you're a technologist. Technology has really made a huge difference. There was no Web 3.0 when we were getting started. The technology world has evolved a lot, even the cell phone has made a huge difference. We love technology that will make ours and our clients’ lives better and save money. So I would say tech is probably the biggest shift in property management.
Another thing is the region that we're in here in Brooklyn has changed. When I started, there were few property managers over here. Now, there are a lot of investors and they need management. There are more buildings, more units, more of everything.
When you look up Brownstone Property Group on Google, you have glowing reviews. That’s quite unique for the industry. How do you do it?
It's a people business, and it’s very challenging. We work hard to maintain a very high quality level of service. I want the people here to care and do a good job. It comes down to trying to do a good job as much as we can. There will always be mistakes, but we try to recognize them, acknowledge them, and learn from them so they don’t re-occur.
You’ve talked about people a lot. What are you looking for in a healthy, productive team?
We’re big on communication. Every Thursday, the entire management team meets to talk about the challenges we're facing, about ideas and opportunities to improve. And then it's a matter of checking in along the way—trust but verify. We require that our property managers visit every property regularly; our Director of Property Management, Vincent Trunzo, and other senior management work closely with our team to ensure we’re looking after client interests.
What I always say is it's not just managing property—it's managing people, managing money, and managing projects. Having capability in those four areas is the ideal.
Now, some final parting thoughts:
Would you rather give up email or your phone for a day? Email.
What is your superpower? Love of learning.
Name one thing you never leave home without: The support of my family and team.
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