Spotlight on Ryan Kaplan: Developer, Broker, New Yorker

By Grace Cassidy

Ryan Kaplan knew he wanted to work in real estate from an early age. That passion propelled the native New Yorker to start his career immediately after graduating high school and continue studying it at Boston University. After starting out on the property development side of the business, he has expanded into working as a broker and built a 30,000-plus following on Instagram along the way. Currently a member of The Eklund|Gomes Team, Kaplan talked with Elliman Insider about his career trajectory, what developers and brokers can learn from one another and what movie he would watch if he were stranded on a desert island.

Ryan Kaplan
Ryan Kaplan

Tell me a bit about your background.
I’m a native New Yorker and graduate of the Questrom School of Management at Boston University. I had always known I wanted to pursue a career in real estate, so I both started working in the business early (the summer after graduating high school) and studied it at BU. After graduating, I worked for one of the top luxury residential development groups in the city, and then was a principal/partner at my own company for nine years before expanding into the brokerage world.

What made you decide to make the switch from working in new developments to becoming a real estate agent?
My old business partners retired in 2019, and the development market in New York had cooled substantially, so I didn’t see much opportunity to continue developing at that time. I was considering going to work with a larger property development company, but two friends of mine suggested I join them in the brokerage world instead. I’d always enjoyed the sales-cycle in prior jobs, and seeing the industry from another perspective intrigued me, so I decided to give it a go. The role also enabled me to remain flexible if and when I decided to resume developing again.

What skills did you gain working in property development that you brought with you when you became a real estate agent?
As a developer, you get a fairly strong sense for estimating and evaluating construction quality and costs, building proformas to value property, navigating the entitlement process and understanding city zoning laws. All of these disciplines have proven highly transferrable to the brokerage side of the business, although instead of using them for a large-scale project, you’re using them to facilitate your clients in their purchase of a single residence. I can help my clients understand the scope of renovation work they’ll have ahead of them, how it’ll get permitted, what to pay (and equally as important, what not to pay) for a home and which larger, macro factors to consider when looking at the home-buying process as an investment.

What kind of development projects have you been working on since starting your real estate career?
I’ve been able to involve myself in a few different asset classes. I converted a landmarked building in Tribeca into condos, redeveloped a retail and office asset on Lower Broadway, helped structure the capital stack for a data center portfolio and am currently looking at a hotel-to-condo conversion project.

What do you think property developers could learn from real estate agents? And vice versa?
Agents are on the ground with the buyers. They hear what the consumers really want in a home—what design aesthetics resonate with them, what utility of space they need in a floor plan, etc. These are all the traits developers try to speculate when building. Having a really competent broker involved in planning a development from the start can help developers build a better, more informed product for the end user.

Conversely, and as I mentioned previously, developers have a number of skill sets that enable them to analyze the investment integrity of real property—far more tools than most agents usually have been exposed to. I think agents could learn to offer their clients a higher caliber of guidance, certainly more investment-focused, if they were to absorb these disciplines.

If you had to choose one highlight of your career so far, what would it be?
The highlight of my development career was buying my first project when I was 23. Everything from sourcing the deal to raising the capital was a marathon—and to have achieved it so early in my career was very exciting and, I know, pivotal to the trajectory of my career since. The highlight of my brokerage career was selling $100 million in my first year as a broker.

Spotlight Speed Round

What is your desert island movie?
Does this mean a movie I’d watch if stranded on a desert island? If so, Lord of the Rings: Return of the King. It’s a great fantasy movie but also so long that I figure I’ll be rescued by the time I finish it.

Next travel spot on your list…
I’ll be in Stockholm, Sweden, and Amalfi/Tuscany in Italy this August!

Coffee or tea?
Coffee to wake up and then green tea to coast through the day.

Most-used app on your phone…
Instagram

Who—or what—you were in a past life…
Albus Dumbledore

TV show you’re binging…
The Gilded Age

First car you owned…
I’ve never owned a car!

Last book you enjoyed…
Compelling People: The Hidden Qualities That Make Us Influential

How has living in New York City impacted your career path?
Living in a city like New York gives you the opportunity for “chance encounters.” These are the unexpected shoulders you brush at a party, the new faces you meet at a group dinner or introductions at a networking event. The people you meet can materially impact your personal and professional trajectories, and there is no more dense concentration of exciting, intelligent, interesting people than in New York. This city has the potential to accelerate your life in ways I don’t think may other places can offer.

Contact Ryan at ryan.kaplan@elliman.com | O: 212.598.3199 | M: 631.834.8523

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