We’d like to introduce Norman and Claudia Fisher, two people with a lot of imagination and even more energy. Together they have masterminded the renovation of a dilapidated Northeast St. Petersburg apartment building, transforming it into a community of luxury apartments, adding unique design elements, gorgeous amenities, and community spaces. There’s even a car share available for resident use. We are excited to see what the finished apartment building looks like.
Norman and Claudia Fisher
The Pearl On First Apartments
Years in this industry: 20 years
What inspired you to pursue a career in real estate?
We are newlyweds, both of us over the age of 50 and wanted to do a joint project using both of our skill sets. Norman’s background is in corporate business administration and organization assessment. Claudia’s background is in Classical Architecture and interior design.
We recently moved to St. Petersburg and real estate offered us an interesting arena to combine our abilities. As St. Petersburg is truly going through an urban renaissance, we thought it would be fun to design and build something truly elegant for people who choose to rent in the area.
What is the first assignment you remember? Why?
Norman’s first foray into real estate was the purchase of a few small houses, which were renovated and rented out in the Clearwater and St. Petersburg area. He wanted to learn about real estate with hands-on experience. Claudia became a licensed realtor in Florida but with the idea of doing research in real estate rather than working as a practicing realtor.
What do you like most about the real estate industry and community?
Working in real estate gives you a chance to dream and see those dreams take physical shape. When it doesn’t drive you batty, like waiting for building permits, it can be lots of fun!
Working on a larger scale project, in our case The Pearl On First, has also given us the opportunity to meet and work with a wonderful collection of real estate professionals, vendors, artisans and small business owners. Without wanting to sound cloying, I often say, “It takes a village to design anything well!” Everybody’s skills and knowledge base are needed and appreciated to make The Pearl On First a success.
What challenges does your industry face?
I think we are too new to real estate development to offer too much comment on this question but I will say that, especially in Florida which is so low-lying, we need to really focus on creative solutions with regard to the rising water levels over the next decades. I am convinced there are solutions out there if we all pull together.
How do you measure your success?
This is an interesting question, as Norman and I were just discussing this question a week ago. As we met later in life, we are hoping to create passive income with our real estate ventures that will supplement the retirement savings we already have.
But more importantly, the major guiding purpose for our work with apartment dwellings is to offer living environments that truly delight people, by offering elegant, thoughtful design in their private apartments as well as exceptionally beautiful and welcoming communal areas to share life experiences with friends and neighbors. This is what we hope to achieve.
What has been your greatest accomplishment in your career?
For Claudia there have been a few design milestones. Developing the classical architectural design for The Executive Administration Center for Boston University, designing a 22-foot pierced aluminum chandelier suspended in mid-air for The Royal Saudi Arabian Cultural Mission in Fairfax, VA and now working on the Art-Deco inspired apartment, The Pearl On First.
For Norman, the main one is my recent completion of my MBA from the University of Maryland. I really enjoyed its entrepreneurial learning aspects, and after a career in large corporations, look forward to a next career in a small business environment in real estate.
What do you think is the biggest mistake companies make when working in real estate?
Not doing enough research can be a major mistake. Research is not necessarily fun or sexy, but extremely important, as your gathered knowledge will help guide you into hopefully wise decisions. Often as a real estate investor you can get emotionally involved in a deal or property, and it is very important not to forget the results of the research you did.
Additionally, it never hurts to be as organized as possible and keep at least a weekly schedule to communicate with everyone on the project. There are so many trades working in tandem in real estate, we need to know what’s happening on a daily basis with each other so we can work in tandem comfortably.
What is the most interesting trend you see in real estate?
It’s been said before, but as the Baby Boomers start to retire and move South, they are looking for interesting new ways to live their next chapter which are very different from their parents. For example, scenarios that are sought after could include friends living in adjoining apartments, apartments that have new and interesting amenities like a “car share”, apartments that have built-in health care facilities… the sky’s the limit. It’s going to be a very interesting time!
How has technology helped/hindered your work?
From a drafting point of view, AutoCAD, Rivet and other drawing programs are can be a huge time saver. My background is Classical Architecture so I still do hand drafting but nevertheless, these programs are very useful.
What can be problematic, in my opinion, is that the computer now allows for an unbridled amount of architectural design. This, in and of itself sounds good but there have been a fair amount of architectural messes built out there that were created with the aide of computer technology. Without wanting to sound unkind, the adage “just because you can build it doesn’t mean you should” comes to mind!
How do you stay on top of your field?
We both read a great deal – newspapers, periodicals, professional trade magazines, although Norman is much better at being sure he is up on all the real estate news coming in the door.
What resources do you recommend?
With regard to design, Claudia believes that any disciplines relating to Classical Architecture can provide a tremendous foundation for designing anything better – from traditional to ultra-modern. The Institute for Classical Architecture and Art, based in New York City, is a major educational institution and provider of all kinds of helpful design information. Additionally, the business of real estate is not only national but often also highly influenced by the locality. So continuing awareness of local changes and trends is key. It is as simple as subscribing to the local newspaper and volunteering on various local committees.
If you could give one piece of advice to Tampa Bay companies, what would it be?
If I were to advise Tampa Bay companies on participating in the local rental or condo real estate business, I would advise them to firstly determine specifically, what their target population is, and then be very aware of that population’s desires for a future living experience. Only with that information, would I design a apartment or condo product that serves that market. Often properties are put to market that are generic in nature rather than satisfying specific needs.
What are your hobbies?
Norman’s hobbies are tennis, soccer, reading, and adventure traveling. Claudia’s hobbies are opera singing, ballet, and reading 18th century novels.
Norman – Italian. Claudia – anything I haven’t cooked myself.
Last book you read?
Norman – Steve Jobs
Claudia – Disney War