Vested Interest

How a local real estate agent built a $60 million client base from scratch.
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The Westbrown, located a few streets west of downtown Birmingham, will open in 2019 and offer eight townhouses with prices starting at $2 million.

Dan Gutfreund started a commercial and residential mill working company at 19,  and over the course of 11 years his overall workforce reached 120 employees. The output: Custom cabinets for luxury homeowners and retail clients like Chanel, L’Oreal, and Louis Vuitton.

At the top of his game, Gutfreund got married, sold his Toronto-based company, moved to metro Detroit to be with his wife, and found himself back at the starting line. The proceeds from the sale of his business delivered a comfortable lifestyle, but he admits boredom set in, and his wife began to drop hints that he had greater potential than settling for a life of leisure.

“My New Year’s resolution in 2009 was to hit the reset button and get out in the business world,” says Gutfreund, principal of Dan Gutfreund Realty Group in Birmingham and a member of Signature Sotheby’s International Realty. “On the first day, I was brought to a cubicle — it was quite a change, given I used to have a large office.

“I made mention of that fact, and the gentleman who showed me to the cubicle said:  ‘Well, that’s where we all start.’ So I started working the phone. What was different (for me, compared to) other people starting out in the position, is that while I didn’t have any clients, I did have resources.”

To make himself known, Gutfreund, who last year sold more than $60 million in residential homes, took out full-page ads in media and trade publications. By listing luxury homes from other agents, he was able to represent interested buyers who weren’t represented by other agents.

From there, he steadily built up his own client base, and today his listings average around $1 million per sale. In recent years, when there have been fewer homes on the market, he expanded into residential development by working with architect Christopher J. Longe, principal of Christopher J. Longe — AIA Architecture and Interiors in Birmingham, and Chris Brocavich, president of Town Building Co. in Royal Oak, among others.

Their offerings include Park West Luxury Residences, a $5-million, 12-unit project near downtown Royal Oak, and The Westbrown, a $20-million, eight-unit townhouse development west of downtown Birmingham.

“Because I came from the building industry, I understand buyers and builders,” Gutfreund says. “Today, given busier lifestyles, buyers are looking for a turnkey home. Our product meets that need. (The units offer) luxury features, high-end appliances, private elevator access, and indoor garages.

“I think, more and more, you’ll see parcels of land and occupied property near downtown districts sold for residential development. People like being near an urban district — maybe not living within it, but near enough to walk there for dinner or a show. It’s the best of both worlds.”

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