When it comes to chasing business goals, Roman Fischer isn’t shy.
As a college student in Ukraine, Fischer traveled to China to set up a supply chain and negotiate terms for a tire company — an extraordinary bit of effort considering that Fischer worked for the tire distributor only part-time.
These days, as a real estate broker in Palm Beach County, Fischer scouts hard-to-find apartment complexes on behalf of investors. Sometimes, to track down building owners, he braves South Florida’s humidity to knock on tenants’ doors.
“I find this method useful,” Fischer says. “A lot of Realtors don’t do this. You have to be dressed professionally, and you have to sweat.”
Fischer, the 29-year-old head of FPB Investment Properties in West Palm Beach, manages 100 rental units in Palm Beach County and brokers multifamily and residential sales. He recently was named to the National Association of Realtors’ “30 Under 30” list of up-and-coming Realtors.
Hometown: Kiev, Ukraine. They have a lot of political and economic problems, as you might have seen on the news. Now I live in downtown West Palm Beach.
About your company: I’m the licensed broker. I have another licensed Realtor. My business approach is not to get as many licensed Realtors as possible. I have a transaction coordinator, a secretary and an assistant. And we have quite a lot of people on the ground doing renovations and cleaning. Probably 25 percent of my clients are international investors. We manage their properties, and we basically do everything. We have access to their bank accounts. They trust us completely. My main focus is multifamily properties, anywhere from four-unit properties to 250-unit properties. We provide property management services. We handle all the repairs and the tenant relations. We have very few first-time buyers. Most of our clients already have done multiple transactions. And we have have some luxury real estate. We have a $2 million listing in Ocean Ridge.
How you scout for properties: Right now, I have a client who wants a 250-unit complex in northern Palm Beach County. That doesn’t exist. There’s nothing like that on the market. So I just get in touch directly with the owners of a lot of the properties. I’m trying to call them up and then discuss a potential acquisition. Some landlords would never sell that way; they would prefer the property to go on the market and get advertised before it is sold. But very often, they say, “We’re businessmen. If the price is right, we’ll sell.”
Linguistic skills: I grew up speaking Ukrainian, and I speak fluent English, of course. I lived in Paris for a while, so I speak fluent French. I didn’t want to learn any more languages, but there are so many Spanish-speaking people here that I learned Spanish.
First job: I was working for a franchise called Vianor. That’s a franchise from Finland, and they distribute tires. They were launching in Ukraine. I worked in business development while I was also a student. I had a chance to go to China, to the Canton Fair. That’s where you meet wholesalers and manufacturers. You try to negotiate the pricing. I was 19 years old, and I was sent there by myself. Even then, it was not that common for companies to go directly to China, so we negotiated a pretty good price. We had a 300 percent margin. I learned how to negotiate, I learned about business development, and I learned how to do sales. Sometimes I would go to service stations and sell tires directly to the customers.
Biggest challenge: When you have a small firm, the accounting gets a little complicated. Another thing that I find challenging is marketing. We are pretty good at word of mouth and self-promotion. But when we’ve spent money on advertising, I wouldn’t say it brought a lot of results. Human resources is also a big challenge. It takes time to find the right people. Once you find them, you need to nurture relations.
Best business advice you’ve ever gotten: Always think about your reputation. Be honest and transparent. Sometimes in this business, people ask you to do things that are not correct. It’s not like it’s illegal, but it’s not correct, or there are other ways to do it better. I always try to be honest with people, so if I don’t feel comfortable with something, I tell them right away.
Biggest mistake you’ve made in business: Because we’ve got a lot of renovations, I’m not able to go out to each project myself sometimes. I had a contractor who does a very good job in terms of renovations, is very responsible. But on one project, I received complaints from the tenant who was moving in, and I received complaints from my assistant. They showed me pictures that looked pretty bad. I talked to him and I said, “This is not acceptable. The owner does not want to pay you.” He got upset, and when I went to see the site, it didn’t look as bad as the pictures. That was probably not a bad method of completing the job. I would say don’t be too quick on judging someone’s work until you really verify it. When something doesn’t look right, I’m taking my time now before I start an argument.
Best business book you’ve read: “The 4-Hour Workweek” by Tim Ferriss. He’s basically telling you that if you concentrate for four or five hours, you can accomplish so many things. Einstein worked the same way. I work all day, unfortunately. However, I do try to concentrate on the things that are really important, that really bring results, and I try to outsource other things.
Most important trait you look for when hiring: Responsibility is No. 1 — delivering what you promise. No. 2 is loyalty. When the hurricane hit, a lot of my contractors went on side jobs. Why? Because during the hurricane time, everybody gets paid five times as much. And nowadays, we’ve got so many Spanish-speaking people that I would prefer someone who speaks Spanish.
What you see ahead for Palm Beach County: I see a lot of opportunities for Palm Beach County. First of all, I look at the demographics. The population in Palm Beach County is growing. Then you look south to Miami. They have such a scarcity of land and density, and a lot of people from Miami are moving up here.