Louise Phillips Forbes is a top NYC real estate broker, mother, wife, philanthropist, among other titles. We caught up with her in her Upper West Side development project to discuss the ins and outs of real estate, making a house a home, and how she balances her successful career with motherhood.
Tell me about how you got started in real estate.
I fell off the boat from Nashville, Tennessee. I was born and raised there, and I had a scholarship for dance at the University of Tennessee, but my mother got very sick when I was finishing up school. I went to see her in the hospital and told her I really wanted to move to New York and she told me to follow my dreams… and then come back in six months. I moved to New York a year later. I thought my destiny was dance but I injured myself, so I was doing modeling and bar-tending, where I ran into a group of people that used to come in to the restaurant every Wednesday, and the one woman told me that I would be so good in real estate. She gave me her friend’s card, I made a phone call, and next thing I know I’m sitting behind a desk with a license thinking, “What do I do next?” My first year in real estate I made $8,400, wearing my ballet leotard and cowboy boots. That was almost 30 years ago. I’ve been doing it every since.
What do you love about real estate?
For most people when they get into the real estate business, they think about the brick and mortar business behind it. For me, it’s about the business of people. Growing up, my mother told me that it doesn’t matter what you do, as long as you love what you do. She was a writer, who loved that and to raise money for charitable things she thought were important. I grew up watching her love what she did, and I never thought in a million years I would be as fulfilled as I am today. My home and the way I make even a one-night stay in a hotel room into a home, are representative of who I am as a person, so for me it is a privilege to be in the business of creating homes.
What makes a house a home?
Where you feel at home. I really liken finding your home, buying your home, and making your home - whether you buy it or not - to a chemistry that happens, the same way that happens when you meet the right guy. I could walk into an apartment that most people wouldn’t look twice at and say, “I don’t know why, but I think I have to buy this.” When you bring yourself into a space, and you own how you live - its what feels safe for you. My family and I travel all over the world, and my kids love being home. Home is where you feel safe.
What are some elements that every person should look for in a home?
Look for light, but don’t always look for views. Our past experiences prioritize experience how we live and what we need in a home. For example, when I moved here I could only afford a dark small apartment, so now I always feel light is essential and that I’d rather have space in a room than little hallways here and there. I would rather have less rooms and more volume in my rooms. I think each checklist for each person will derive from their personal experience. Most importantly, personality needs to match the home. That’s my favorite part of the real estate process because its like a puzzle. I love figuring out what makes people tick and what makes them fall in love with a certain place. It also helps knowing which walls can come down and which ones cannot. Sometimes if you don’t find exactly what you’re looking for, construction is the answer.
Do you think the neighborhoods of New York play into that aspect of personality match-making?
Totally. That’s one of the things I’ve been known for, taking on a project and becoming an anchor for a neighborhood to really reinvent it. I did that on the Lower East Side, and Madison Ave., as well as Hudson Ave, which are now some of the hottest neighborhoods.
Do you have a favorite neighborhood in New York?
I’m a West Side girl at heart. I would say the West Village would be my second favorite, as I am a native Upper West Sider, and then Tribeca would be my third favorite. I first moved into the Upper West Side when I came to New York, and I knew the neighborhood so well after a while that if I went to the grocery store and forgot my wallet, the cashiers would let me take my groceries anyway. So as a young girl coming from Nashville, I really made NYC small-town. As for the West Village, there’s something very parisian about the way the West village lives, with the cobble stone streets, the intellect, and the texture of the neighborhood - I love the low rises. With Tribeca, there’s something compelling about loft living.
What are the most fulfilling and most challenging aspects of your career?
The most fulfilling aspect would be the people, and the worlds that they come from. For me to have such a textured, diversity of friends and what are now my family, because we recreate our families when we’re not with them, makes me a richer person by investing myself into learning about their cultures. Through that, my children as well have such an amazing exposure of people in their lives.
For challenges, I would say not being able to do and be everything for everyone. I don’t want to miss an experience at all, because I do feel it is such a privilege for somebody to have chosen me and my team to help them through this real estate journey. It is such a privilege to be trusted, which is something I do not take lightly. It’s hard for me to not be there for every step along the way, since that is impossible, but the blessing is I figured that out a long time ago.
How do you balance your home life with your work life - being a career woman and a mother?
First of all, it takes a village. I never had an executive personal assistant until just recently, and now I have no idea how I did it before then. We have an au pair that lives with us and she is now part of our family. I have a team of amazing, dedicated people who compliment my weaknesses with their strengths, and vice versa. To be able to operate like a team machine, but with personal touches, is what I strive to achieve. I still believe I can have it all and do it all. I even had to kiss a lot of frogs before I met my prince, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’ve experienced a lot of loss in my life, but these losses taught me to live each day to the fullest. I don’t sweat the small stuff and I want to feel like I’m making a difference in the world. The whole balance is understanding that I can’t do it all, and that it takes a village - and because of the village my children have learned so many more life lessons than just my own. I think I am a better mother because I work, because I have such clear autonomy of myself and my work zone, but I look at myself equally as a wife and a mother.
By Emily Allen
Photo courtesy of Jill Lotenberg and Louise Phillips Forbes