Emir originally hails from Istanbul, Turkey. With homes in several countries, fluency in four different languages, and a rolodex of international friends, he encapsulates what it means to be a global citizen. Emir comes from a long legacy in the real estate industry, but today he is paving his own way by building a brand in New York City. His international perspective on the world, paired with his pedigree and entrepreneurial success, is a true testament to the fact that New York continues to be the greatest city in the world.
Tell us about your background and how you came to New York City.
I’m from Turkey. I was born in Istanbul and grew up there l until I was about 15 years old. Then I went to boarding school in Lugano, Switzerland; it was truly the best time of my life. I met my best friends, I completed the International Baccalaureate program, I was accepted to NYU, and then came to New York.
What attracted you to moving to New York City?
I always wanted to live in New York. I used to travel here a few times per year and was always fascinated with this city’s energy. Every time that I would land in New York I would feel this crazy energy and I wouldn’t want to go to the hotel immediately to go to bed. I would want to go to musicals, restaurants, and drag my family or my friends non-stop around the city. After living in the city for six years, I have realized that has never changed. I am still filled with this crazy energy every day.
How did attending an international high school change your perspective on the world?
When I was at boarding school, my friends were very international. I had gone from this little bubble in Istanbul to experiencing the world from an international perspective. Even though in Turkey I was educated from a worldwide perspective, there were certain things that I had no idea about until I met all these people from around the world. I was exposed to different races and cultures and that made me embrace the world differently. It was a life-changing event because it made me grow up.
Does the diversity of New York City parallel the diversity you experienced at an international school?
I feel like when you look at the world, I believe New York City is more international than any other place including the UK. If you asked me right now if I were able to live anywhere else I would say “no”, because where else would I live? I love Paris, London, and other big metropolitan cities. But I don’t have the energy that I have in New York anywhere else. When I am in London, Paris or Istanbul, I don’t see the variety of people, or that variety of everything that I see on a daily basis in New York.
How do you think your exposure to international cultures affects your tolerance of different people from around the globe.
As being a Turk, I think Mexicans, Brazilians, Italians and Turks are very similar in terms of lifestyle and practical thinking. All of my best friends from boarding school were either from Italy, Sicily, Mexico, or Brazil. We have similar backgrounds, similar families, and similar education. Today we act like we’re all from the same country and we all speak English together.
How does your diverse friend-group enrich your life?
The more friends you have from different countries, the more advanced you become because you learn other cultures, other languages and how to live with other cultures in your life. Although languages are a barrier, as the days go by everyone is becoming multilingual. I believe that this is going to end the era of language barriers. Everyone speaks English, but everyone also speaks more than one language. I speak four languages myself: Turkish, French, English, and Italian.
Let’s talk New York City through your perspective. Can you tell us about what you enjoy most since moving here?
I really enjoy art and New York City is great for art but there are “buts”. It’s great, but just like everything else in New York, if you want to have a good collection then you have to spend a fortune. In Paris and London, you can catch smaller auctions with extremely valuable pieces. Here you have Christie’s Auction, Sotheby’s Auction, and Phillips Auction where everything starts from hundreds of thousands of dollars. If you’re a young collector without a lot of backup you really cannot afford those auctions.
From the perspective of art, how does Europe differ?
The art from big names was created in Europe so it’s easier to find that art from old houses, and people who have passed; just like the vintage shopping and antiques. You can find amazing things such as black pencil drawings by Picasso and terracotta sculptures because those items are found there.
In New York, similar to everything else, the art is marked up. Art is very accessible in New York. There are many galleries and artists but in terms of looking for the top quality, it is very expensive and it’s very difficult to find. It’s also controlled by a few people in the industry, in terms of collectors, and they decide who’s going to be the next top artist, and the next worst.
Do you enjoy vintage shopping?
I love vintage shopping. Not in terms of clothing or art, but in terms of furniture. I decorate my houses outside of New York with Art Deco and I love playing with furniture. I worked on my apartment in New York for 16 months. I even brought some pieces from Paris. I like the modern comfortable feeling with something that is vintage, used, and has memories to me.
Where are you favorite places to find vintage furniture around the world?
Paris — outside of Paris is amazing. Belgium is also good, they have so many old markets. The one in Paris is my secret, I won’t tell anyone that one.
What do you think of vintage shopping in New York City?
I’ve been to flea markets and antique markets in New York, but if you go to a vintage market 99% of the stuff has no value. You won’t find stamped/branded antique or vintage pieces such as Baccarat crystal or Hermes shakers. Someone has to find those items in Europe and then bring it here, and then they need to sell it. A few shops in New York ( like the big names) go to the same places that I go to in Paris, find these pieces, and then put a 5,000-10,000% markup to sell it here.
Where are your favorite places to dine in the city?
In New York, I have routine places that are like my second home which include downtown Cipriani, Bilboquet, Mr. Chows Tribeca, Nobu 57, and BONDST. Those are my go-to places, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t enjoy other places. There are so many opportunities to try new restaurants that I find myself trying different places all the time. However, I also like the feeling that I have in those restaurants so that I don’t have to worry about anything and get amazing service.
Tell us about the work you do in New York City.
I started my own brokerage, RLTYNYC. We do leasings and sales for all types of developments from skyscrapers, mixed use properties, and residential buildings. I started this company because I wanted to be helpful to clients coming from all over the world who don’t know the rules and regulations in New York City.
How did you get into real estate?
My family owns the oldest real estate company in Turkey; it is 95 years old. Growing up, real estate was my only reality and I learned about real estate from the office of the company, the construction sites, from my dad, and all of my family members.
I came to NYU to study while I was working at different companies in real estate. This helped advance my knowledge of the industry so when I graduated from school I had two opportunities. I could do something on my own and gain respect for being capable in this new world to me since I am the first-generation in New York. The second option was to go back home and take a position from my family business and continue the legacy like everyone else does from my culture.
How do you feel about choosing the option to pave your own way?
I felt like it was the right decision to take my own route and challenge myself. Looking back, my first experience was the most challenging experience. Most people work at a company and don’t have the stress on their shoulders of creating a brand, maintaining a brand, and the responsibility that comes with having employees. My introduction to the business world was creating my own company and fighting for myself; it was really hard.
What were some of the challenges you faced as a young entrepreneur?
When you’re trying to learn certain things for the first time and you’re also facing obstacles along the way, such as the wrong partnership, you start learning at a faster pace. You don’t have the time to sit back and wait. Otherwise you lose everything. You have to get the problems solved along the way and you can’t stop. You’re always learning.
What are your goals moving forward with the business?
RLTY is also a development company. I want to follow the lead of my family and start developing with the right opportunities in New York City and outside areas.
Has your international background and multilingual skills given you an advantage when catering to international clients coming to New York?
When you use the word luxury, and that’s how I describe my company, I believe strongly that you need to live in luxury. If you don’t live in luxury and you don’t come from a world of luxury, I honestly don’t think you can sell it. If you’re looking to sell a $50 million apartment, you need to understand the importance of certain things that you learn from having the same lifestyle. That’s what I bring to the table.
In terms of real estate, I have been learning since I was a baby. My age has been my challenge. People say, “oh he’s only 24 and he’s doing all these things.” Yes, but I have been learning since I was five years old. That’s my reality. Most other people start to learn real estate around age 30 and by age 40 they want to be known as the most advanced, with the most expertise.
What are you goals, where do you see yourself in a couple of years, and do you see yourself staying in New York?
Yes I see myself staying in New York for a while. I always want to keep New York as my base. I have a TV show that just premiered in the UK. I filmed an entire first season of The RKOI: The Rich Kids of Instagram… I know the name is so tacky. Even though I participate as the main cast on the TV show, I show my business and my professionalism, rather than just showing a perspective of wealth.
I don’t ever talk about money in my regular life. I have my own ambitions, and consider myself to be a very ambitious person compared to my peers. I am young and I work hard because I am self-motivated. I love working and the TV show demonstrates that.
Let’s talk New York City culture outside of work. Where do you like to spend your free time?
My New York experience has definitely changed over time. When I was visiting New York when I was younger my whole experience was about the Upper East Side, Midtown, Madison, and Park. Anything between 57th street and 65th. Then I started to broaden up. I moved to Chelsea and started to go to art galleries in my free time, and shows on Broadway. Today I live in the West Village.
With a crazy school and business life, I wanted to have a home in a neighborhood where I could take a deep breath and enjoy. That’s why I picked the West Village as my favorite neighborhood, and currently live here. I’m not like those New Yorkers that say, “I’m not going to go above 34th street or below 14th street or below TriBeCa.” That is ridiculous. What’s the big deal about colonization among people in New York City?
Do you find New York City as a place that is heavily divided into sub-genres and communities?
People like to title or brand themselves. I see it as a problem. People disable themselves from being more social by doing this. I’m Turkish, but I don’t only associate myself with Turks because I have friends from all around the world. I associate myself with everyone including Russians, Syrians Jews, and with Pakistani Muslims.
When you’re international and you accept that you are a global citizen, you broaden your perspective on life. And that’s why I love living in New York. In New York, you have different cultures and different groups of people.