Zach and Cody Vichinsky
Zach and Cody Vichinsky’s real estate firm, Bespoke, operates in the affluent oceanside Long Island communities collectively known as the Hamptons. The brothers say their company is the first to represent only properties selling for $10 million and above, and that the majority of homes they sell are valued at over $40 million.
When they launched Bespoke in 2014, Zach (at left in photo above) and Cody already had considerable experience with this market. Both of them had spent time selling high-end Hamptons residences for the giant New York City–based Corcoran Group while Cody’s career had included a stint as a private wealth manager for Merrill Lynch. With Bespoke, they wanted to build a formidable operation from scratch, and as they celebrate the firm’s 10th anniversary, it appears that they’ve succeeded: their sales and marketing team, which now numbers about two dozen, has sold homes worth a total of $1.5 billion in the past three and a half years.
Not surprisingly, such success has netted the brothers fancy cars, high-level social connections, and luxurious homes of their own. But by the end of our hour-long conversation in Manhattan, I’d concluded that their financial success is among the least interesting things about them.
In fact, they don’t seem to care much about the trappings of wealth. Raised by a single father who had little in the way of material assets, the brothers were taught to stick together and to value family above all else. Though both are under age 35, they strike me as old souls who are gracious, driven, well-studied, and almost supernaturally grounded.
They get most excited when the discussion turns to real estate data and research, which might sound hard to believe until you learn that they often spend their rare afternoons off exploring some other hot real estate market. I got the impression that if Bespoke were to somehow vanish, the Vichinskys would have no problem regrouping to create an entirely new successful company from scratch.
How did Bespoke get started?
Cody: It was a calculated decision for us to be in the Hamptons. We analyzed it from an investment perspective right as the [U.S. financial] crash was happening, and it was a particularly interesting real estate market because it had no quantifiable metrics. All the properties were being serviced in relatively the same way, whether they were $1 million or $100 million. No one was using price per square foot, the databases were somewhat antiquated, the information was somewhat dusty and skewed. We recognized an opportunity to create structure and an inflection point in the way that high-end real estate was serviced.
Zach: I started to become fascinated with the brokerage component. We spent a couple years at a conventional firm and analyzed the nuances around big-box brokering flaws. We didn’t have a network of relationships in the Hamptons, so our business model was to provide value and opportunity.
Did you start slowly?
Zach: No. We launched with vigor. We spent a year planning, sharpening our ax before we started swinging it, building out our systems, building a war chest. We came out strong to prove a point.
Was it hard to break into the Hamptons culture?
Cody: There was a lot of explaining, showcasing how our systems delivered infinitely more value than the conventional process, fighting hard just to get the opportunity to get to work. Lots of people came out of the woodwork saying, “These two knucklehead morons, they will go down in flames soon.” But we found it to be relatively low-hanging fruit once we started to get going, because it is such a small community where, if you do good work and provide value, there is a whisper on the wind.
Zach: In a lot of cases, our clients have one, two, three, and four degrees of separation—it’s a tight world. Because our focus is just on the high-end, we have an ability to dedicate more of everything to our clients on the listing side. More money, more human capital, more exposure. We can do things better and make more of an impact.
Isn’t it becoming easier and easier for clients to go online and access real estate information on their own?
Zach: On our end, there is a need for somebody to catalog and shape information and provide it in the right way. The majority of our clients, both on the buy and sell sides, are analysts by nature. They want to look at all the data to make as much of an accurate decision as possible, financially and emotionally. So that necessitates somebody like us to corral the information and provide insight.
Cody: Disruption of brokerage in general is definitely a tidal wave coming toward the business, particularly on the lower end. I think you are going to see that business becoming much more mechanical as information and opportunity become more transparent and abundant.
Do your clients tend to already be Hamptons residents?
Cody: A good chunk of our sales come from people who are already in the marketplace. There’s definitely new entry into the market, but there is also a domino-like effect. Someone may knock on some guy’s door and pay him a premium, and then that guy has to get into the market to buy something.
Zach: Because we have such a vast inventory—right now from $10 million to $175 million—we always see who’s coming through the door. Whether it’s our own clients or other brokers working with buyers, we have a very holistic view of that micro-market and what’s happening in it. We are often approached by both buyers and sellers to help them process something that doesn’t hit the public market. A buyer will say, “I want to buy something and I have exhausted the market. Can you help?”
What are the biggest mistakes people make when buying or selling a home?
Zach: Moving too fast with complete emotion is dangerous, and we try to steer our clients away from that. On the sell side, being overly emotional about your asset and what it is worth can deter you from getting the most for your money. The emotional aspect muddies the water, so we stick to logic, data, and the principles that we built our company on.
Cody: Often when people are patient the best results come, and a lot of folks aren’t. Conversely, sometimes people are too patient and they get boxed out of the game. So it is really about finding that happy medium between analyzing opportunities and executing a decision. We call it the 80/20 rule. In the beginning for most folks it’s 80 percent investment analysis and 20 percent emotion; then they hit a certain threshold, and the percentage flips.
Have you developed friendships that lead to new business?
Cody: We have created amazing friendships and relationships, but we don’t strive for that [to find clients]. [There is a school of] thought where you have to get as many friends as possible to then sell them houses. Our process is quite different, because we are confident that the service and value that we provide [attract business]. We don’t care if we are invited to parties.
How do you hire?
Zach: We learned early that you hire slow and fire fast, and we’ve lived by that rule. We are fortunate that we have fantastic mentors—men and women who have built and sold very large companies—who we can bounce ideas off of.
Coming from humble beginnings, were you ever star-struck by the glamour and opulence of the Hamptons?
Cody: A lot of people are awestruck by it, and they get nervous when they are dealing with somebody who is high profile, high power, high intelligence. When we got into the business we saw that [this mentality] could be a problem, because when someone extremely powerful comes your way, you can’t be the best resource for them if you’re not yourself.
Zach: More exciting than anything, more than the money, is being able to interact with and pick the brains of some of the brightest people in the world.
How are you and your clients utilizing business aviation?
Zach: We’ve dabbled across the board [on our personal flights], but a lot of our clients have planes, so we are on those quite a bit. Sometimes their jets are too big for East Hampton and they have to fly in to Gabreski in Westhampton, so we arrange a seaplane.
Cody: We use helicopters a lot [between the Hamptons and Manhattan]. We’ve noticed a lot of impromptu [business and personal] trips among our clients who are flying privately—at the last minute, they’ll decide to go to South Florida or the Caribbean. Many clients have their own fleet. We did a high-profile deal that needed to be done relatively fast [because of other bidders], so we chartered a helicopter for the client—40 minutes each way. They came and toured the property within 30 minutes and did the deal.
What’s the best part of your job?
Cody: We get to work with some of the world’s leading minds, people who have done amazing things. Even if they are not exorbitantly wealthy, it could be a notable artist [for example].
Zach: All of those [individuals] have helped us grow and learn about people, and it’s fascinating. We are in the most beautiful and elaborate and expensive homes on the planet, and you can get jaded, but it’s still exciting to walk into a home that’s been created by a very talented, smart group of people, all at the top of their field. Whether it’s architects or designers, landscape architects, or builders, we get to see the Picassos of real estate.
And in your spare time?
Cody: The truth is, we are happily imbalanced at this point in our lives. We’re workaholics and we are passionate about it seven days a week. We eat well, we like to take trips, but simple things matter to us. Seeing friends, seeing our family, just having quality time is fun. And we like to research various markets a lot. We are big into research.
Zach: We enjoy learning [about other real estate markets] because they impact our clients’ lives and our business. We’ll go to Miami and Palm Beach, Aspen, Park Slope [in Brooklyn, New York], and bring information back to our clients.
What are your thoughts on giving back?
Cody: We’ve always believed that as you take in, it is good to give out. We donate a lot of money to various causes. We are very much into animals, people who are needy, women and children who have been abused. We are big into veterans who are displaced when they come home—they need resources, they need psychological help. We are currently rolling out something unique where if someone is purchasing a home through us they have the option to have a portion of our commission go to a charity of their choice.
You two have an extraordinary connection, even for brothers.
Zach: We are very fortunate because we are very different people but we are completely in sync. We function in brutal honesty and transparency, and we try to instill that in everybody who works with us and for us. There are certain things that Cody does much better than I do and vice versa. The beauty for us is that our perspectives in a lot of cases are different, and we can debate about [how to find middle ground].
Cody: The business has always been an avenue for us to explore our talent and get better at who we are as individuals and as a team. We’ve had a fortunate recipe of humility, ambition, and also tremendous failures in our lives that have forced us to really look at who we have in our corners and then focus on being the best possible team.
That’s not by accident; there was a tremendous amount of conversation and emotional growth. It was instilled [from childhood] for us to find the best possible versions of ourselves, look at our faculties, polish them, and be the best possible people we could be.
How do you think your childhoods shaped your relationship?
Cody: Zach has always operated with a clear focus on what he wants out of his life in the same way I have, and those desires kind of met in the middle. We want the best for each other and there are times where I take a back seat to my brother out of respect and vice versa. A family business works best if there is no ego.
Zach: We come from very humble beginnings—lower middle class. Our father rented the worst house in the best neighborhood he could so we could go to a good school district on Long Island. We grew up with people who had more money and resources than us. If we wanted things, we had to grind and do it, and we learned to do that together. Even as kids we would tag-team to get ahead. Our parents were divorced relatively early, and our father was very proactive in driving the notion into our heads that the only people we have are each other. To be as strong as possible, we needed to rely on each other. And we did that from a very early age.
BORN: New York City on Feb. 3, 1984 (Zach) and Nov. 1, 1986 (Cody)
POSITION: Co-owners, Bespoke Real Estate
PREVIOUS POSITIONS: Zach and Cody both sold Hamptons homes for the Corcoran Group. Cody also spent three years as a private wealth manager for Merrill Lynch and worked in telecommunications for seven years.
EDUCATION: B.S., New York University (Cody)
PHILANTHROPY: The Michael Bolton Charities, the Make-a-Wish Foundation, the Samuel Waxman Cancer Research Foundation
TRANSPORTATION: When not traveling on client aircraft, have flown with Blade, JetSmarter, NetJets,and Wheels Up.
PERSONAL: Zach lives in Bridgehampton with wife Nicole and sons Ramsey (3) and Austin (almost 1). Cody lives in East Hampton with his dog, an American Bully named Odin, who is a sibling of Zach's dog, Simmy.
NAMES: Zachary and Cody Vichinsky