Born, raised and still residents in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, brothers Gianpaolo and Alessandro Manzolillo are the latest real estate agents to share their insights in our Expert Interviews series. They specialize in all things related to real estate in Williamsburg, having been part of it long enough to see it change from a regular “old” neighborhood to a vibrant, thriving, hip place, as a result of its gentrification.
Before forming their highly successful real estate team at Citi Habitats, Gianpaolo spent 15 years working as a support and account manager on Wall Street for different financial institutions while Alessandro graduated with a degree in Nutrition and has been working in the hospitality industry for over 10 years. Despite coming from different professional backgrounds, transitioning to the real estate industry fitted the Manzolillo brothers like a glove. They are tenacious, meticulous when it comes to details, and very committed to their clients and, of course, to their home neighborhood, Williamsburg.
Q: Tell us a little bit about your backgrounds and why you chose a career in real estate.
For us both, real estate is our “second career.” I (Gianpaolo) worked on Wall Street after graduating college with a degree in Finance. My motivation for transitioning into real estate came from a few areas. Primarily, I truly enjoy interacting with clients and meeting new people. I’d worked in restaurants throughout the neighborhood as a kid and throughout college, and really missed getting out there and mixing with people from all walks of life. Desk jobs can become mundane and monotonous. I was also fascinated by the growth and changes occurring in my neighborhood, and I wanted to be a part of the process. I’m extremely proud of where I grew up—and there’s no better way to demonstrate that than showing people who want to live here all the great things Williamsburg has to offer.
Alessandro, with a degree in Nutrition and having worked much of his life in restaurants and hospitality, also enjoys interaction and meeting new people who are excited to live in WB. A career in real estate can offer the flexibility that restaurant life cannot. Both require a strong work ethic and putting in many hours—but there is no ceiling on earnings potential as a real estate agent. The sky is truly the limit.
Q: Growing up in Williamsburg, how did you see the neighborhood impacted by gentrification?
It was truly amazing having a front row seat to all the changes. And of course these things evolved over years, but the first inkling of change was in the mid 90’s. I (Gianpaolo) was in my mid-teens and my parents decided to convert our basement “play room” into a small apartment. It had a private street entrance and my dad equipped it with a full bath and little kitchen area. Our first tenant was a musician. Strange, we thought. Subsequent tenants included other artists, musicians and even foreign exchange students from Japan. The neighborhood started to sprout little coffee shops and vintage boutique stores. I appreciated that they didn’t look to change the structures where they opened their businesses. Rather, they accentuated what was there—and made it “cool.”
I noticed a more crowded L train coming home from high school (which was in Flushing, Queens). Lots of guitars strung across shoulders, lots of ‘bohemians’ as we would call them–with ripped clothing and dirty fingernails. They kept to themselves and were typically not very friendly. I was truly blown away during my college years, which were in the early 2000s. I attended Pace University downtown and lived at home. My buddies and I would travel into Manhattan to hang out—but I would notice yellow cabs dropping people off in Williamsburg. What? People are actually coming to hang out in WB?! Where, why?!
Struck by curiosity, we would occasionally go to these bohemian bars to try to answer the what and why. It really wasn’t our crowd but people flocked there! Then construction came. Empty lots became condos. Every mom and pop who owned their real estate for generations decided to become builders. Rents steadily climbed. Those little vintage stores and coffee shops gave way to Starbucks and Whole Foods. The bohemians gave way to the hipster—or more affluent—resident.
The waterfront, where my buddies and I were once robbed, became a beautiful esplanade! Big developers like Toll Brothers saw an opportunity. Retailers like Apple, J.Crew and Ralph Lauren moved in. But the beauty of Williamsburg is that we can still see some of the old-school charm. Some mom and pop shops have resisted selling out… and are thriving! It’s a beautiful, eclectic mix of culture and architecture, and not nearly as stoic as our neighbor, Manhattan.
Many of my best friends growing up moved out of Williamsburg in the mid/late 90s—to places like Long Island, Staten Island and New Jersey. My best friend’s dad bumped into my dad one day, and the conversation went as follows… “Giovanni, you gotta sell and get outta the neighborhood! It’s going down the drain!” Fortunately for us, my dad didn’t heed his advice! “I’m staying, Tony! I like it here.”
One man has tons of regret, the other, a little more money in his pocket!
Q: What real estate trends did you notice there in the past years and where do you see it going in 2019?
To use a Wall Street term, we are “bullish” on Williamsburg. Given the most recent news that L train will not be fully suspended, and with Amazon moving close by with high-paying jobs, we believe the neighborhood is poised for even more growth. We’ve noticed an uptick in rental activity over the past few weeks and think it will continue into the busy spring/summer season. Williamsburg has established itself as one of NYC’s most desirable neighborhoods—and we believe it will continue to trend even higher in 2019.
Q: Are there any perks to hiring a real estate agent that’s a “neighborhood insider” for a target area?
Any agent can arm themselves with local data and instantly become an “expert.” But only someone who lives, shops and works there can offer a truly unique perspective on a neighborhood. For example, my children are attending the same public school I did 30 years ago. Restaurants? We’ve likely visited most—and can tell you which are our favorites. Chances are our friends own some of the “old school” establishments. Bars? Hotels for visiting guests? We’ve got you covered. Transportation options? We’ve likely used them all in our nearly 40 years in the neighborhood.
Q: Do you have any advice for people looking to buy in Williamsburg?
Do it! Williamsburg has a lot to offer. We are a diverse community rich with culture and charm. We have some of the greatest bars and restaurants in NYC. We have also become a destination for live music with places like Brooklyn Steel and Knitting Factory. We have truly unparalleled views of the most beautiful skyline in the world. Our city has invested in upgrading our parks and recreational areas as well as undergoing major upgrades to our transportation infrastructure. We are green, we are bike-friendly, we are family-friendly, we are cool!
Q: Any other insights you would like to share?
Follow us on Instagram (@TheManzolilloBrothers) and Facebook—where we tell our story through pictures. We provide local market information along with deep insight into the favorite people we’ve met—and places we’ve experienced—growing up in Williamsburg. We hope you enjoy our content.