The appraisers sent to scrutinize E-Walk Times Square and Riverton Square were not your typical real estate professionals.
And despite the inexperience of the Bronx teenagers visiting the properties in late June, the evaluators were poised to follow protocol and pepper the property managers with questions.
The high school students’ assessments of the Times Square and Harlem properties were informed by tutorials at Project Destined, a nonprofit facilitating the teenagers’ foray into New York real estate.
Project Destined launched in Detroit in September 2016, and opened a pilot program in the Bronx this March, with assistance from Alex Rodriguez and Jennifer Lopez.
By educating teenagers about the real estate industry and professional standards, the organization seeks to promote property ownership among people of color and teach young people a set of skills that will help them succeed in any career they pursue, according to Project Destined co-founders Cedric Bobo and Fred Greene.
Their knowledge may be particularly valuable to the students’ fellow Bronxites as the borough changes and some communities become concerned about gentrification.
“We’re buying real estate, and they’re helping us in the process,” Bobo said. “I think they feel as though they’re assets — that we’re not do-gooders just coming in, blessing them with our philanthropy from some ivory tower.”
Project Destined is currently selecting the next class of Bronx participants, who will help the program assess and purchase properties, with some of the profit going toward scholarships for their studies. A total of 34 selected students will get to work in July and August, attend a boot camp in September and then meet monthly through the spring.
Based on Rodriguez’s recommendation, Bobo and Greene worked with HERE to HERE, a career pathways program active in Bronx schools, to visit campuses and cultivate interest in their program.
“When we go to these schools, we don’t say, ‘Come join a real estate program,’” Bobo explained. “What we do is we tell kids, you know what, whether you’re a doctor or a nurse or a schoolteacher, you know, real estate is going to be a part of your life.”
Bobo and Greene said they look for students who have leadership qualities, curiosity and the hunger to learn.
“I’m always looking for hustle,” Bobo said.
A pool of potential participants were invited to a two-day interview in late June. Structured as a scavenger hunt, Bobo said the students attended “a couple hours of tutorial on the basics of different types of real estate and then . . . those kids [went] out and physically [looked] at real estate.”
On the first day, students were divided into six teams with names that were a nod to their home borough — Crotona, Tremont, Parkchester, Kingsbridge, Fordham and Hunts Point. Each group was led by a recent graduate or current student at the Harvard Business School.
The second day, the teens took tours of either the dining and retail complex E-Walk Times Square or Riverton Square, a residential development at 2156 Madison Ave. in Harlem.
“They [went] in; they met with the executives; they got tours of the assets,” Bobo said. “They’ve got a template of things they’ve got to get out of that visit, and they’re doing active due diligence.”
After the tours, the teams headed to the Whitby Hotel in midtown to put the finishing touches on their presentations. Bottles of Evian, popcorn and an abundance of candy, such as Swedish Fish and Skittles, were waiting for them.
Then came the live music: Sol Liebeskind sang covers such as Drake’s “Hold On, We’re Going Home,” while Pablo Alvarez played piano.
The treats, the music and the venue are all purposefully picked.
“It’s all signals,” said Greene. “We want them to feel like they belong in places like this.”
A four-person panel, which included Bobo and Greene, called the teams up one by one to pitch their ideas about the properties they toured. The panel often prodded the teams to elaborate on their assessments.
Presentation is critical, Bobo said, with Greene adding that when students addressed Rodriguez, who leads a real estate investment and development company, and Lopez in March, Greene told them, “If you can do that, I promise you, you can do anything.”
Ashley Mendoza, who attends University Heights High School, said she found herself enjoying the stage.
“I got to really talk out there about real estate and all the things that I learned over the course of two days,” Mendoza, 17, said. “It was definitely a great experience.”
Tracie Butler, who will be a senior at the Eagle Academy for Young Men, said he had such a great experience with Project Destined’s previous interview events that he decided to repeat them in June.
“I really felt a connection to them, so I decided to come back and do it all over again, ‘cause I really like the program,” said Butler, 17.
Besides appreciating the educational elements of Project Destined, Vanyely Liriano, 17, said it taught her how to trust her teammates and work in a group.
“We feel like family,” said Liriano, who wants to be a doctor, and will be a senior at H.E.R.O. High School.