The larger-than-life realtor who has never seen anything like this
Howie Jakobi had big plans for 2020. Big plans that he temporarily thought about shelving.
“Right (before) Corona started, I set up a vision board of what I was going to do,” Jakobi says. “And when Corona hit, I thought ‘I’m going to throw that vision board out.’”
Then the realtor and man behind Florida Realty Fusion started looking at what was actually happening. He and his team kept hustling as they always do, and 2020 turned into a different year than the one he’d expected when he thought about depositing the vision board in the dumpster.
“2020’s been insane,” Jakobi says, of trends that have been well-documented across US real estate. “We haven’t stopped for a minute, literally.”
Jakobi’s a big personality. He sells the South Florida lifestyle by also selling himself as a kind of brand ambassador for it – in addition to high-end homes, his Instagram features photos of him doing things like riding a skateboard or, in one photo, popping a wheelie on a bicycle. It’s a fun-but-hard-grafting ethos summed up by his favorite slightly paraphrased expression: “When life gives you lemons, punch it in the face.’”
Jakobi also prides himself on being adaptive, but even he admits he was caught off guard by exactly how 2020 went down.
“There’s zero inventory right now on everything,” he says. “People fight, they take terms, they feel urgency.”
Whether this continues through 2021 is a matter of some debate, but many experts point to the sorts of factors ATTOM Data Solutions chief product officer Todd Teta told Forbes.
“We’re exiting 2020 with a number of dynamics that will more than likely keep this crazy housing market going,” Teta said. “There is incredibly low inventory, with less than 500,000 homes for sale; mortgage rates are at 50-year lows, and there’s no sign yet of distressed sellers from the recession coming out. These supply and demand factors will push prices even higher in the first half of the year. Inventory and pricing should ease a bit in the second half of the year, and larger economic headwinds could start showing up. Until then, buyers should be cautious and sellers jubilant.”
It’s made for the sort of market Jakobi’s never seen before. He has, he says, been brutally honest with clients.
“I believe in complete transparency and honesty and I feel that’s what takes me and my agents in my office a long way,” he says.
These days, that means sometimes telling buyers they’re overpaying – that two years ago that house would have been $50,000 less, and two years from now, it could be again.
“If a time ever comes again where it’s $50,000 lower, remember we had this conversation,” he tells clients.
That said, it’s not like the rental market will save you. Jakobi doesn’t do much work in rentals, but he does regularly work with one property that typically rents for $2,800 to $3,000 a month. When it recently became available, he suggested that if the owners put it up for $3,500 a month, it would rent in the first hour. They did, and it did. Or how about the house in the Landings for which he was the listing agent. The buyer wanted the $1.4m house so badly that they waived all inspections.
“Don’t get me wrong,” Jakobi says. “The house is beautiful, it’s well kept, you can see it’s a great house.” But still. When the other realtor got the contract with zero contingencies, she thought there was some mistake. She’d never seen that before. Then there was the house that went for more than $400,000 and sparked a bidding war in the Lyons Park area of Pompano Beach, not an area typically known for its $400,000-and-up bidding wars.
“There’s a buzz going on,” Jakobi says. “It’s a snowball effect, and the hype is not going away.”
The owner of the eclectic and popular small local shop
One recent day in Jezebel, a pair of customers reacted the way people often do in Jezebel. One, who knew the shop, laughingly apologized to owner Mary Ptak for taking up so much of her time. “I’ve been here for an hour already!” she said as Ptak rang up her total of $14.71.
The other, visiting from New Jersey, was a newcomer.
“It’s a cool store,” she told Ptak, who has an eye for an excellent accessory.
“Thank you,” Ptak answered. “Great necklace.”
It’s not easy to describe what sort of shop Jezebel is; it’s a place that’s better experienced. There’s some clothing, accessories, kitchenware, lots of cards, a solid collection of novelty socks, plenty of magnets, baby gifts, notebooks, art – online descriptions of the place inevitably fall on the word “eclectic,” and it doesn’t take long in the shop to figure out why.
Ptak is also a local shop owner who has seen her industry change drastically with the rise of online shopping, and who has faced even more challenges during the pandemic.
“I’ve gone through several downturns and we’ve always kind of adjusted here,” she says. “Adjusted buying patterns to stay in business. It’s so difficult now for so many places.”
Ptak has been in business in the area since 1986.
“The store has morphed over the years,” she says. “It’s never stayed the same; there’ve been so many changes. I’ve been in business for so long.”
Sometimes there were locally specific problems, such as the rebuilding of the Sunrise Boulevard bridge over the Middle River that tangled traffic around the Gateway Plaza, where Jezebel is located. There’s also been the more generalized existential worry about the shift to online shopping. Then there was 2020.
“We’ve had so many ups and downs here,” Ptak says. “We had the bridge for three years. But this pandemic is brutal for all of us.
“In this kind of business, you have to think on your feet. And with (the pandemic), you didn’t know what to buy (from suppliers) for Christmas. And now we’re not going to have visitors. What do you purchase?”
Many brick-and-mortar shops have also developed online presences, but part of the charm of Jezebel is in the serendipity of looking through its all-over-the-place selection. Ptak isn’t really interested in transitioning to online.
“I’m trying to take it one day at a time,” she says. “I think a lot of us are probably doing that. I think younger people maybe are better with the online.”
She has been grateful to see many thoughtful, loyal customers come in in recent months. “I always feel so relieved when I pull up and you’re still there because it’s just my go-to place,” one told her. “I know something will just pop up at me.”
She tries to keep the place fun, she says. Surprising.
“That’s all I can do,” she says. “I know this is going to be a rough year because we run the opposite of the rest of the country. This is our [tourist] season. And since people can’t come down, it won’t be great for any of us. And then maybe when things get better pandemic-wise, it’s going to be out of the season. It’s just going to be a stressful year. I can’t say I know what’s going to happen, because none of us do.”
Music for All
The new not-for-profit classical music organization
Few industries have felt the effects of the pandemic more than the arts. Venues closed, artists went online to try to scratch out some sort of audience and income, and various behind-the-scenes workers found themselves out of work entirely.
It’s in that difficult set of circumstances that one group of classical music aficionados decided to build something new – or more specifically, to help build a Florida version of an organization that has had success elsewhere in the world.
Musicfor America was founded by people who had all previously had a connection to Fort Lauderdale-based Symphony of the Americas, including the symphony’s recently retired founding conductor, Maestro James Brooks-Bruzzese. The not-for-profit organization, which aims to develop music and educational outreach, is part of the Musicfor international alliance, which has a presence in a number of European countries.
“It’s a project that we feel may work for a couple of reasons,” says Renée LaBonte, one of the people behind the organization and formerly the founding director of Symphony of the Americas. Chief among them is the European conductor the organization has tapped to help lead.The new organization began to percolate when the symphony worked with Italian conductor Lorenzo Turchi-Floris at the symphony’s annual SummerFest series.
“He has been head of and served on the board of a Swiss foundation called Musicfor,” LaBonte says. “Through the years he’s always said, ‘Oh, I’d love to do something in the States.’”
Last year, the timing seemed right.
“The idea is to do some master classes in the schools, for maestros to work with students at the college level and to do some things with our musicians out in the parks,” LaBonte says. “We’re looking to do an outdoor concert, but putting it together with a little more time and effort.”
Many of the details are still coming together. More broadly, it’s about the humanitarian side of the arts, she says. Improving quality of life. Something that people might appreciate even more now.
A large part of Musicfor’s international efforts focus on the humanitarian sector – helping to fund the construction of music schools, the purchase of musical instruments and the presentation of scholarships to deserving students both in Europe and in less favored geographical areas of the world. Musicfor musicians make a yearly volunteer commitment to support certain aspects of the organization’s mission. Leveraging this volunteer assistance helps grow the organization’s presence and its involvement in community.
Of course, much of that looks a bit different right now. As the organization gets rolling in South Florida, it’s doing what so many others are doing – staying online and trying to find creative ways to engage. Online ensemble presentations, musician master classes virtually or perhaps in person at schools, and possibly even televised events utilizing something like Broward Schools’ Becon TV, are some of the ideas being discussed. It is, LaBonte notes, still early days. But a virtual start now means that hopefully, a new arts organization will be ready to go live when that’s safe to do. “There’s different kinds of ideas floating around,” she says. “And then in another six months or so, we’ll be able to do things in person.”