When Miguel Berger named his real estate brokerage TechValley Homes Real Estate in 2001 it was during a time when the concept of “Tech Valley” was more dream than reality.
Berger said he was inspired by the potential for the Capital Region to establish a global brand linked to technology, even though at the time the dot-com bubble had burst and many were discouraged about the business potential for technology.
“Everybody thought I was nuts with the name, it sounded like I was selling computers, but I had a strong feeling this would be something that was huge,” Berger said.
Berger’s vision proved to be true, but the payoff for the local real estate market was fleeting — as the region’s tech sector began to grow, home values did too. But then the housing bubble burst nationwide. A mortgage crisis and the worst economic downturn since the 1930s followed.
With Global Foundries finally building a microchip fabrication plant in Malta and the last of International Sematech’s major operations relocating from Texas to UAlbany’s Nanocollege, the Capital Region has truly become Tech Valley. Unfortunately, the local housing market is still suffering.
According to the Greater Capital Association of Realtors, home sales in the Capital Region in 2010 were down 13 percent from 2009. GCAR recorded 7,465 sales for 2010, compared with 8,596 sales in 2009 and 8,484 in 2008.
Berger said there has not yet been much direct benefit to the region’s home sales from the big-name technology companies.
“People have to understand that most of the people who’ve come for Sematech and now Global Foundries are mostly renters. These people come to the area on a two- to three-year contract,” he said. “We haven’t seen the bulk of the business yet [from Sematech and Global Foundries] and probably won’t for another two to three years.”
Although home prices for the Capital Region have remained relatively stable compared to the rest of the country, actual home sales have seen wide swings, which is reflected in TechValley Homes Real Estate sales volume.
Berger said the high point for his company came when it sold $74 million worth of real estate in 2006 and $67 million worth in 2007. Sales dropped to $60 million in 2008 and then flatlined at about $41 million for 2009 and 2010.
Despite the slowdown, TechValley Homes Real Estate has maintained its work force and business model, which include two full-time employees and 38 real estate agents who work as independent contractors on a commission basis.
Berger said he built his company in the wake of the 2000/2001 stock market slide and the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and he has maintained a lean mentality every since.
“I’ve been in the business for a long time so I knew this was coming, even in ’06 and ’07, I knew that was not reality. We never expanded or did anything crazy like some companies. We saved for the bad times like now,” he said.
Although TechValley Homes Real Estate may not be selling many homes to high-tech professionals permanently relocating to the region, the company itself has stayed true to its brand and used a high-tech approach to selling real estate.
Berger said his company uses its website www.techvalleyhomes.com and facebook.com to market real estate. The company’s website enables visitors to conduct virtual tours of the inside of homes, with the ability to “spin” inside a full circle inside some of the home’s rooms.
“We use all kinds of tools and my job is to basically be the idea person, the rain maker. I love technology,” he said.
“Who is the new consumer? Most companies don’t understand what the consumer wants. I have an 18-year-old son, if I call him he won’t answer me, but if I text him he will answer me. Do I really care about facebook? No, but do I have to be there? Yes, because that’s where the market is.”
One of the technological innovations TechValley Homes Real Estate is using a cellphone application that gives cellphone users access to the Multiple Listings Service combined with Global Positioning System technology.
“The beautiful part is that people look for an area they want to live and then they start looking for houses in that area. So once they’ve found that area the GPS app can find all the places for sale in a half-mile, mile or two-mile radius,” Berger said.
One technology Berger doesn’t like is voicemail. He said he tries to make certain whenever anyone calls his company a human being answers the phone, even if the call has to be transferred to his cell phone or the cell phone of one of his employees.
Berger said although the full economic benefit of the Tech Valley concept has yet to materialize, he believes the notion of Tech Valley has effectively branded the area as a global destination for technology and technology professionals.
“Have we seen a benefit? Absolutely, because it put Albany on the map. Before this nobody in the world knew where Albany was,” he said.
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