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New Firm Looks to Capitalize on Upcoming Condo Boom

If you have a condo, Ron Smith wants to sell it. And after half a decade with no condo development in this area, condos are coming back. That’s why Ron thinks there’s no better time to start a company like his new firm, Smith | Schnider, with partners Marty Schnider and Julie Zelaska.

Marty was out of town when Bisnow visited Ron and Julie at their new office in Ballston, on the ground floor of the Residences at Liberty Center, the building that started the two-block, eight-building development bankrolled by Marty’s other firm, Fred Schnider Investment Group (founded by his grandfather). Marty brings development experience to the table, and Ron and Julie are sales and marketing experts. Marty, Ron and Julie first worked together selling the condos above their current office. Ron sold more than $3.5B (yes, that’s a “B”) worth of condos in 17 years with The Mayhood Co, and Julie made a name for herself selling the ultra-luxury Turnberry Tower condos in Rosslyn. The three came together to sell those Liberty Center condos after 120 commitments turned into 100 cancellations when the recession hit, Ron says. “It was crunch time. We successfully sold that building out at pro forma at the height of the recession. That work created a bond.”

While they were able to sell those condos, no one else was building any. So Ron, after almost two decades selling condos for David Mayhood, struck out on his own. “I was trying to figure out what I could do,” he says. Custom single-family homes, particularly in the wealthy areas of Northern Virginia, were still doing well, and the builders didn’t know how to market them. So he found a builder and enlisted his old friend Marty as a partner. “I figured, we’ll do that and wait for condos to come back.” Something was missing, however. “To really round this out, we need to get Julie,” Ron said. So they recruited her back. “We thought, ‘This is good, we’ve got the band back together.’” Julie says “the timing just clicked” for her.

Smith | Schnider just moved into its office a month ago after launching in February, and has a roster of 12, looking to add more. Above are director of research and analytics Isabella Schnider, marketing director Sara Koontz Swart, Julie Zelaska, Marty, Ron and director of custom home division Genevieve Concannon. They have the capability to source capital and JV with developers, and they launched with a robust technology and analytics platform. “We wanted to come out of the box ready to go,” Ron says. Smith | Schnider plans to open a DC office soon. It's already got 16 custom houses on the books, between $1.3M and $2.3M, eight of which it has equity in.

2015 seems like the right timing for this launch: condos are finally coming back to the city. “We had a five-year break in the condo market,” says Ron. “Millennials haven’t really gone through a condo buying phase yet. They haven’t had the opportunity.” Just next month, Ron says Smith | Schnider has two presentations lined up. New developments are including condos more and more: two of the buildings in The Wharf development are condos, and Ron sees the momentum. “That’s why we formed the company. We know how to sell condos and we know it’s coming back.”