The Sit-Down

Piano Man: Peter Von Der Ahe of Marcus & Millichap

You wrote a book—Family Secrets: Secret Strategies to New York City Multifamily Investing—which details how to successfully invest in Manhattan. Why did you write it?

The original idea for writing the book came toward the end of 2008 when, obviously, I could see what was happening around us. I was thinking about putting a little side project on my plate because I knew I wouldn’t be as busy with as many transactions.

If you’re in this business, you have experiences that, although it sounds cliché, you couldn’t make the stuff up. They’re entertaining and unusual, and there’s also a lot of on-the-ground knowledge that you can only get by working in this business. You can’t learn it by getting an MBA at one of the real estate programs. It was a fun experience, and I hope to do another one at some point in the future.

You were a trained in jazz piano and were in bands in the past. Can you talk a little bit about that? Do you still find time to play?  

I started playing when I was about 11 or 12. My four older brothers were forced to take piano lessons or play some kind of instrument. One of my brothers, when he was about 14, got so tired of being forced to take piano lessons that he … showed up at one of his piano lessons, and he just sat down, and he was naked. The piano teacher then told my mother that she was never coming back inside our house. That was how he got out of playing piano.

Being the youngest of five, by the time I came around, my parents had dropped that rule about being forced to take piano lessons. But as irony would have it, I asked to take lessons, so that whole experience started to become part of my life when I was about 12. I really gravitated toward it. I was introduced to an inspiring teacher who had a serious program on how to teach improvisational piano, and that opened up a whole other world for me. I have a piano in my house and, when I have time, I sit down and play. It’s a great outlet.

What did you learn being the youngest of five brothers?  

I guess it adds a little bit to your determination and perseverance. The benefit of being the younger member of a family is that you get to see four other people go through the stages of life that you’re about to encounter, so you kind of get a courtside seat, and you watch that and, frankly, you get to learn from some mistakes. One of the lessons is not to sweat the small stuff and keep your eye on the big picture.

You’re a family man, too. How do you juggle real estate, music and family time? 

My wife and I live in Manhattan, and we’ve been married eight years. We also have three sons, and I don’t think we’re going to go for five—three in Manhattan is enough for me [laughs]. The juggling of family and being in this business is difficult, but it’s very important. You have to remind yourself to keep balance, otherwise it will catch up with you. Every week I make sure I’m blocking out certain times for family.

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