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This post was updated Aug. 18, 2023.
Candice Milano and Malessa Rambarran have never let their youth serve as an excuse for not being financially savvy.
From a young age, the millennial co-leaders of The Milano Rambarran Team at Brown Harris Stevens learned to appreciate the value of money, with their immigrant backgrounds guiding them along the way.
In 2017 the duo launched The Organization by Women in Real Estate (TOWRE) to help women and others learn how to invest and grow wealth through real estate. Over the years, they’ve put on a number of educational programs, networking events and other virtual events through the organization to achieve this goal.
Now, six years later, the two women are launching their own podcast, The Build Up, to further their goal and reach a wider audience. The podcast’s 12-episode first season is set to launch later this summer.
Inman sat down with Milano and Rambarran to discuss what they’ve learned so far in their careers, their goals for the project and what they wish other members of their generation understood about real estate investing. Here’s what they had to say, edited for clarity and brevity.
Inman: Tell me about your platform for women in real estate.
Milano: TOWRE stands for The Organization by Women in Real Estate. Its mission is to inform and empower individuals, with an emphasis on women, on how to build wealth using real estate.
We found that there’s quite a gap amongst our millennial peers as well as the upcoming Gen Z, when it comes to real estate financial literacy, from everything from homeownership to real estate investing.
Since Melissa and I have been able to amass a fair amount of experience over the better part of the last decade working in real estate, building relationships, building knowledge and experience, it’s our primary passion and goal now to utilize this platform to really share this information and resources with others to break down the barriers to real estate, financial literacy and investing so that others have better access to building up their wealth through this really important asset class.
We launched TOWRE in 2017 quickly after starting our own real estate team in New York City. We started using the platform primarily for in-person events that would have an educational component as well as a networking component, and it was very successful and brought a lot of value but was a bit on the smaller scale, because you only have so much reach for [in-person events].
[The now-online platform] was partly motivated by being forced to think through this because of COVID when obviously everything in person shut down. We went digital and we really utilize social media, we utilize webinars, and we were able to grow a digital audience that stretched beyond just our local market in New York City. Because what we’re trying to promote is applicable everywhere throughout the country and many parts of the world.
And now you’re launching a podcast?
Milano: We are now in the process of producing and launching our first podcast called The Build Up, which is going to interview different real estate investors from different backgrounds who utilize different real estate investing stories. So our listeners will hear from, let’s say, tech founders to international artists to hoteliers and professional athletes who have all utilized a different form of real estate investing because no one size fits all.
Not everyone should be a landlord. There’s many different types of strategies that you can utilize, from investing in a REIT if you’re looking for something completely passive, to potentially flipping homes if you’re looking to be hands-on and get a project. So there’s really so many different facets of real estate investing that are not always obvious or feel attainable. We’re trying to explore that while hearing from interesting investors.
Can you share the identities of some of the guests you’ll host on the podcast?
Rambarran: Right now we’re still in the beginning stages of booking our guests, so before we let that out there, we want to confirm with them.
How did you two come to form a team together?
Rambarran: I come from an immigrant background. I came to the United States when I was 16 years old [from Guyana] and went to high school here, graduated and was a journalist at Fortune Small Business Magazine.
But I still felt like I wanted to create an impact and just didn’t feel fulfilled there. So, I got into real estate and worked for about six months at a small boutique firm and really wanted more. I moved to the city where Candice and I met on the same real estate team where we specialized in new developments.
She and I really connected. We left that team, started our own team, and we just really align in terms of our values and being innovative. We really like breaking barriers and creating that impact, and it took us about 10 years to really have all that knowledge.
Because I came from an immigrant background, it’s super important for me. My mission is really to inform and educate, because a lot of times you find immigrant families come here with that American Dream mentality of wanting to save and buy a home and put all of their funds there.
But for us, we really utilize real estate as a vehicle for building wealth. So that’s been something we’re really aligned on and that’s how we formed TOWRE. It’s really hard in this industry to find like-minded individuals, but the moment she and I started working together, it clicked and we really aligned on a lot of those values.
Milano: Our story is not incredibly different. I was born in New York but am the daughter of immigrants. So I studied here in New York City at Pace University and when I was graduating with a business degree as well as a degree in Spanish, I was not sure what I wanted to do. I knew I was more entrepreneurial-minded.
The thought of working a 9-5 and climbing the corporate ladder literally made me crawl up to die, so it was not going to be for me. But I was like, OK, what am I going to do? I was exploring many different ideas. And the idea of being a real estate investor was what really stood out the most.
I love the idea of passive income, which is kind of a misnomer because as a landlord, it’s anything but passive. You’re constantly working on the building, dealing with tenants and so many things. It’s interesting that they call it passive income, but that’s what was interesting to me.
So I was like, OK, before I go and get my first property, I should get my license and try to learn the industry better. I got licensed shortly after college and started working, like Malessa, at a separate boutique brokerage. And within the first six months I was like wow, I really enjoy this, I love how every day is different, how I’m exploring the city. I love seeing properties, I love helping clients, but because I was brand new, I didn’t really know what I was doing and wasn’t very successful those first six months.
That’s when I decided to level up and join a team where I could gain some experience, and that’s where Malessa and I met.
My parents were always very supportive of me, they just didn’t have the resources or knowledge themselves to guide me when it came to real estate investing. So I had to seek out that knowledge on my own.
We create something because it’s what we needed ourselves when we were at that stage. So we know how important this is to really bridge the gap. Even coming up as a young woman in real estate, getting those opportunities on the brokerage side were very difficult, especially when it came to new development. We were not really able to get into the door a lot of times, so that’s why we decided to create the room. That’s why we made TOWRE, because others weren’t going to just hand it to us.
Rambarran: And it’s more of a community of investors. I think one of the main parts that was really successful, was just having that community of like-minded individuals and just really curated. So when we’d have our events [pre-COVID], we really had a group of investors and developers and attorneys — everyone that can benefit each other. So when you’re coming together in this room, everyone’s having really valuable conversations and even created deals from these events we’ve held in the past.
That’s great. What are some of the biggest misconceptions you think young people have about building wealth through real estate today?
Rambarran: Personally, because I bought my first home a while ago, a lot of times buyers are overstimulated. It’s a lot of information out there, and I think it becomes overwhelming the process of buying a home, and because of that, they would go the easier route which is rental.
But I think it’s super important that you have a full team of professionals around you that includes a mortgage broker, lenders, financial advisers and of course your real estate broker, so these are the educated individuals in this sphere that can really guide you and provide you with a linear path to buying your first home. Because a lot of times, it becomes too much and you’re like, where do you even start?
Milano: The other thing is that I think when people think about real estate investing, aside from homeownership, the first thing that comes to mind is being a landlord, because that’s one of the most common forms. But sometimes that’s not a right fit for someone, or the barrier to entry to buying your first property as an investment is more than you have.
So not knowing about other forms or strategies that you can utilize is a common unknown element of investing. Like I mentioned before, investing in a REIT is a great way to build some exposure to real estate in your portfolio without really needing to do much or have a lot of knowledge about real estate investing. It’s 100 percent passive, you invest in this REIT and see how it performs. So it’s really important for your portfolio to have that exposure.
The barrier to investing in a REIT varies, but it’s generally a lot lower than it would be for needing a full downpayment for a property. People just don’t realize all the different types of strategies they can utilize.
What do you want other aspiring female entrepreneurs of your generation to know?
Rambarran: I think mentorship is important. When Candice and I first got together, we were fortunate to have each other; but I think for women in general and in real estate specifically, it’s such a man’s world that it’s super important to have role models and mentors that you can look up to and go to for guidance.
That’s been super important for Candice and I in our journey and we try to do that for women as well. Even with the young women on our team, we carve out time every week to have a sit-down with them and discuss their goals and how we can be of assistance as team leaders.