For the last three years, I’ve been featuring members of The Caledonia in my quarterly newsletter. My marketing director, Rosana, suggested I feature myself this month in a Q&A called “At home with Lance Nguyen” – so here it is!
Rosana: What was the path that led you to purchasing your home in the Caledonia?
Lance: I did three things on impulse about ten years ago. One was moving to New York. The second was buying this apartment. The third was becoming a real estate agent. I wanted to move to New York and I needed a place to live. I had money set aside from a development that I did in New Jersey, and I needed to put that money somewhere. I took a bus to New York and I fell in love with the neighborhood. I knew the Meatpacking District was up and coming, the Highline was going to open soon, I loved Chelsea Market, and I enjoyed the idea that I could walk over to Chelsea Piers to use the facility and go swimming. So, I didn’t really think much; I just did it. Those turned out to be three of the best decisions I have ever made because I made money on my apartment and through real estate, and because moving to New York City made me very happy.
Rosana: You went to college on a full academic and athletic scholarship, won multiple awards in your work with the Department of Defense, and are among the top 1% of brokers in the country. To what do you most owe your consistent track record of success?
Lance: My attitude is not so much a “can do” attitude as it is a “just do it” attitude. A “just do it” attitude without too much thinking has led me to a lot of positive results and those results have led to my confidence. I don’t focus on “what if, what if, what if?” Like the Nike logo says, just do it: just get into real estate; just buy the apartment; just live; just travel; just do it. If I thought too much about it – which I think a lot of people do – I would not have done a lot of this stuff. I love to travel, for example. If I had thought to much about fears such as, “I don’t speak the language. What if I get lost? What if I get robbed? What if I miss something? What if I injure myself?” If I thought through all that, I would never have left my home. I would’ve never moved to New York. If I was afraid of losing money buying an apartment, I would never have the money I have today. If I thought I might suck at real estate, then I wouldn’t be in the top 1% today.
Rosana: You have a love for interior design which shows in your home. Please tell us about your style and about your custom-made furniture.
Lance: I don’t how to articulate my style; I like what I like. When I first bought my apartment, I needed to furnish it. I looked around at various furniture shops from high end to low end and I fell in love with the pieces that were too expensive and that would take three to six months to deliver. I got frustrated because I couldn’t wait three to six months to furnish my place. The low-end stuff could be delivered sooner, but I didn’t like the quality or the design. I decided I needed to do something about it and so I figured I would make my own furniture. I found a furniture builder with a shop in Brooklyn. Before I met with him, I sat down on my computer and I used PowerPoint to draw boxes and lines depicting what I was looking for. I told him I wanted a console table, TV stand, a coffee table, and an oversized mirror because the ones that I love take three to six months to make and cost three arms and two legs. After a couple meetings, we negotiated on the price and the lead time and he made them for me. He met all my expectations and I was very happy with the pieces.
At that time, I didn’t have much design taste; I just knew what I liked based on looking at high end stuff. Over time my taste has evolved. I like pieces that are timeless and masculine, made with natural materials such as wood and glass, and with clean lines without being too modern. I also discovered walnut wood, which I love the grain and color of. Half of my apartment is full of beautiful American walnut pieces, including my wall unit, my bed, the ladder, and my office space.
Rosana: Tell us about five of your favorite pieces from your home.
Lance: If I have to pick five:
- The ladder by my wall unit. That’s made out of solid whole grain American walnut. It serves a purpose to reach the top shelf, but a lot of that is aesthetic because I think it’s very pleasant to look at and it shows timeless sophistication.
- The large mirror that I have when you first walk in because it amplifies the space and it shows well.
- My iron ring sculpture. It’s a big circle that I had custom-made. When I first moved in, I said, “I want something simple but powerful.” I thought a circle would create that, so I looked around and I found a metal fabricator whose shop was in Bushwick at the time, so I sat with him and explained what I wanted. It’s still in my home and it looks really good. It doesn’t take up a lot of space. It does not block views or light, but it looks powerful.
- A detail on my desk: two dovetails made out of solid brass. I bought two pieces of brass and then I went to a jeweler and had him cut in two dovetail pieces. Then I had my woodworker lay the dovetails into the walnut.
- The lighting in my apartment. I enjoy ambient lighting at night time. I have a lot of windows with a view of city lights, so I like to reduce the interior lights for a more dramatic view of the exterior.
Rosana: How do you tend to relax when you’re at home?
Lance: I relax every day when I’m at home. I migrate between my desk when I do emails, go to the kitchen to make my tea, or eat my mango. I tend to stand over my sink a lot and peel oranges, mangos, et cetera. I’m a big fruit eater and that’s when I’m most relaxed, when I’m eating fruit. Or I can have soft music in the background or I listen to NPR to be inspired and updated.
Rosana: How do you use your kitchen? Are you an avid cook? Do you tend to order in?
Lance: It depends on my company. When I do have company, I love to cook things like salmon, scallops, pasta, Bolognese. I love Italian food and I love to entertain. But if a friend of mine or someone who’s coming over loves to cook, I’m happy to have that person take over the kitchen and be in charge. If I am solo, I don’t cook as often because it doesn’t make sense. It costs more to cook for myself – and the time it takes to prepare and clean up just doesn’t make sense – so I order takeout a lot. Once a month I will do a batch cook of something that I can portion into ten or fifteen portions and then I freeze them. Maybe once every four days, I will take one out and enjoy it for dinner.
Rosana: What do you love most about living at the Caledonia?
Lance: The daily interaction with the staff. It is now my tenth year of living here and it makes me so happy just coming home. Seeing the bright smiling faces. Then, taking the elevator up to my apartment, opening up my door, and seeing these amazing city lights and views greeting me when I enter. I never get bored of that.
Rosana: What would you say are your favorite New York City restaurants?
Lance: I have one. It’s Decoy in the West Village. It’s where I take my dates and I’ve taken a lot of my good friends there. It’s a small restaurant, but the quality of the food and the ambiance make it the place I go to more than any other place I have been to in New York City in the last ten years.
Rosana: What do you like most about New York City?
Lance: New York City makes me feel good and that’s what keeps me here. I feel like I fit in and that the city allows me to be very comfortable, to be myself.
Rosana: If you had to live somewhere other than the Caledonia, where would you live?
Lance: NoLita is one of my favorite small neighborhoods in Manhattan because it’s centrally located, has a lot of beautiful boutique shops, is pedestrian-friendly, and has a relaxing atmosphere. I would love to have a top floor of one of those brownstones with outdoor space.
Rosana: If you had to live somewhere other than New York City, where would you live?
Lance: Even though I would never leave New York City because my heart and mind are in New York, Australia would be a great place to live as well. It has a good quality of life, it’s sophisticated, and they have a lot of outdoor activities to offer.
Rosana: What brought you to New York City?
Lance: I wanted to come out and live as a gay man, start making gay friends, and start dating. I also wanted to make a lot of money.
Rosana: You have an impressive portfolio of photography. How did you get into photography?
Lance: It was never intentional. It started out with me just taking pictures of friends. Then I started to notice that I’m very good at framing a person or a group of people in a picture. I received compliments over and over again, and I really enjoyed photography. After college when I started to travel, I saw things that I found interesting and wanted to capture. Over time I got better through practice, and my interest was there – a genuine interest. That’s why I made a very strong effort to include photography in all of my travels. It’s a passion I built over time, which then became addicting. It’s just like traveling; once you explore one place, you want to know another place, another place, another place. I wanted to capture all of those exciting moments and beautiful places I saw through my travels.
Photos taken by Lance in Burma
Rosana: You’ve traveled to close to 80 countries. What prompted your love for travel?
Lance: Maybe it started from me coming to the United States from a very different environment; I got to see the contrast between the rich and the poor and the simple life versus the more advanced life. Then during my senior year in high school, I wanted to plan a graduation trip. At that time, all I knew was the Caribbean because that’s what most Americans know. I didn’t have money, but I was the captain of the swim team. The swim team decided to put together a car wash to raise money for me to go to the Bahamas. We made a deal with a car dealership to use their water. In return, we would attract some more business. They agreed. We created signs and about 15 of us came out. We raised $400 or so and me and my one of my best friends went down to the Bahamas. Then when I went to the Bahamas, it brought back memories of Vietnam because of the way people lived, kind of similar to how I was raised. That got me interested. But then I couldn’t do much during the four years of college because I didn’t have money to travel, so I just focused on school. After school I had an opportunity to work for a contracting company with the Department of Defense where I spent most of the time in Germany, Hawaii, Iraq, Italy, and Afghanistan. Then, through work travel, it got me more addicted to seeing more of the world. Then I decided I wanted to come out and live as a gay man and start making money and move to New York. I knew that working for the Department of Defense I would not be making the kind of money that I needed to live a comfortable life in New York. I have to be honest, you know, money motivated me. I wanted to make a lot of money. I knew that I was also very good in sales and real estate was also one of the very few options that I had at that time. I just jumped in. Impulsively.
Rosana: If you had to choose your top three favorite travel destinations, what would they be?
Rosana: Where are the next three places you want to visit?
Lance: Madagascar; Papua, New Guinea; and a small island off the Philippines called Palau.
Rosana: Where would you like to see yourself in five years and ten years?
Lance: In the United States and the western world, they encourage you to make goals and plans and work towards your goals, et cetera. But those goals don’t work for me. I just do it. I don’t know. I would like to be a father in five years. I still see myself in New York City. Hopefully I’ll have kids and a country house somewhere within two hours from New York.
Rosana: What is most important to you in life?
Lance: My health.
Rosana: You live a very healthy lifestyle. What do you do to take care of your health?
Lance: I get asked that question a lot, but I don’t do anything special. Other than healthy genes, exercise, and a balanced diet – I go to the gym and exercise maybe three, four times a week. I don’t count my calories; if a pizza is presented to me, I’ll eat it.
Rosana: What lessons has your work life taught you?
Lance: Never let the day to day setbacks get to you. In real estate you do have to deal with a lot of people who throw things at you that are a little more complicated than you expect. It can be very frustrating, just like any job. But I’m good at recognizing the frustrations and knowing what caused me to get frustrated. I actively let it go. When you recognize what are the root cause of problems – you are better at not letting the frustration get to you.
Rosana: When you hear the word, “mentor,” who do you think of?
Itzy Garay is my mentor. I see her as one of the best people in the business because of her expertise, her knowledge, and her genuine interest in helping people. She was my first manager when I became a real estate agent, and she has become a lifelong friend as well.
Rosana: You tend to become good friends with many of your clients. Why would you say that is?
Lance: I treat all of my clients with a very candid attitude. I never try to sell them something. Most of my clients are very smart people. They know what they want. My job is to show them what they want, and let them decide. When they sense that I’m not pressuring them, they see that I’m very candid, and just being myself, it creates a connection between two, three people. Then the client-agent relationship translates into two human beings just knowing each other. That leads to long term friendships.
Rosana: How has the real estate market changed since you got into this line of business over a decade ago?
Lance: The real estate business has not changed since I got in the business, but I have changed. From my approach to how I conduct my business, how I interact with my clients. I’ve become more effective at closing deals, recognizing where I should or should not spend my time, including as it relates to clients. When you’re in business long enough, you have the luxury of choosing which clients to work with. You’re getting better at seeing if they are serious potential clients or if they are someone who will waste your time. The business, overall, I don’t think has changed much. It’s the same. It’s just me that has changed.
Rosana: You have been lauded as a killer in the boardroom regarding your negotiation skills. Give us some insight to how you became such a good negotiator or what your negotiation philosophy is.
Lance: Over the years of doing real estate, I have learned how to stay calm and not to react to everything right away. By staying calm, it allows the other party to stay calm and also respect you. When you gain respect, you are more credible and it’s easy for you to get what you want. I also work to understand what the other party wants in order to get deals done. It’s not so much an aggression that makes people call me a killer in the boardroom; it’s the opposite. It’s staying calm, recognizing the problem or the situation, recognizing what the other party wants, and compromising.
Rosana: It’s been such a pleasure speaking with you about your life and home in New York City. I’m so glad we did this.
Lance: Me too, thank you!