Real Estate Spotlight: Arden Karson, Managing Principal, KARSON & CO

An interview with Arden Karson

Arden Karson, a graduate of Tufts University and Harvard Business School, is a lifelong resident of South Florida. She has an extensive background in sales and marketing, development, acquisition, asset management, leasing and financing of commercial and residential properties across all asset types.

Over the course of her career, Ms. Karson served in executive and leadership roles at CBRE, Related Group, Lennar/LNR, Bank of America and PWC. Arden is active with many industry organizations and has been recognized by the media as a Power Real Estate Leader and a Top Business Woman. Ms. Karson serves on the Board of Advisors of the Friends of the Underline, the University of Miami Masters in Real Estate + Urbanism program, the Michigan Ross Real Estate Fund Advisory Board and the Urban Land Institute.

I have known Arden for several years. She is energetic (to say the least), passionate and selfless. We first met while she was working at CBRE and as soon as she found out that I had started a real estate technology company, she immediately tried to figure out how she could help. We should all surround ourselves with people like Arden.

The Real Estate Jedi

A Conversation With Ms. Karson

Stoic Urbanist: What is a regular day for you?

Ms. Karson: I wake up around 6 am, grind my Starbucks coffee and then read the print versions of the Miami Herald and Wall Street Journal. On Sundays, I add the New York Times to the reading list. I then exercise, shower and start my day. The only difference during Covid-19 is that I am not commuting to work.

Typical day during Covid looks like:

  • Schedule 7-9  business development/catch up calls per day. My husband cannot believe how much I am on the phone. 
  • Participate/listen to 3-4 webinars per week.
  • Work on KARSON & CO strategy including social media and marketing.
  • Respond to emails.
  • Read industry updates including online media which include SFBJ, the Real Deal, Miami Today and Bisnow.
  • I also spend a few hours per week mentoring the next generation of CRE talent.

Currently, I am very focused on developing a database of capital providers, so I am speaking with several contacts per day to understand their appetite for doing deals.

Late in the day, if the weather is nice, I will fast walk to the beach and back home for about an hour and make several phone calls during my stroll. After, I prep for dinner. Typically Jack and I cook together which is fun. We then sit down with our daughter to watch a show. Right now we are obsessed with Money Heist.

Stoic Urbanist: After three and a half years leading three South Florida CBRE offices (Miami, Fort Lauderdale & Boca Raton), you decided to step-down as Senior Managing Director a couple of months ago to launch KARSON & CO. What drove this decision and what opportunities will your firm focus on?

Ms. Karson: I spent a lot of time soul searching during the quarantine. I realized that I missed being involved in transactions and putting deals together as an intermediary and principal. I reached out to successful friends, colleagues and mentors who started wildly successful companies in the last down cycle for advice. I felt it was time to take my 25+ years of South Florida real estate experience and my national and global contacts, and put them to work to help build a real estate venture focused on South Florida. 

I have a real passion for start-ups. I have been active in the  entrepreneurial world throughout my professional career. Whether I was starting a new business within an established  company, as I did when I worked at Lennar and Advenir, or founding my own start-up, Endlessly Organic, I find the energy electric. I also enjoy being involved with the local Miami start-up community and being a mentor to younger entrepreneurs. As you know, for Miami to continue to grow and thrive, we must recruit and retain talent. Having a strong entrepreneurial ecosystem is a key success diver.

One of my goals for KARSON & CO is to be at the top of the list when companies are looking to invest in commercial real estate in South Florida. As new capital enters the Miami market, my plan is for KARSON & CO to facilitate those transactions while leveraging the contacts I have cultivated throughout my career.

Stoic Urbanist: Looks like you’re an entrepreneur at heart. In 2011 you took a break from real estate and started Endlessly Organic. What inspired you to start this company? 

Ms. Karson: As with most start-up ventures, I saw a need and identified a problem much in the same way you did when you launched Gridics. I was a member of an organic food co-op which was very unsophisticated and lacked customer service. My partner and dear friend, Cheryl Arnold, co-founded the company with me which we sold in 2016. Happy to say that the company is still thriving and I am once again collaborating with Cheryl as a tenant rep for her new produce company, Box Greens.

Stoic Urbanist: Seems like you like to keep things healthy. Besides eating healthy, what else do you do to stay in shape?

Ms. Karson: Every day I do something physical. Prior to Covid, I was a member of three gyms and I also used the gym in my building. I take every opportunity to stay active and regularly walk up 8 flights of stairs to get to my penthouse condo. I pace up and down my balcony while on calls. I have always been a runner and even ran in a few marathons and half marathons, but now it is more like fast walking. I also participate in Peloton and online boot camp classes regularly.

Stoic Urbanist: What was your first job and how old were you when you started?  What valuable lessons did you learn from that job?

Ms. Karson: My first job was keeping the books for my recently divorced Mom. I balanced her checkbook and paid the bills. She paid me $25/month. My first real job outside the house was working in a clothing store in Dadeland mall when I was 16. That is where I developed my love of fashion and retail!

Stoic Urbanist: You were raised on Miami Beach. What do you love about the 305 and what is your biggest pet peeve about South Florida?

Ms. Karson: I love the diversity in South Florida including the mix of cultures and activities.  There is so much to do and so much to experience. We have it all… except mountains LOL. I also love that we are so welcoming to newcomers. It is so easy to get involved in the community.

Wow, my biggest pet peeve…I am frustrated when new to market sponsors come to Miami and announce grandiose plans and never execute them.     

Stoic Urbanist: Real estate runs deep in your family. What South Florida real estate projects was your family involved with?

Ms. Karson: My maternal grandfather was one of the original developers of Bay Harbor and I live here today.  My paternal grandfather owned the third oldest restaurant on Miami Beach – Neil’s Delicatessen located on Alton and 16th.

Stoic Urbanist: What other city could you see yourself living in and why?

Ms. Karson: I love NYC-my children live there and I am cheering for the City to come roaring back. 

Stoic Urbanist: What are some of the greatest challenges South Florida faces?

Ms. Karson: Our greatest challenge is overcoming the lack of cohesion within our governmental arena. Perception in the media is also a challenge. Also, Miami-Dade County is comprised of 34 cities and each city has its own zoning code which is challenging for a developer.

Stoic Urbanist: Seems like there will be good buying opportunities in the next 6-24 months. Which asset class will be most appealing to investors looking to place capital in South Florida and why?

Ms. Karson: The good buying opportunities are not quite here yet, but we will see some land, retail and hospitality projects soon. We are at least 9-12 months out from seeing opportunistic deals for these asset classes.

Stoic Urbanist: What would be your 3 main recommendations for graduate students aspiring to work in real estate?

Ms. Karson:

  1. Get a real estate license
  2. Join a young professionals networking group (FORE, ULI, ICSC)
  3. Be persistent and be prepared. Have a story. Everything matters.   

Stoic Urbanist: What hobbies do you have?

Ms. Karson: Where to begin, I have quite a few…

I love food, especially cooking and entertaining.

I love the water.

I love art.

I love to read.

And believe it or not, one of my hobbies is to shop real estate – from open houses to new projects to driving neighborhoods. I love great design and I get a lot of inspiration that way.  I miss being able to do that now.

Mentoring start-ups is also one of my hobbies; I find it very fulfilling.

Stoic Urbanist: You play a big role getting the Underline off the ground with Meg Daly. What attracted you to this project and what was your involvement?

Ms. Karson: One of the biggest attractions was the opportunity to work with Meg. I have known Meg since attending high school together at Ransom Everglades. She is a brilliant thinker, communicator, writer and leader. I love being surrounded by sharp people and every time I am with her; I learn something. In addition, this project touches all my interests (community, health and wellness, art, real estate, land planning, transportation, etc.) so I raised my hand. My involvement with the Underline is mostly as a strategic partner, fundraiser and consultant.

Stoic Urbanist: What is the last great book you read and what is your favorite book?

Ms. Karson: I just finished Educated, by Tara Westover and I really enjoyed it.

My favorite book is Oh, The Places You’ll Go. It is a quick read and it contains so many important messages. We are a big Dr Seuss family, and this is one of my favorites.

Stoic Urbanist: Which South Florida CRE professional do you have a lot of respect for and why?

Ms. Karson: Stuart Miller, Lennar CEO, is one of my mentors. I started my CRE career at Lennar and worked directly with Stuart.  Stuart is super sharp and a renaissance man of sorts. He is a poet, artist and a leader!  And he taught me how to use Photoshop too. 

Stoic Urbanist: What’s your favorite Miami neighborhood and why?

Ms. Karson: I am a big fan of the Surfside, Bal Harbour and Bay Harbor neighborhood. The neighborhood is well maintained, walkable, has great restaurants, shopping (Bal Harbour Shoppes) and is close to the beach. What more can you ask for?  

Stoic Urbanist: What’s Miami’s next up-and-coming neighborhood and why do you see potential?

Ms. Karson: Wynwood is really starting to hit its stride due in large part to the early commitment from the Goldman family, David Lombardi and others. The launching of Related’s residential communities are further solidifying its position as a livable 24/7 neighborhood. 

Ms. Karson: Even during Covid there are more announcements about up and coming projects in Wynwood than in most other areas. I am currently working with the sponsor of Shepherd Eco Wynwood, an exciting mixed-use sustainable residential and hospitality development that will break ground within six months.

Stoic Urbanist: Favorite restaurant for a business lunch and what items on the menu would you recommend?

Ms. Karson: When I was working on Brickell I enjoyed  Flemmings for a quick biz lunch. The décor and service are fantastic. The California Power Bowl is delicious. 

Stoic Urbanist: Who’s your favorite South Florida politician and why?  

Ms. Karson: I have two favorites:

Danny Gelber, Mayor of Miami Beach. We have been friends since high school and we attended Tufts together. He is a fabulous leader and public speaker. 

Eileen Higgins, Miami Dade County Commissioner, Eileen is a big supporter of the Underline. I was on the NFTE board with her when she first moved to Miami and she is smart, focused and hard working. Eileen truly cares about people. She relocated from the Midwest and since arriving, she has immersed herself in our community. She has a vision and she is all about community service.

Stoic Urbanist: Tell us about your children. Are any of your kids following in your CRE footsteps?

Ms. Karson: Not yet. My oldest son Jared is buying an apt in NY right now, but I am not sure if that counts. Jared is also an entrepreneur and has a call center in Dominican Republic called Hire Horatio. Micah, my middle son, loves that I chose the name Karson & Co so that other family members can easily slip in. He works in private equity in NYC. I keep bugging my daughter, Lily, to get her real estate license, so let’s see. I am keeping my fingers crossed as I love working with my family.

Stoic Urbanist: Lastly, tell us something very few people know about you.

Ms. Karson: Funny, this question keeps popping up. I used to say that I founded Endlessly Organic; recently I shared my father’s accomplishments as world champion powerboat racer and the holder of the Miami to New York powerboat speed record for almost 20 years.  So, digging deep, most people do not know that I used to ride horses during the summers at camp and participated in equestrian shows. Yes, I wore the formal uniform (jodhpurs, jacket and helmet). I really enjoyed the sport.