Developing and Selling Downtown Austin for more than 20 years.
In 1997, a small group of developers announced plans to convert an old warehouse in downtown Austin into loft condominiums. Consensus was that they were crazy; no one wanted to live downtown. But Alan Holt, then a young real estate agent new to Austin, had a different take. He went to work for them selling the condos. The rest, as they say, is history.
For more than 20 years, Holt has specialized in urban condominium development and sales management, helping to transform downtown Austin into the vibrant community it is today. Among the many projects in which he has played a leading role are The Plaza on Republic Square, The 5FiftyFive and Four Seasons Residences. Along the way, Holt has distinguished himself as an expert in condominium development and sales, with a track record that speaks for itself.
Long before anyone ever conceived of the luxury towers we see today, Holt joined a team of visionary developers at the planning stage of converting an abandoned warehouse into 40 loft condominiums that would become Brazos Lofts. The first condominium development in downtown Austin in more than a decade, the project sparked the downtown Austin housing boom that has flourished for more than 20 years.
As part of the development team, Holt was directly involved in the creation and development of the projects they were selling. After the successful completion and sellout of Brazos Lofts, the team went on to convert another historic downtown Austin building, the 39-unit Avenue Lofts. In addition to his sales role, Holt was also the project manager for the interior finish-out for the developer. The Avenue was completed in early 2000, and was sold out by the time it was finished.
Next, the group set their sights on a more ambitious project, a new-construction, 12-story high-rise development at 5th and Guadalupe – the 60-unit, $30-million Plaza on Republic Square.
Launched in 2000 at the height of the dotcom boom, The Plaza took downtown living to a new level. Holt was elevated to vice president of the development company, and his responsibilities were expanded to include development of unit designs and interior finishes, interior construction coordination, HOA and legal setup for the condominium regime and more.
But within months after the project’s grand opening and groundbreaking, it was clear the market was in trouble. Despite the project being approximately 75% pre-sold upon groundbreaking, a year later and while still under construction, the dotcom bubble had gone bust and the market had essentially collapsed. Sales had all but stopped, and the vast majority of the buyers at The Plaza were formally trying to back out of their contracts.
To combat the downturn, the development team made the difficult decision to reconfigure the top two floors of the building to create more, smaller units, and to add a rooftop pool … all while the building was under construction. Holt spearheaded the redesign during construction, coordinating the architects and general contractor. At the same time, Holt renegotiated approximately forty sales contracts with existing buyers. As a result, they closed all but a small handful of their existing buyers. Holt says, “It’s much harder to negotiate with people who want to back out than it is to negotiate with people who want to buy. We didn’t roll over, but we were fair. And in the end, it worked. We saved almost all of the deals, and as people closed and moved in, our good relationship with our buyers was preserved. That goodwill helped us to sell out the project.”
Despite the protracted market downturn, Holt sold out The Plaza, and the project achieved a return on equity of more than 25% for their investors.
After the Plaza, an investor group funded by Lehman Brothers hired Holt as the Director of Sales and Marketing to sell the nine floors of condominiums in the newly opened 32-story Hilton Hotel downtown. Comprised of 99 condo units, The 5FiftyFive Condominiums was the first downtown Austin condominium to offer full-service staff and a 24-hour concierge.
Sold as ‘shell space’ by the original hotel developer to the investor group, for two-and-a-half years, the project was a rolling sequence of construction, sales, closings and move-ins. Holt was responsible for coordinating all of it. “Moving people into an existing construction site and having residents coexisting with construction crews is a case-study in public relations management. We had to keep our residents happy, but we also had to keep construction moving, and most of all we had to keep sales moving.”
In addition to sales and marketing and project coordination, Holt was charged with setting up the condominium regime for the residences, including HOA services and amenities, and overseeing the third-party property manager.
Another of Holt’s mantras carried the project: “Maintain harmony, but always maintain the upper hand.” Says Holt, “We took care of our buyers and residents and did everything we could to make them happy. But that did not mean giving them everything they wanted. We had to get the project built and sold too. I’ve found that people understand not always getting what they want, but they have a right to expect you to be clear, honest and fair. Reasonable people will almost always accept that.”
After seeing signs of a coming change in the market, by 2008 Holt had exited condominium development and was already building and remodeling houses with three crews and a host of contractors he’d assembled. For the next two years, he managed more than thirty residential construction projects.
After 25+ years in the real estate industry, Holt is accustomed to evolving with the market. In late 2009, he shifted his focus once again, this time to commercial sales and leasing. “The real estate market is always changing,” he says. “There’s always a market somewhere. The question to me is, where are the opportunities that best suit my skills and experience. Then it’s just a matter of applying imagination and work ethic.”
During the worst of the market downturn from late 2009-2011, Holt represented commercial clients in the purchase and sale of investment properties and leasing of multi-tenant office and retail properties, and represented select residential clients.
Austin’s downtown today is a wonderful mix of old and new, commanded by a host of chic high-rises, most completed since the turn of the new millennium. The downtown lifestyle Holt imagined two decades ago is now reality.
Among Holt’s most notable condominium projects is the Four Seasons Residences.
In 2011, Holt was recruited as Director of Sales and Marketing with Post Properties (NYSE) to close out the remaining half of its 147 condominium units in a 32-story residential tower managed by Four Seasons. The project was launched in 2007, a year before the financial crisis of 2008, and completed during the market downturn in 2011. Approximately 50% of the units were closed with 77 units yet to be sold and more than $100 million in sales value still outstanding.The market was also a highly competitive landscape, with two similar high-rise developments downtown competing for buyers, and all were stalled around the 50% sold mark.
Holt was tasked with repositioning sales and marketing, and shoring up public relations among existing residents and the Realtor community. To accomplish this, Holt revamped the marketing program, made changes in the sales team, and instituted a contract-to-close process that unified the various project teams.
Holt initiated weekly meetings with all teams present: sales, property management and the ‘punch-list/make ready’ teams. He created an internal assembly line among team members and ensured that all proactively communicated not only among themselves, but also with soon-to-be owners. “Coordination and communication are everything,” he says.
Holt was committed to more than just selling out the project; he was committed to building a legacy of satisfied residents. “I wanted our customers to be happy with their homes, and I wanted to be proud of the community we were creating.”
Along the way, Holt worked closely with Lorley Musiol, Director of Residential Services at Four Seasons Residences in Austin. Musiol says, “After working with the developers’ real estate sales people, Alan was the first person to really sit down with me on a daily basis and understand. We call it ‘Four Seasonizing.’ … Alan became part of our Four Seasons family, and we began building a community together.”
Musiol continues, “With Alan, it’s all about the relationships — with me and the staff, with the residents, and with all the buyers that come in. To this day, he maintains those relationships. He takes pride in that, and that’s why he stands out. He is articulate, kind, he listens and is a great negotiator. It’s really about the person he is; Alan thinks about what makes a win-win for everybody.
Holt successfully negotiated contracts and closed all 77 remaining units at Four Seasons in two years — a year ahead of schedule. Not a single one fell through. “That is probably my proudest accomplishment on that project,” he says. “We closed every deal we put under contract. And it was smooth.” Under Holt’s direction, they also added approximately $5mil in revenue over the course of the sellout through strategic pricing and negotiating.
Four Seasons was also the first of the three competing towers to sell out. Years later, Holt still maintains a close relationship with the Four Seasons staff and residents, and handles many of the resale transactions there.
Austin is not the only city where Holt has left his mark on the condominium landscape.
In 2016, Holt began consulting with the developer of Steel House Lofts, a historic warehouse-to-loft conversion in burgeoning Southtown San Antonio, a half mile south of downtown and a few blocks from the famed San Antonio Riverwalk. The 70-unit project with retail frontage had struggled post-completion, and even after the engagement of multiple brokerages to sell the project, Steel House Lofts had yet to close sales on 25% of its inventory.
Holt again focused on customer service, along with enhancing the experience people had when touring the property. “We had to get the onsite team working as a team, so we created processes. I like projects to run like well-oiled machines. From an inside standpoint, we’re doing the same thing over and over again. But from the standpoint of each new prospect and resident, they’re experiencing everything for the first time. They expect us to be the professionals. It gives people confidence.”
Sales grew. A few months in, Holt moved from a consulting role to managing the project remotely from Austin, overseeing the sales staff, negotiating the contracts and tracking all closings. The project sold out approximately six months later.
Holt says that looking at the project from the buyer’s perspective plays heavily into overall customer satisfaction. “Clearing a direct path from the point of sale through closing and move in is as important as the sales themselves. You want to make the technical parts as easy as you can. There’s nothing worse than getting someone really excited when they sign a contract, only to frustrate them because you haven’t worked out all the kinks. I don’t like surprises or misunderstandings. Nobody does.”
During his career, Holt has found it useful to define his unique role in the marketplace. “I’m not really a developer, but I’m also not just a broker. I’m a condo guy. I learned condominium development by working for seasoned developers, and by talking with thousands of condo buyers over the years. That taught me the ropes. I know what goes into developing a condo. But it’s the sales and marketing that I love. Actually, it’s closings and moving people in that I really love. Creating communities is deeply satisfying. That’s what this business is really about.”
During his career, Holt has thrived in distressed environments, and has played many roles and seen projects from all different perspectives. A cornerstone of his philosophy and approach is that Holt finishes what he starts. He has sold and closed out every project in which he has played an active role. Holt still consults on condominium projects at all stages of development and sales, and from time to time still plays an active management role, especially in the sales and closeout of projects, and with an eye toward challenging situations and markets. He also acts as an owner’s representative for various commercial and investment clients, and represents individual buyers and sellers of residential properties with a focus on urban and downtown properties. His practice is built upon reputation and referral.
Holt grew up in a small West Texas town where the “tallest structures were church steeples.” It is an irony that this small-town boy who was afraid of heights found his way to the big city to sell high-rise residences. Holt holds a Texas real estate broker’s license, and a BA degree in English from Texas State University. He is a board member of Hyde Park Theatre in Austin and volunteers with homeless communities and food pantries. He enjoys running the Town Lake trail and is an avid reader.
As one of the pioneers of downtown Austin development, Holt saw long ago what this city could be: a lively urban center with an eclectic population and walkable lifestyle rich with unique residences, world-class shopping, artisan eateries and unrivaled entertainment.
“The people who bought and moved into the first downtown condos in Austin were trailblazers,” Holt says. “So were we.”
As told by H. K. Wilson, author of thousands of published articles on business, social and environmental topics. She currently resides in Southern California where she drinks lots of organic coffee, is neighbor to a famous mouse and counts her riches in sand dollars. Connect with her at WordsWithInk
Holt has distinguished himself as an expert in condominium development and sales, with a track record that speaks for