One & Only Holdings Co-Founder Edward Mermelstein On International Real Estate Investment

Edward Mermelstein, Co-Founder of One & Only Holdings, started his career as an attorney in the mid-90s, though his background in his late teens was in real estate, which he knew was his goal to work in more than any other business. One & Only Holdings is a multifamily office with over two decades of helping an exclusive list of clients and their families to manage and build their wealth. Born in Ukraine, Mermelstein moved to the U.S. in 1976.

Mermelstein’s multi-lingual partnership started after he graduated from law school, as he and his partner saw an influx of people coming from the former Soviet Union that had their sights on investing in the United States. “People that started to acquire wealth in a very short period of time because of privatization were coming into the United States without any relationships, without any connections, very different than what you would normally see when a high net worth individual is coming from Europe, or even in certain cases from South America,” he says. “Most of them have some sort of contact or connection in the US that becomes their guide through our systems. So we, in effect, became that connection for someone who was coming to the States, and as time went by, what we started seeing was an expanding need for representing high net worth families from emerging markets that are looking to the US as a potential secondary base for either their business or their families.”

Edward Mermelstein - One & Only Holdings - July 2020
Edward Mermelstein

Photo Credit: Courtesy of One & Only Holdings

The pitfalls for foreigners coming to a different country interested in investing are many, something that Mermelstein and his team at One & Only Holdings have specialized in preventing, evidenced by the word-of-mouth referrals that have driven the company to be a trusted advisor to over a hundred high net worth clients and their families.

“When they’re coming into the United States, not having had any prior connections or relationships, typically what winds up happening is they get taken advantage of, so our job was to create an office that would allow these high net worth families to have connections and do business deals at the highest levels as though they have a long-standing relationship in the United States,” he says. “We give them an opportunity basically to conduct business at a very high level without having the track record and the credit history of being in the United States, becoming their back office in a sense.”

For a decade now, his private law firm expanded to become the “family office for the foreign family office”. The relationship with the clients would begin with their legal services but quickly went beyond that. “Our clients started asking us to do things outside of the legal profession, though there was very little that I could do, simply because there are only so many hours in the day,” he explains. “They were asking us to help them find real estate for their families as well as investment opportunities.”

Mermelstein and his company thoroughly vet the individuals and companies that request their services in coming to the US to invest. “Before we even introduce clients to the bank, our job is to make sure that before someone even comes and crosses our borders that they’re doing the right thing because there are certain people that when they come to the United States, they’re going to have a problem,” he says. “One of our jobs is to advise a potential client that this may not be the right place for them. That’s also one of the reasons why many clients appreciate us: because we save them from even starting a headache.”

In the past year, and more significantly in the last months as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, new developments in New York have had difficulties in selling units as residents look towards more suburban living. One & Only Holdings developed its Bulk Purchase Program to offer clients these hush-hush deals.

“There has been a tremendous amount of new construction that has taken place over the last four or five years; much of it is unsold,” he says. “The projects that have come to market within the last year are not selling. There are very few that are moving. So what we came up with about a year ago is a narrative for our client base letting them know that there is going to be an opportunity and they should get ready for it, where we can make a purchase of many of these unsold units, put them out into a rental pool, and then in five years, plus or minus, slowly start selling them back into the market, which at that point should be recovered. This is not a new concept by any means. This has been done going back to the 90s. We are not reinventing the wheel. We are just in a very good position because we know many of these developers, having had a relationship with them for the last 20 years. We know who can do this type of sale and which developments are quality developments. It’s not just getting a major discount but also buying with the right developer because many projects that are being heavily discounted may not be of high quality.”

With a deep understanding of the political and economic risks still present in the emerging economies where their clients originate from, One & Only Holdings’ leaders assist the transferring of wealth for their clients. “Political risks lead to economic risks simply because they come hand in hand in Asia, the Middle East, and Eastern European countries. When they’re still dealing with political and economic risks in their own country and they’ve made a substantial amount of money within a very short period of time, our job is always to take their investments and their assets that they’re putting into the United States and remove any level of risk.”

“Today, it goes both ways because the world has become so small due to travel and the internet,” he says about One & Only Holdings’ managing assets for US companies in emerging markets. “Investments have become very much globalized and people feel much more comfortable going outside of our borders. [However,] the more companies leave the US borders to go into emerging markets, the greater the risk. Many of them will not go into those markets unless there is a local partner or someone that they’re comfortable with working that can lead them through the maze that most of these countries continue to have, and that is something that will take, in certain cases, generations to remove. In certain cases, it may never go away.”

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