Lighting The Way

Bess Freedman, first CEO of Brown Harris Stevens, one of the largest privately owned real estate brokerages in the country, shares her keys to wellness.
Bess Freedman is an advocate for positive communication, optimism and Transcendental Meditation. Photo courtesy of Andrea Ceraso & Brown Harris Stevens Residential Sales LLC

By Jim Servin

PURIST: Brown Harris Stevens was founded in New York in 1873, the year Central Park was completed. How did you approach being named its first CEO in 2018?

Bess Freedman: There was incredible depth and culture here, and I thought it needed a little dusting off. One thing I thought was missing was more communication. I call them love letters to the company. I wanted to celebrate things, share challenges, and communicate about topics like marriage equality, the overturn of Roe v. Wade, the murder of George Floyd. It’s about seeing what’s going on in the world and paying attention to it, and saying, These are tough times, we see you, we hear you. We just celebrated 150 years in business; we have a lot of new technology that we’re working on this year, including a new website. The focus is the same, which is to take care of our agents and clients, help them in challenging times, and sell real estate.

PURIST: What are the hottest amenities in the most desired buildings?

BF: Pet spas—where you can have your dog bathed, get their coats brushed out, their nails cut—wine storage, cold plunge baths and pickleball courts.

PURIST: You have a high-powered job, overseeing over 2,700 agents in over 44 offices, and you’re so calm. What’s your secret?

BF: As of about two months, I’ve been practicing Transcendental Meditation. I do it twice a day, and it is so grounding. It helps you sleep better.

PURIST: Favorite wellness practices?

BF: I go to the gym five days a week, at least. Kickboxing is one of my favorite things to do. The other thing I can’t emphasize enough is sleep. I know that I can go on two hours, but if I get eight hours, I’m Superwoman. I did a six-minute ice bath for the first time last week at Remedy Place on West 21st Street. It’s invigorating, it’s so good for your body. You feel like Rocky afterward.

PURIST: Do you encourage your kids to own real estate?

BF: My daughter is 20, my son is 17. I try to inspire them that buying your own place is part of the American dream. It’s also the best investment you will ever make. They’re good people out in the world. That’s what success is—if you can raise some nice kids, decent civilians, you’re in good shape.