A Treasure in Real Estate
We caught up with Gerald Gaige as he prepared to relocate back to the U.S. after 15 years working in Russia and the CIS countries. With his wife Larisa, this pair has made a significant mark on Russia’s real estate market as their parallel careers here began at the first appearance of real estate market activity. Gere answered three basic questions for us that may be posed to any such long-term expatriate.
What caused you to come to Russia – and what did you leave behind in the U.S.?
Well, contrary to the standard joke that such long-term expatriates are avoiding arrest in their home countries; in my case (fortunately) it was an extension of my real estate career that brought me here. As an experienced appraiser in the U.S., I had taken up the tradition of teaching one time per year an introductory course on real estate appraisal. In the summer of 1993, I was surprised to learn that five Russians had enrolled in the course and would be coming from Moscow to Houston, Texas to attend.
During the two week course, we became friends as they took on appraisal concepts, and the other students and I introduced them to as much of life in America as possible. An example is the evening flight over Houston and the Gulf of Mexico I took them on, using my hobby of private flying and my skills from five years as a U.S. Air Force instructor pilot. This experience pretty much convinced them that life in the U.S. was very different from Russia at the time.
A few months after their return to Moscow, they called and asked if I would come to Russia and teach the first courses in real estate appraisal. There are a lot of interesting stories to tell about this trip but, in short, the course was very successful and the proceeds supported the founding of what today is the Russian Society of Appraisers. As a result, over the next year we planned additional courses in many of Russia’s major cities; and (the best outcome) I met Larisa Afanasyeva, later to become my wife.
I left behind in Houston, my real estate appraisal practice (later sold to a business partner) and my two sons, Jeremy and Bryan who at the time were both in their university years. They love to visit us here in Russia and enjoy learning the history and culture of the country.
Having spent the equivalent of a full career here, what do you consider your biggest accomplishment?
Besides surviving the extreme changes and various crises typical for Russia during this period, I think my biggest accomplishment is the influence on the people that I have worked with. I was fortunate to be involved at the time Russia was building a completely new economy, a basic part of which needed to be real estate. I have worked in three basic parts of this transition; (1) origination of professional real estate associations (1 year), (2) formation of legislation for ownership rights to real estate (2 years), and (3) the development of real estate market activity (12 years). In each of these phases, the people I worked with remained as real estate professionals, creating support for their own families, jobs for new entrants, and advancing the industry to a globally competitive real estate market. It is the collective accomplishments of these people of which I am most proud.
And the final question: Why did you stay here so long?
I have been answering this question for almost all of the 15 years. It came first in the early years, from friends in the U.S. who could not understand why anyone would stay and work in a country as “dangerous” as Russia. Later, the question came from Russian colleagues who wondered why I did not go home, where life was surely easier and not so unpredictable.
Forced to really think about the answer for myself – I discovered three parts: ego, challenge, and reward. The ego part is from participating in the historic economic, political and social transition – and in leading development of a profession and market activity that did not before exist. It is an ego trip to be part of such an important event in world history.
The challenge part is in solving the unique problems of appraising real estate, or properly completing transactions, in a market that did not before exist and operates even today on rules different from any other in the world. The reward part again comes from the people. It is a great pleasure to work with the brilliant and capable young people of Russia that I have been fortunate to be around. As a result it is an inspiration to come to work every day, and experience the joy and satisfaction of sharing accomplishments with them. With now more than 40 years of work-life experience, I can say that such reward is rare; which makes it all the more a personal treasure.
And if you will permit me a final message; I would just express to all of those that I have worked with here in the CIS - my sincere appreciation for the kindness and patience they have shown to me personally, and my great appreciation for the accomplishments we have shared.