3 Questions With Raj Kumar


You’ve mentioned your love of local food and farmers who are changing the landscape of the food and consumption industry. Where did that interest come from? Was there a farm or farmer that served as your introduction to the philosophies of eating clean and buying local?

Food has always been a big part of my life.  I grew up in India in a household where all meals, especially dinner, were very important and where the whole family got together. I distinctly remember my dad sharing stories of what I thought were breathtaking adventures of his childhood and youth in the hills above Rawalpindi, a city that was a part of India then and is now in Pakistan.  I believe that for a child growing up, the art of conversation is not learned so much at school, but more so at the dining table.

We are so lucky to be living in the Hudson Valley, the true breadbasket of the United States.  We have some of the best farms anywhere and such an abundance of organic local produce. But, if I had to pick a particular farm and farmer, hands down it would have to be Blooming Hill Organic Farm, owned by one of my heroes, the organic farmer extraordinaire Guy Jones.  A weekend visit to his farm, working at the farm stand and coming home with a bag full of the most amazing vegetables as my reward is still one of my absolute favorite things to do.

One of my other heroes in the food world is the unimaginably talented chef Dan Barber of Stone Barn at Blue Hill.  Reading one of his earlier essays on the organic food movement, a simple 3 column article in the NY Times, simply changed my life.

Photo by Richard Boll for  Atlas of The Future

Photo by Richard Boll for Atlas of The Future

There has been a tremendous amount of developments in the real estate industry in the years since you joined in. What is your vision of what the real estate industry is going to look like in the future?

I have a very simple take on the future of the real estate industry.  I think that the majority of the real estate brokerages are going to be either absorbed or simply put out of business by online real estate platforms.  These real estate portals are quickly figuring out ways to provide the very basic level of service required to complete a real estate transaction at such a low cost that most brokerages are not going to be able to compete. You might recognize this phenomenon from the recent developments in the airline ticketing and hotel booking business in the travel industry, where most travel agents have gone out of business.  In the world of real estate, it is going to be a race to the bottom that online real estate platforms are guaranteed to win.

The only real estate professionals surviving are going to be not the cheapest ones, but the ones that provide the ultimate in service. These progressive individuals will have to adopt a model of conducting business which cannot be duplicated by mega-companies like Zillow.  

On the buy-side, the realtors that will stay in business will be the ones that don't just make appointments and simply open doors for the prospective buyer clients, but those who actually preview properties, curate them, and then facilitate the entire transaction all the way to moving in and making their experience of owning a home fun and easy. And even more importantly, on the listing-side, it is not going to be agents that charge the lowest commission who will make it but agents who work with their clients, among other things, to truly “enhance” the property, right from styling it and then marketing it in such a way that the client's property gets the exposure, press, and reaction it deserves.

There is no reason why distinctive homes do not deserve the same respect in terms of prices and commissions that are generated by pieces of art in auctions every day.  Real estate, after all, is considered one of the most valuable possessions.

We’ve covered some pretty complex ground, so here’s a more fun question: what’s your dream travel destination for 2020? 

Can I give two dream travel options for 2020, please? Because I can't decide which will be more fun! They are both in India, both involve horseback riding, and both are going to be done with a group of very close buddies.

The first would be to northern India.  I have been wanting to do this trip for many years.  It involves taking a car from New Delhi to Northwestern Himachal Pradesh.  Once we’ve arrived we would ditch the car and driver there and embark on a 15-day trek on horseback from there into Kashmir through the breathtaking Kashmir valley, camping on the way. 

The Kashmir Valley

The Kashmir Valley

The second one is to a hill station near Mumbai called Matheran, a trip I’ve done before.  Matheran is the only hill station in Asia where no cars or any other vehicles are allowed. You either walk or travel on horseback.  We would stay at a beautiful, tiny, heritage hotel called the Dune Barr House - Verandah in the Forest.   

A typical day there means getting up at the crack of dawn, grabbing a light healthy breakfast of fruits and tea, after which a groom with your horse picks you up at the hotel. This is followed by a day-long ride on the stunningly beautiful, sometimes treacherous, trails ending typically with a gallop straight into the market for some fun leather goods shopping. Evening is back to the Dune Barr House for a freshly prepared dinner on the terrace overlooking the gorgeous valley. Then it's early to bed to get some well deserved rest so we can be fresh for the same itinerary the next day.

The Hill Station of Matheran

The Hill Station of Matheran