Taking the real estate industry to new levels

by Angela Jeffs

No need to feel sorry for E. Takashi Norris, working all alone at his desk in Azabudai. Because it’s good news — including having a very nice office all to himself. “All my staff are out on business,” he explains. “Even the young woman I took on initially as my assistant is now operating her own right, property visiting, negotiating million dollar sales.”

Norris always wanted to run his own company. He chose the name of his real estate firm, Platinum, because of an uncle who is a jeweler who once described platinum as one of the most precious metals on earth.

Being even more valuable than gold, it signifies something rare and exceptionally precious, and therefore by association, he believes, the very best in service and of the highest quality.

Norris was born in New York City. His father, a doctor in a long line of medical practitioners, is American. Norris’ mother is Japanese. “She too has always worked but these days is mostly a volunteer.”

With service to the community so strong a concept in his upbringing, Norris brings rare gifts to the real estate industry: a love of helping people, a strong ethical stance, and a remarkable flexibility in dealing with people from many cultural backgrounds. “Although I grew up in America, I spent every summer as a child in Japan. Therefore I know both cultures very well.”

Norris took a year off in between jobs at age 25 and lived in France for six months.

He founded Platinum in January 2000, working out of an office in Azabu-juban.

As for the company’s business, this currently falls into three areas of expertise: servicing the foreign community with high-end residential and/or company property needs; servicing clients looking to purchase property or land, either for personal use or investment; and what Norris calls “creative real estate.”

“In Tokyo, . . . there is far too much concrete. But in many parts of the country there remains the potential to find a healthy balance between concrete and nature. This is where creativity and a sensitive approach is especially important.”

In the city, Platinum is interested in finding creative ways of utilizing existing real estate. For example, the company is currently involved in a project in Tamachi. “We’re working . . . to transform an old warehouse with a bowling alley on top into an awesome office space.”

Providing flexible solutions requires like-minded clients, so Platinum chooses with whom to work very carefully. “Yes, I have turned potential clients down. You’re not going to get along with everyone, and when you don’t, better to part ways before the relationship begins, so saving headaches for both parties.”

Another project in Tokyo aims to lift the increasingly sleazy atmosphere of Roppongi by means of an upscale restaurant-bar-lounge due to open early next year. When Platinum signed the contract with metromet (based in New York and Japan) in January, it was a 500-sq.-meter empty space with 5-meter-high ceilings. “It’s exciting to make it come alive.”

Equally exciting but very different has been a two-year-long project in Hokkaido, where land has been purchased in Annupuri, Niseko.

“We’re actively seeking to develop it right now. With the best snow in Japan, and quite possibly the world, I can’t see how we can fail.”

The local community will benefit, he adds, because the client insists “very strongly” on using local services — locally grown and raised produce for restaurants, for example, together with residents and visitors using existing facilities and infrastructure.

Closer to home, Platinum is seeking to develop eco-homes near Lake Kawaguchi, using a local architect, Jake Reiner, who runs Eden Homes. The idea is that one of them will be a second home for Norris and his family. He and his Finnish wife, Maria, have two children, Miilo and Tiola.

Norris lives close by his office, because he does not believe in wasting time commuting. At work, he works hard and is with his family, very rarely taking anything work-related home. And while dedicated to building his company, he looks forward to the time it runs itself, with overheads covered by ownership of income producing properties.

“Even now, I would say the office tends to function more smoothly when I’m not around. This is because I encourage staff to be self-motivating. We have weekly meetings, but otherwise I leave people to get on with what they have to do.”

While liking small environments in which staff can act both independently and as a team to reap rewards, he does need more new people.

What he seeks in someone to be part of the Platinum team is ambition and honesty. “For the rest I go with my intuitive flow. “Anyone he takes on, he says, has to understand that Platinum is not only concerned with good service and quality properties, but with taking real estate to new levels of challenges and responsibility.