SPOTLIGHT ON: Ismail Kolya
Mary Prenon | September 2020
An Entrepreneur from the Beginning
Ismail Kolya, associate broker with eXp Realty in Yonkers, had a knack for real estate even as a child. Growing up in a small town in Gujarat, on the western side of India, he would often glue Popsicle sticks together to make little log cabins and sell them to neighbors. “I was an entrepreneur from the very beginning,” he joked.
Today, Kolya, known as “Ish,” is not only a successful Realtor, but an HGAR real estate instructor, a member of the association’s Education Council, Young Professionals Network, Diversity Task Force, Leadership Accelerator Program and a nominee for the 2021 HGAR Board of Directors.
From someone who couldn’t speak a word of English after arriving in the U.S. in 1991, Kolya has certainly come a long way. At just 13 years old, he joined the rest of his 10 siblings at a small home in the Bronx, where his father earned a living as a mailman. “My dad raised 11 kids on his salary and he sacrificed a lot,” recalled Kolya. “He always made time to help us with our homework.”
It was his father’s drive that pushed Kolya to work hard. “I would spend a lot of time at the local library, and borrow up to 20 books at a time. That’s what helped me to learn English,” he noted. He read everything from “The Hardy Boys” mysteries to science and geography. He also put himself on a fast track to finish high school in three years by attending evening and summer classes.
“Coming from a small farm area in India to New York City was a huge culture shock,” admitted Kolya. “I went from seeing cows grazing and washing our clothes in the local canal to crowded city streets, traffic lights and lots of cars. Still, I think I adjusted pretty well.”
Following high school graduation, he returned to India to visit with friends, and then came back to the Bronx to attend Lehman College, where he earned a B.S. in Health Administration. That led him to an administrative position with Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in Manhattan, where he stayed for four years. “While I liked the job, that whole time I was thinking about starting a business,” he said. “It’s just in my blood.”
His dream came true when he and business partners bought a cellphone retail store in the Bronx in 2005. The venture was so successful they grew it to more than 10 locations. He served as managing partner for five years, then became a silent partner so he could explore more independent career options. “I guess I drank the entrepreneurial Kool-Aid,” he quipped. “I wanted to be able to enjoy more freedom and real estate seemed like a natural movement from there.”
So, in 2013, Kolya made his move. “To be honest my first go at real estate was not successful—I didn’t make a single dollar,” he confessed. “I eventually dropped out and became a statistic like so many first-time Realtors.”
He returned briefly to the cellphone business, expanding to managing software for retail operations. However, in 2017 he decided to give real estate another try. Renewing his license, he joined a small brokerage and got the much-needed training and coaching that was lacking in his first go round. Eventually, New York Real Estate Experts became part of Exp Realty, a national brand that offers up to 50 hours of live training every week.
A year later, Kolya got involved with the Hudson Gateway Association, volunteering to serve on the Education Council and eventually teaching Matrix courses. Today he has his full instructor’s license and can teach an expanded curriculum. In addition, he serves as Education Director with the Bronx Chapter of NAHREP, the National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals. “Many of my clients are Hispanic and I want to learn more and be able to give back to that community as well,” he added.
Kolya is currently enrolled in HGAR’s Leadership Accelerator Program and looks forward to serving as a member of the HGAR Board of Directors next year. “I always value surrounding myself with people who know more than me so I can learn from them,” he said. For anyone considering a real estate career, Kolya recommends starting with a smaller brokerage that can offer a lot of personal attention and practical training.
In his spare time, he also volunteers with the Muslim Entrepreneur Association and the Young Muslim Professionals. He also enjoys outdoor activities like camping and white-water rafting. Kolya has even parachuted out of a plane—twice!
While he does travel back to India about every four years, Kolya said he has enough at home to keep him busy. He and his wife live in a multi-family building in the Bronx with their 15-year old daughter and 12-year old son. His parents live in another unit in the building. “They don’t really like the cold weather so they usually go back to India from November to April,” he said.
He lists and sells mostly in the Bronx and lower Westchester, and knows now that he has found his perfect career. “Growing up in India, I can really appreciate all the blessings and opportunities that America offers,” Kolya said.