SYLVA ZHANG, REALTOR & CYCLING ENTHUSIAST
About 88% of Americans own a car, according to the Pew Research Center. Sylva Zhang, an Indianapolis-based real estate broker with Plat Collective, is not one of those Americans. Rather, she prefers a more eco-friendly option to get her from Point A to Point B: her trusty cargo bike.
In addition to working in real estate, the mom of two works at Bicycle Garage Indy two days a week as a bicycle technician and sales associate. In that role, it gives her the chance to sell her customers on new bike routes to take around the city, which also happens to be the concept behind her small business, Pedal Indy.
“The reality is that much of our city was not designed with pedestrians and bikes in mind, so it sometimes takes some effort to find routes that aren’t stressful or downright dangerous to walk or ride,” Zhang says.
We grabbed some time on her schedule to chat more on her eco-friendly lifestyle habits, decorating a home on a budget, and about that one time she biked 97 miles while pregnant with twins.
Maven superpower: Connecting people. I have to keep it under wraps right now and only connect people digitally.
So, you’ve worked at a bike shop for two years. Why did you decide to pursue real estate last year?
My first clients actually helped inspire my company. While they were in town for a job interview, they rented bikes to check out neighborhoods and were asking for advice on where to look and how to get there by bike. Pulling out the IndyCog map and showing them around on paper gave me so much joy, and I realized that helping people who were looking for houses find a spot that was bikeable could make such a big difference in their quality of life, as it had for mine.
How have open houses changed in light of the pandemic?
We’re keeping some distance as we tour houses, being mindful and safe about it. I think it’s not actually that hard to take turns being the one touring the house, keeping a mask on. It’s still something we can do safely.
This summer, I typically held open houses with all the windows open; I waited on the porch for visitors, always kept my mask on (visitors or not), and visitors kept their masks on as well. Since the weather has turned colder, I’ve been primarily providing private tours to clients to avoid group gatherings.
What’s one of your best kept real estate hacks for decorating a home on a budget?
My favorite thing on a budget is murals. Plus, you’re getting to put money in an artist’s pocket. And now you have something that is unique to you versus something that a lot of people could order!
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Start where you are, use what you have, and do what you can. The idea that you don’t have to have a certain thing or already be fit to start exercising. Wherever you are, just take the first step.
What’s a fun fact about yourself?
I can fit more passengers on my bike than in my car. My husband has a Smart car, so it’s only a two-seater and my bike I can fit four people in. My parents live in our neighborhood and they have a van we can borrow if we ever need to go on a road trip or something. I’d say we borrow it like once every two weeks to make a Costco trip or something like that.
You mentioned that you lived in Los Angeles while your now-husband finished medical school. How did that inspire you to ditch your car and swap it out for a bike instead?
In Los Angeles I lived seven miles from my now-husband, thinking that was the distance from downtown to Broad Ripple—not bad. But it would often take over an hour to drive with city traffic. When we moved to Indy, I made the conscious choice to draw a smaller geographic circle. We bought in walking distance from the hospitals where my husband would serve, and I only looked for jobs that were bikeable distance from our home.
But having twins was actually the final thing that kicked the car to the curb. I really found it less stressful to walk the girls to their doctor’s appointments in the stroller, to walk to the grocery store and stow our groceries underneath, so be able to pause and scoop a little one who needed soothing. The first summer with the twins, I sold my car (which had sat unused for six months) and bought an electric cargo bike which is now our primary transportation. The kids are in reach right in front of me, it’s easy to stop and see things around the city, and we feel more connected as a family.
What are some creative ways you’ve found to conserve energy and decrease your carbon footprint?
We tend to just go to the closest grocery store to us and grow some vegetables ourselves in the summer. The main thing we do that decreases our footprint is to just not drive very much and not travel very much. I’m definitely still learning more about this. I’ve been looking into solar. Our next door neighbors have gone solar and I’m trying to figure that out for our house.
What’s the farthest you’ve biked?
My husband and I did a 100-mile bike ride in 2016. Out in Ohio there’s the Loveland trail. While I was pregnant I tried to do Ride Across Indiana. I don’t know if I would have finished it or not but a biker went down in front of me and hit his head and didn’t know where he was. My riding partner and I stopped and waited with him until the ambulance came and made sure that he’s OK. And then once we got to 97 miles, we decided to stop there for the day because we lost a lot of time waiting with him.
Samantha Kupiainen is a regular Indy Maven contributor.