Billion Dollar Brokers: New York's Top 7
Paula Del Nunzio
The go-to broker for luxury townhouses, Del Nunzio set a record this year with her sale of 21 Beekman Place. She has brokered some of the city’s most iconic stand-alone properties, including the Harkness, Standford White, and Duke-Semans mansions, and closed on deals worth more than $192 million in the last year.
Your take on the manhattan real estate market. An extreme shortage of available listings has made this the fastest-moving market of recent years. There is strong competition in the luxury market combined with great scarcity.
Is $50 million the new luxury threshold? I think we’re going to see more activity above $75 million in the next year and beyond as the market is presented with new luxury product.
Biggest deal this year? A townhouse at 21 Beekman Place, which closed for $34,350,000, or $4,754 per square foot. Not only is $34,350,000 a new record for a 20-foot-wide townhouse in Manhattan, but $4,754 is also a record price per square foot for any single-family townhouse sale in New York.
Has the luxury customer changed post-recession? The upper end of the market is still dominated by the same mentality. If a buyer loves what they find, they will pay anything to have it. And sellers don’t want to leave money on the table.
Favorite neighborhood? We always seek “prime of its kind,” and that can exist anywhere.
Tools of the trade. iPhone 5, iPad Mini, pen, paper, brain.
How long is your workday? Busiest season? No hours, no seasons. Townhouses are not restricted by the board approval process or summer work rules, which means you can sell them in the dead heat of August or on Christmas Eve.
Catering to billionaire clients—any secrets? Yes, keep their secrets.
Work uniform? Reed Krakoff, Armani, Michael Kors.
Why do you think you’ve been so successful? I’m not sure anyone who is successful can answer that.
Raphael De Niro
Yes, he’s the actor’s son, but the famous last name isn’t the reason for his success. “No one is buying a $10 million apartment because my dad is Robert De Niro,” he once said. While big-spending entertainment types like to work with De Niro, it was his drive and market savvy that led to $180 million in sales last year. The longtime Manhattan resident, who heads up the De Niro Team at Douglas Elliman, has a keen radar for emerging luxury neighborhoods.
Your take on the manhattan real estate market. Very robust. We are at a 13-year low in terms of inventory, however, that will soon change with roughly $20 billion worth of condo product in the pipeline.
Is $50 million the new luxury threshold? I think the market will be strong for $50 million properties, but that doesn’t mean dozens of $50 million transactions will occur. Most people accept $4-5 million as the luxury threshold for Manhattan.
Your biggest deal this year? We sold a full-floor unit with Central Park views for just under $50 million.
Has the luxury customer changed post-recession? Luxury consumers became more value driven immediately after the collapse of Lehman Brothers, but they seem to have returned to their old ways. There are many more foreign buyers now: roughly 30 percent of condo buyers and 50 percent of buyers above $10 million.
Up-and-coming luxury neighborhoods. West Chelsea/High Line is the next major luxury neighborhood and in three to five years everyone will wish they bought something there.
Your favorite neighborhood? The West Village because of its tree-lined streets and low-rise buildings that allow lots of air and light.
Tools of the trade. A desktop, iPad, and BlackBerry.
How long is your workday? Busiest season? Typically 10 to 14 hours. Spring is the busiest, followed by fall.
Toughest close? A Greenwich Village apartment that took one and half years to close because of issues with the building, landmarks, Department of Buildings violations, etc.
Catering to billionaire clients—any secrets? Be available at all times.
How do you relax? Playing with my children, skiing, and fishing.
Work uniform? I wear a suit and no tie, or slacks and dress shirt with or without a sweater.
Favorite labels: Zegna, Loro Piana, Ferragamo.
Why do you think you’ve been so successful? Average intelligence, integrity, long hours, good contacts.
What are you reading now? Winnie the Pooh read-along, Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson.
Grubman saw her sales volume more than double to $250 million within the past two years. She now handles the $115 million One Beacon Court listing for the embattled hedge funder, Steven Cohen. She also recently sold properties for Harrison Ford and Judge Judy. Married to power lawyer Allen Grubman (his clients include Springsteen and U2), she is prominent on the Manhattan social circuit.
Your take on the manhattan real estate market. Demand is high at all price points. Inventory is low and we are seeing more bidding wars and higher prices per square foot than ever before.
Is $50 million the new luxury threshold? I expect the demand for high-end luxury property will remain strong.
Your biggest deal this year? I cannot be specific, but my biggest deal this year is the biggest deal in my career so far. I hope to exceed it next year.
Will 2014 be better for you than last year? Yes. has the luxury customer changed post-recession? We are seeing more foreign buyers than ever before.
Up-and-coming luxury neighborhoods. The entire island of Manhattan is becoming a luxury neighborhood.
Your favorite neighborhood? It is like asking about my favorite child. I love them all.
Tools of the trade. I have an embarrassing number of mobile devices. We need to be in touch all the time.
How long is your workday? My workday is as long as possible. I leave the office to give myself enough time to get to whatever commitment I have for that evening. If I have no commitment, I stay very late.
Funniest business experience in the past year? We photographed an apartment that was very sparsely furnished. I asked the photographer to Photoshop in a vase of flowers and a painting on the blank wall to add a little color. We used the photo in an ad and got great response to it. Unfortunately, several of the responses were from art dealers who had a client for our “Warhol” painting! One of the dealers would not accept the fact that there was no painting and kept calling. But we did eventually sell the apartment.
How do you relax? I do not understand the question.
Catering to billionaire clients—any secrets? I treat everyone as if he or she were a billionaire.
Why do you think you’ve been so successful? Luck, hard work, and a passion for what I do.
What are you reading now? I read biographies, history, fiction, and books about real estate and architecture.
A former designer for Victor Costa and Christian Dior, this South African native, considered one of the smartest dressers in the real estate industry, leads Douglas Elliman’s top team, with more than $2 billion in sales. He and his LuxuryLoft group specialize in downtown Manhattan.
Your take on the manhattan real estate market. It achieved historically high volume and pricing levels, well beyond anyone’s expectations. All pre-recession pricing records have been broken. After a four-year hibernation, new construction has reemerged as the driving force of the market, providing high-quality inventory that the luxury market demands.
Is $50 million the new luxury property threshold? Fifty million dollars is the new standard for überluxury, the kind of properties that reflect the increasingly expanding wealth of the super wealthy. A decade ago, “really rich” had a very different meaning than today, and real estate mirrors this phenomenon.
Your biggest deal this year? A property at 144 Duane Street sold for well over $40 million. A new record for downtown.
Will 2014 be better for you than last year? I have been involved in signed contracts and closed sales this year approaching $1 billion—an unimaginable figure for me, and one that far exceeds last year’s figures, which were very strong, too. I never know what a new year holds, and I hate guessing: All indicators point to a very strong 2014, and I am involved with almost $2 billion worth of real estate development.
Has the luxury customer changed post-recession? Luxury consumers have become significantly more sophisticated. Their understanding of the overall market, as well as technical details, and fixture and finish quality is remarkable. As New York is a global center, the pool of high-end foreign buyers keeps expanding.
Up-and-coming luxury neighborhoods. Southern Tribeca, where Tribeca converges with the World Trade Center area, and Battery Park City will deliver an entirely new landscape for living, with a blend of culture, shopping, entertainment, and culture that we haven’t seen anywhere before.
Your favorite neighborhood? As a West Chelsea resident living at 200 11th Avenue, I am a bit biased.
Tools of your trade. I am tech-meek, not a tech-geek: I have one iPhone with an extended charger that barely gets me through the day.
How long is your workday? Busiest season? I am busy year-round, pretty much 24 hours a day. My personal and professional lives are a merged entity.
Toughest close? A $300,000 studio on the Upper East Side. Go figure!
Catering to billionaire clients—any secrets? You must have all the data they have. Very rich people are pressed for time, and they hire the best to make sure they don’t have to do all the homework.
Funniest business experience in the last year? I was bitten by a shar-pei upon meeting its owner who wanted to sell her penthouse. I guess he did not approve of my tailoring?
How do you relax? I have a beautiful home upstate on the Hudson River with a wonderful garden. I play the piano, and I sculpt with clay.
Work uniform? I used to be a fashion designer, so most of my suits are custommade. Every day I wear a suit and a polo-style knit shirt with super-comfortable Hogan or Tod’s shoes. My briefcase is from Rome.
Why do you think you’ve been so successful? I do my homework. I work very hard. I always have real estate intelligence that is honest and substantive. My fake British accent doesn’t hurt either!
What are you reading now? The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand.
Elizabeth Sample and Brenda Powers
Foreign billionaires seek out this power duo, who head up the Sample-Powers team at Sotheby’s International Realty, where they’re currently representing $330 million in properties. Luxury hotel condos and co-ops and seven-and-eight-figure skyscraper condos are their forte. A current Sample-Powers listing, the priciest in Manhattan, is the $125 million penthouse at The Pierre.
Your take on the manhattan real estate market. Elizabeth Sample: There is a tremendous shortage of quality properties. We are seeing price increases in all segments of the market, including rental properties. There are very few new construction starts, so it will be hard to meet the continued demand for purchasers.
Is $50 million the new luxury property threshold? Brenda Powers: The new luxury threshold is now over $50 million, with more properties priced as high as $100 million and more.
Will 2014 be better for you than last year? ES and BP: In terms of sales volume this year has definitely been better for us than the previous year. We also have many contracts signed for closing in 2014.
Has the luxury customer changed post-recession? ES: We have seen a tremendous upswing in foreign purchasers.
Up-and-coming luxury neighborhoods. ES: We still consider the Upper East Side, Upper West Side, and Central Park South as the central neighborhoods purchasers are interested in. There is also a tremendous demand for downtown properties.
Your favorite neighborhood. ES: For shopping and dining it’s the Upper East Side, but I enjoy living on the West Side very much. BP: My favorite building, based on my lifestyle, is Time Warner.
Tools of your trade. ES and BP: We each have three iPads and a laptop, four large Apple computers and approximately five or six Windows computers. In addition, we each have two iPhones and many phone lines throughout our homes.
How long is your workday? Busiest season? ES and BP: We get on the phone and our iPads at 5:30 to 6 am, and finish up usually around 10 or 11 at night. This holds true for every month of the year.
Catering to billionaire clients—any secrets? ES: Listen exactly to what they want and how they want to proceed and follow from there. They are clearly the “Masters of the Universe,” and we are their facilitators and real estate advisors. How do you relax? ES: We love to work out. BP: I take a spin class twice or three times a week and alternate with weight training.
Work uniform? ES: Chanel handbags and Prada clothing and shoes. BP: My work uniform is black, comfortable, elegant, and fresh.
Why do you think you’ve been so successful? ES and BP: Working very, very long hours and having our clients’ best interests at heart.
Chiang, who heads up the Carrie Chiang team at Corcoran Group, voted the No. 1 real estate team in the country by The Wall Street Journal in 2008 (and ranked in the top three each year since), sold $258 million in properties last year. “She’s a deal machine,” says Corcoran President and CEO Pam Liebman of her star broker.
Your take on the Manhattan real estate market. This year has been a strong year for us, as New York has never been more attractive to buyers. We have had a continuous stream of clients—both local and from all over the world—coming to us to purchase Manhattan properties. It is one of the best investments and offers a smart means of portfolio diversification. And, unlike other assets, a buyer can live in their investment and enjoy New York, which is, arguably, the capital of the world.
Is $50 million the new luxury threshold? Properties listed for $50 million and above are ultraluxury properties and are few and far between.
Your biggest deal this year? I’d love to tell you about it, but confidentiality prevents me from doing so. But I can tell you it was above $50 million!
Will 2014 be better for you than last year? I don’t view any year as better than another, just deals that are better than other deals.
Has the luxury customer changed post-recession? More foreign buyers? My clients were not as impacted by the financial crisis as other segments of the market. Post-recession, we have many more international clients and fewer clients buying properties strictly as investment vehicles.
Up-and-coming luxury neighborhoods. Anywhere the client wants.
Favorite neighborhood? Manhattan! tools of the trade. Two cell phones and one BlackBerry.
How long is your workday? Busiest season? It’s between 8 am and 7 pm, but I make calls at all different times of the day and night. I’m busy year-round.
How do you relax? I enjoy my home in the Hamptons and spending time with my family.
Work uniform? Designer clothes from a wide range of labels that can be found in boutiques up and down Madison Avenue.
Why do you think you’ve been so successful? No matter how complicated or challenging the situation, I know how to close deals.
What are you reading now? I’m too busy to read!
Photography by Sari Goodfriend
Cover shoot: May/June 2014 issue of Gotham magazine.