Fueled by a steady diet of eight-figure deals, Kyle Blackmon has enjoyed a reputation as one of the city’s elite luxury brokers for years. The record-setting $88 million penthouse at 15 Central Park West? That was Blackmon. A $70 million pad at 50 Central Park South? Blackmon again. A $62 million deal, again at 15 Central Park West? You got it.
But Blackmon’s business has been decidedly quiet of late, with far more modest listings that have spent quite a while sitting on the market.
The broker, who made a splashy move from Brown Harris Stevens to startup brokerage Compass in November, currently has only four exclusive listings totaling $51.9 million, according to data from listings portal On-Line Residential. This year, he fell off The Real Deal’s ranking of the city’s top agents, which was based on active listings as of May 31. He does come in at No. 12, however, on an annual ranking compiled by the research firm Real Trends, which looks at dollar volume of closed sales from the previous year.
Absence of trophies
The priciest of his current listings is a five-bedroom co-op at 740 Park Avenue, which hit the market in March asking $27.5 million. And two other listings have languished for at least nine months.
The first, a three-bedroom condo at One Beacon Court, hit the market at the end of September asking $12 million. After several price drops, it is now asking $9 million, according to StreetEasy. Another, a two-bedroom co-op at 870 Fifth, hit the market in October asking $8.5 million. It’s now listed at $7.4 million.
Blackmon’s fourth and most recent listing is a two-bedroom unit at One Beacon Court, which hit the market in July asking $7.5 million.
These listings are nothing to sneeze at – the average Manhattan pad sold for $1.8 million during the second quarter. But Blackmon made his reputation, and his $1.2 billion career sales tally, on the back of top-shelf deals that traded for considerably higher. In 2014, he was No. 14 on TRD’s top agent ranking, with $198 million in listings including a 15 Central Park West pad asking $31 million.
BHS executives say the firm’s affiliation with Christie’s International Real Estate, an arm of auction house giant Christie’s, gave its agents access to high-end sellers at buildings like 15 Central Park West. Losing that pipeline of clients could have cost Blackmon.
BHS declined to comment for this story.
Southern charm, New York hustle
No doubt, Blackmon’s ascent in New York’s cutthroat brokerage business is the stuff industry minstrels sing of.
He moved to New York in 2000 and landed at BHS by cold-calling a sales manager. “I said, ‘I’ll clean out the closets – I’ll do anything,’” he told TRD in an interview several years ago. He declined to comment for this article.
He got his own desk in 2003 and two years later, made a prescient purchase of his own: a $2.8 million two-bedroom unit at Zeckendorf Development’s 15 Central Park West. He’s since sold more than $450 million worth of product at the building.
In 2006, in what was by many accounts a career-defining deal, a 28-year-old Blackmon represented former Citigroup boss Sanford Weill in his $42.4 million purchase of a penthouse at 15 CPW. Six years later, he sold the pad on Weill’s behalf to Russian heiress Ekaterina Rybolovleva for $88 million. The deal was the city’s priciest closed sale until a $100.5 million purchase at One57 in January.
Last year, the average price of Blackmon’s closed deals was $12.6 million, according to Real Trends, with total closed sales clocking in at $302.4 million. His total closed sales were at $154.4 million in 2013 and $328.8 million in 2012, according to the same ranking.
Despite his success, however, rival brokers have long grumbled that Blackmon received plum listings while at BHS and that he profited early on from family connections. His mother, Sandra Feagan Stern, had a high-level job at Citigroup when Weill was chairman. “People feel like he got lucky,” said an industry source.
But one top agent, who’s worked with Blackmon but asked not to be identified, described Blackmon as the “greatest broker in the history of the world” and a “genuinely good human being.” Of his recent lull, the agent speculated Blackmon changed his business model or sold all of his listings.
The most obvious change in his business is the move to Compass from BHS, where he rose to become the firm’s No. 1 agent in 2012. When Blackmon left BHS in November, the firm’s president Hall Willkie skewered his former agent in a statement accusing him of choosing “the equity proposition offered to him” over a “singular focus on brokerage.”
To some, Blackmon’s move to an edgy, tech-focused firm like Compass seemed like an odd cultural fit, given his more conservative personal style.
But Blackmon’s business appears to have dipped last summer, before his move. He had $34 million in active listings last July, according to a Compass document reviewed by TRD, compared with $52 million worth of listings at the moment. Leonard Steinberg, Compass’ president and top broker, currently has more than $250 million worth of listings, according to OLR.
Compass CEO Robert Reffkin told TRD that 96 percent of Blackmon’s clients followed him to Compass, adding that his listings are up 29 percent since he joined.
Blackmon “has maintained his buy-side business at approximately $100 million in year-to-date in-contract transactions from properties on Central Park West and Lafayette Street,” Reffkin said, “as well as in new developments such as 220 Central Park South and 45 East 22nd Street.”
It’s unclear how many of those deals closed, however.
According to StreetEasy, Blackmon represented the buyer of a $3.5 million pad at 225 Lafayette Street. And in October, he represented the buyer of a $6.3 million unit at 535 Park Avenue.
Douglas Elliman’s Jacqueline Fopiano, the listing agent at 225 Lafayette, described Blackmon as the “ultimate gentleman” throughout an extremely smooth transaction.
Still, agents who have worked with Blackmon in recent months speculated that he is under pressure to produce at a new company, and several said that switching firms often coincides with a dip in business.
A month after Blackmon joined Compass, his assistant Lauren Bankart returned to BHS to work for top agent John Burger. She declined to comment for this article, but sources said the move was business related and that she and Blackmon are on good terms.
“Certain firms are better fits for people,” said one industry veteran. “I always thought he might be better off at BHS, but maybe [have more] fun at Compass.”
And Fopiano defended Blackmon, saying there’s “fierce” competition in the industry.
“Yes, he’s got the clout and foundation but that doesn’t guarantee him the next listing,” she said. Further, all brokers experience ups and downs, she noted. “This man deserves the accolades regardless of the referrals [he’s gotten] between Mommy and others.