In the fall of 2010, real estate broker Melanie Lazenby was riding the elevator at the West Village condominium Superior Ink when a stranger started asking her questions.
“I had no idea who he was,” recalled Lazenby, an executive vice president at Prudential Douglas Elliman. “He asked me, ‘Do you know if there are any apartments for sale in this building?’”
She did know. Not only is Lazenby a top-ranked broker at Elliman, she lives at Superior Ink, the über-expensive condo conversion at 400 West 12th Street. When she rattled off available units in the building, the stranger, who was testing her, told her she “really knew her stuff” and handed her his card. He turned out to be billionaire Leslie Alexander, who was already the owner of Superior Ink’s 6,300-square-foot penthouse, which he had placed on the market the year before priced at $39.5 million.
When Lazenby said she might have a buyer for the unit, he asked her to show the buyer the apartment — he’d leave the keys with the doorman.
Lazenby’s client, South African entrepreneur Mark Shuttleworth, was indeed interested in purchasing the penthouse, and the deal closed a month later for $31.5 million — the highest price ever paid for a condo in Downtown Manhattan, with Lazenby representing both buyer and seller.
“I thought I was going to die!” said the bubbly 38-year-old Lazenby, whose priciest deal up until that point had been $13.1 million. “It was just really exciting.”
Ending up in the elevator with Alexander — the owner of the Houston Rockets — was both an obvious stroke of good luck and the result of careful strategy. Several years earlier, Lazenby sold her 49 West Ninth Street co-op for $1.85 million and bought a smaller unit at Superior Ink, believing that living in the luxury doorman building would help advance her career. “I thought it would help me in business,” she said, “and it certainly has.”
Lazenby started in New York residential real estate 12 years ago, but until recently, she was perhaps best known as the beautiful blond daughter of actor George Lazenby, who starred as James Bond in the 1969 film “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.” The connection has been both a blessing and a curse; while the connection sometimes helps raise her visibility, she has a difficult relationship with her father, and in 2008 made headlines for testifying in court about the years of abuse she allegedly experienced at his hands.
In the past few years, however, Melanie Lazenby has gained fame for her real estate accomplishments, starting with the record-breaking sale at Superior Ink.
That deal brought her career “to the next level,” said Howard Lorber, Elliman’s chairman. “She had done stuff before, but that surely gave her more recognition.”
Lazenby and her longtime business partner, Dina Lewis, followed that up in August, by breaking the price-per-square-foot record for a West Village co-op with the $12.5 million sale of a penthouse at 2 Horatio Street. And in December, the pair broke another record when they put the Astor Suite at the Plaza on the rental market for $165,000 per month — the highest-ever asking rent for a New York City apartment. Owned by German billionaire Jurgen Friedrich, the apartment has been fully furnished by designer Steven Gambrel.
Last month, Lazenby was named Elliman’s No. 2 individual broker for gross commission income, and received a Pinnacle Club award for earning over $1 million in 2011.
But it’s been a difficult road for Lazenby. In addition to the troubled relationship with her father, she lost a brother to cancer and suffered from dyslexia.
But overcoming obstacles has made her career success even sweeter.
When the Superior Ink deal closed, a grinning Lazenby reflected, “for a girl who had gotten straight Ds in school and never won a single award, to then have sold the most expensive piece of property in Manhattan ever below 23rd Street — it was just incredible.”
License to sell
When you first meet Melanie Lazenby, it’s not surprising that she is the daughter of a movie star.
A tall, wisp-thin blonde, Lazenby’s carefully styled locks flow halfway down her back, and her high-heeled Louboutins barely slow her down as she darts around a 4,000-square-foot penthouse at 260 Park Avenue South. The Chrysler building is visible from the living room window of the apartment, which Lazenby and Lewis have listed for $12.5 million.
But as she settles herself on the couch to pose for a photo, Lazenby automatically reaches over to adjust the already-perfect-looking pillows. It’s force of habit, she explains: Before a showing, she and Lewis arrive hours early to make sure everything is ship-shape.
Gucci and heels notwithstanding, “we will get on our hands and knees and clean if we have to,” Lewis explained later by phone. “Whatever it takes.”
Lazenby in particular is “an absolute perfectionist,” Lewis said. “A normal broker would go in and fluff up the pillows maybe, nothing special. Melanie will go in, she’ll bring the flowers, move the furniture around, she’ll bring her own pillows from home. … She puts so much care into what she’s doing, it always ends up being so much more than what anybody expected.”
Lazenby’s exposure to real estate started early on. Her famous father is Australian, but her mother, Christina Matser, is American, an heiress to the Gannett newspaper fortune. Born in London, Lazenby lived in Sydney until she was nine, when the family moved to Santa Monica, Calif.
“My parents were obsessed with moving,” recalled Lazenby. “One of the family hobbies was going ‘open-housing’ every Sunday.”
She also had an early interest in design. “I’ve had a subscription to Architectural Digest since I was 12 years old,” the broker said.
While in college at Chaminade University in Hawaii, Lazenby studied interior design and communications. When she moved to New York in 2000 after a stint doing PR for Ralph Lauren in Paris, becoming a residential real estate broker seemed like a natural choice.
She met Lewis, a New Jersey native, on the first day of training at Coldwell Banker Hunt Kennedy, and the two rookie agents decided to work together. They are still partners today, as well as close friends who love watching Bravo while on the phone together and unwinding over drinks at the Four Seasons.
It helped that, when the two were first getting started, New York was flooded with newly rich, young investment bankers.
“A lot of guys that were two years out of college were getting paid these mega-bonuses,” Lazenby recalled. “They were getting their first big paychecks, and they didn’t have brokers that they had used. … Once I linked in with that group of guys, it was great.”
Within a year and a half, Lazenby and Lewis were doing some of the priciest deals at CBHK. In 2002, the duo moved to Elliman, where they’ve been ever since.
Lazenby and Lewis have done some $1.2 billion in sales over the years, Lazenby said. But they’ve largely flown under the radar until now, especially when compared to Elliman super-brokers like Dolly Lenz (who had previously listed Alexander’s Superior Ink penthouse; the exclusive expired before Lazenby met Alexander, and was technically an “open listing” when the deal closed).
Until recently, Lazenby said, “I wasn’t doing these crazy big deals. I was doing a lot of medium-sized deals, $2 to $3 million apartment sales. Those don’t make the papers.”
And unlike other top brokers, Lewis and Lazenby don’t have a team of assistants working with them.
“It’s just us,” Lazenby said. “We do every board package, every showing, every pitch, and we make every photocopy.”
After years in the trenches, however, Lazenby’s hard work has finally earned her industry recognition. She was named Elliman’s No. 5 individual broker for gross commission income for 2009, then No. 4 for 2010, and now No. 2. (Lewis and Lazenby share all their listings, but work with buyers separately.)
“It’s been a slow and steady climb,” Lazenby said.
Another helpful factor, fellow brokers noted, is that Lorber has recently become a mentor to Lazenby, bringing her into an inner circle that over the years has included super brokers like Raphael De Niro.
Lorber attributed Lazenby’s success in part to her upbeat personality. “They’re very ‘up’ type of people, her and Dina,” Lorber said. “They’re happy, they love what they do. People see that, and their clients stick with them.”
That was certainly the case at Superior Ink: Lazenby knew Shuttleworth was interested in the penthouse because she’d sold him another apartment at Superior Ink the year before. “I knew he hadn’t done anything yet with his fifth-floor apartment, so I thought there was an opportunity there,” she recalled.
Tomorrow never dies
Unlike her Elliman colleague De Niro — who is rarely mentioned in the press without a reference to his Oscar-winning father — Lazenby said having a celebrity parent hasn’t significantly impacted her career.
In part, that’s because “my father is the least-famous James Bond of all the James Bonds,” she said with her characteristic expansive laugh.
An actor and model, Lazenby did only a single 007 film, and 1969’s “Secret Service” is his best-known work. Still, “people get excited about the title,” his daughter said. “It’s something cool for a couple of minutes, and then I move on.”
The association does sometimes help attract publicity, Lorber said.
“She’s got that interesting little tidbit of a story, that her father was James Bond for one movie,” said Marc Lawrence, a principal at the title agency American Land Services, who worked with Lazenby when he was a broker at Corcoran. “There are 1,200 Douglas Elliman brokers who are basically offering similar services. … Anything that you have that can distinguish yourself you from your colleagues” is helpful.
In fact, Lorber said that he didn’t know who Lazenby was until “someone told me that we had a broker whose father was the second James Bond.”
But despite outwardly idyllic appearances, Lazenby’s childhood was difficult.
When she was 11, her younger brother Zachary was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. After years of punishing illness, he died at age 19. Her parents, devastated by the long struggle, divorced almost immediately afterward.
From early on, Lazenby was “the stronger kid, the one who could take care of herself,” she recalled. As a result, she grew up “highly independent.”
“I did everything myself,” she said. “My parents didn’t have time to go and get a Christmas tree. If I wanted one, I had to go buy one and put it up.”
Meanwhile, a dyslexic Lazenby struggled academically. At boarding school at the all-girls Westover School in Connecticut, she spent much of her time on academic probation.
The problems went even deeper, however. Lazenby has a close bond with her mother, who is now remarried and living in Europe — in fact, she’s in the process of helping her find a New York City pied-à-terre. But the Bond actor was an alcoholic who beat and emotionally abused his wife and daughter, Lazenby told a Los Angeles Superior Court judge in 2008.
At the time, her father and his second-wife, onetime tennis star Pamela Shriver, were divorcing and battling for custody of their three young children. Lazenby and her mother agreed to testify on Shriver’s behalf. In court, Lazenby described both physical and verbal attacks from her father, and told the judge that she feared for the safety of her step-siblings, according to news reports from the time. (The actor denied the allegations.)
“I thought I was doing the right thing for these children,” Lazenby said of the painful episode. “It wasn’t a revenge thing. I care a lot about my dad, I love him. I think he’s a really incredible, unique person, but he’s also an artist and he has demons and flaws, and maybe he’s not the best person to be taking care of three toddlers.”
Lazenby said she never thought her statements would be made public. But detailed accounts of her testimony ended up “going everywhere” in the press, which was not only emotionally traumatic, but stressful from a professional standpoint.
It’s difficult to assess how much the coverage has impacted her career, she said.
“You never know, because people read things about you online and they don’t tell you that they’ve read it,” she said. “They don’t tell you, ‘I’m not going to look at apartments with you because I read this thing about you.’”
Lazenby said she’s had little contact with her father since the court case. But when contacted by The Real Deal, the actor, who now has joint-custody of his children, said through a spokesperson that he “wishes Melanie all the success in the world.”
For better or worse, Lazenby said her professional accomplishments stem in part from her struggles growing up. “If my childhood had been super easy,” she said, “I don’t think I would have been as driven to success as I’ve been.”
In particular, her academic difficulties made her “terrified of failure,” she said. “I didn’t think I was ever going to be great at anything, because I couldn’t succeed in school.”
So when she discovered a knack for real estate, she took it and ran.
“She wasn’t some super-scholar,” Lewis said. “She’s so beautiful that everyone kind of looks at her and says, ‘well, find your husband and be done with it.’ … The expectation of Melanie was not that she was going to be a self-sufficient, independent success. When she started to see it happening, she just said, ‘Oh my God, where can I take this?’”
As for a husband, Lazenby said she’s single, and that she’s too busy with work and friends to think much about it, though she allowed that her “type” is embodied by newscaster Brian Williams. “I just haven’t found the right guy,” she said.
In the meantime, “I have a lot to be grateful for,” said Lazenby, in her typically upbeat fashion. “I’m in great health, I have really nice friends, I live in a beautiful home, I do well at work.”
“You really can’t be defined by your past,” she added.