The Real Deal New York

Scoring an upset

Chiang bests Lenz in top agent survey

May 02, 2009
By Candace Taylor

Go to: Top Manhattan agents at biggest 15 firms

In a surprise upset, Corcoran’s Carrie Chiang beat out Prudential Douglas Elliman super broker Dolly Lenz in The Real Deal’s first top Manhattan agent survey, based on total dollar value of listings.

According to the survey, which ranked agents from the largest 15 firms, Lenz had 81 active exclusive listings to Chiang’s 67. However, Chiang, a senior vice president at Corcoran and director of the firm’s international division, has exclusives worth some $472.8 million, topping Lenz’s $426.7 million.

The survey data were collected in mid-April from active residential Manhattan listings, updated within the last 120 days, from the OLR listing portal.

Townhouse specialist Paula Del Nunzio, a senior vice president and managing director at Brown Harris Stevens, came in third, with 23 exclusives worth a total of $351.1 million, followed by Brown Harris Stevens’ John Burger and Serena Boardman of Sotheby’s.

While Chiang has a reputation as a wildly successful Manhattan broker and is Corcoran’s top earner, media darling Lenz, a vice chairman at Elliman, has long been widely considered the top broker not only in Manhattan but in the country.

Lenz — who has become a familiar figure as a TV real estate commentator and is featured in ads for BlackBerry — reportedly sold $748.32 million in 2006 and was named the country’s top broker by the Wall Street Journal in 2007.

But lately her luck has turned along with the fortunes of the real estate market.

In January, Lenz was fired from her post as head of the sales team at Manhattan House, a high-profile condo conversion at 200 East 66th Street at Third Avenue. At the time, only about 25 percent of the building’s 583 apartments were reported to have been sold.

In November 2008, she was replaced by Corcoran Sunshine at amenity-laden Miraval Living and in the fall of the previous year by colleague Raphael DeNiro at 55 Wall Street’s Cipriani Club Residences.

Chiang, meanwhile, quietly racked up half a billion dollars in sales in 2008 — the best year any broker has ever had at Corcoran, said Pamela Liebman, president and CEO of the company.

So far this year, Chiang said, she has sold $113 million worth of real estate, a figure that doesn’t include a $20 million deal she is in the midst of negotiating.

While Lenz’s flowing blond locks and Valentino suits are a ubiquitous feature on New York’s real estate scene, Chiang flies below the radar.

“I don’t need publicity,” said Chiang, who was a housewife in Brazil before becoming a real estate broker 22 years ago and is a competitive ballroom dancer in her free time. “I have enough of a Rolodex so that everybody knows me.”

Still, Chiang said she was proud to be named number one, especially in a difficult market like this one. “I think I deserve it,” she said. “It’s not just a number, it’s a solid achievement. It’s not easy to get that number.”

A Shanghai native who moved to Hong Kong when she was 11, Chiang spent years living in Brazil with her husband, who had a family business, and their children. When her husband died, she moved to New York, where she started working at a small real estate firm. She was “discovered” in 1988 when she took a New York University class taught by Barbara Corcoran, who then recruited Chiang to work for her.

Chiang, who is currently listing the former home of the Spence-Chapin Adoption Agency on 94th Street for $42 million, said she instantly took to sales. “I think I have a sense for deals,” she said.

Chiang is known for having a broad client base, ranging from international entrepreneurs to Wall Street titans, Liebman said.

“She has a vast clientele and a lot of repeat business,” Liebman added.

Dogged persistence is another trait that works in Chiang’s favor, her boss said.

“Some might say she’s relentless,” said Liebman. “She’s known for carrying two cell phones, and they’re always ringing. It’s not unusual for me to get seven calls a day from Carrie.”

Howard Lorber, chairman of Prudential Douglas Elliman, said he believes that if The Real Deal had calculated its tallies by closed sales volume rather than listings, Lenz would have come out on top, though he declined to disclose the dollar amount of real estate she has sold.

“You can’t pay your bills with listings, you pay your bills with commissions,” he said, adding that Lenz is “completely dedicated” to her craft and “works all the time.”

Lenz, who declined to comment for this story, “has been consistently number one,” said Dottie Herman, president and CEO of Elliman. “She’s a powerhouse.”

One factor that enables power brokers such as Lenz and Chiang to execute so many deals is that in contrast to more junior agents, they have administrative staffs to help them organize showings and complete paperwork. While Lenz does not technically have a “team,” she often takes on other brokers as partners, said Herman.

Chiang said she also does not have a formal team but gets assistance from two other brokers.

Del Nunzio has two assistants and often works with partners. Still, the job takes up “every moment of my time,” laughed the Brown Harris Stevens star, who has an unconventional background for a real estate broker.

After graduating from Vassar College with a bachelor of arts degree in literature, Del Nunzio went on to a successful 14-year career in advertising at firms like Ogilvy & Mather and Wells, Rich, Greene in Los Angeles.

Twenty years ago, she switched to real estate. “I always loved architecture,” she said. She found that trait came in handy as she focused on stately townhouses: “Architecture plays a very important role in distinguishing one from the other.”

Del Nunzio clearly knows what she’s talking about. Since 2007, she’s sold $570 million worth of real estate in just 35 townhouses — an average of more than $16 million a deal.

Of the eight largest residential townhouse sales in New York City, Del Nunzio has represented the sellers of six, including the record sale of the Harkness Mansion for $53 million in 2006.

And she’s not letting the recession slow her down. Del Nunzio recently represented the seller of an 8,100-square-foot townhouse at 42 West 12th Street, which closed for $15.08 million early last month. She also said she has a signed contract for a townhouse at 33 East 63rd Street listed at $17.5 million.

Her background in marketing, while always useful in real estate, is especially handy in the declining market, she said. “What has to be captured in the marketing are the distinctive characteristics of the property itself,” she said. “If you don’t catch the buyer by his heartstrings, you will not make a deal in this market.”

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