John Burger has had a good year. Not only did the Brown Harris Stevens broker earn the No. 1 spot on The Real Deal’s annual ranking of Manhattan’s top listing agents, he also more than doubled his dollar volume of listings from a year ago to $411.7 million.
That number sets a new bar for the ranking, which is based on dollar volume of active Manhattan residential listings, gathered from Online Residential in mid-June. (Scroll down to see the chart of Manhattan’s top agents (note: correction appended).)
Last year, the top agent, Brown Harris Stevens’s Paula Del Nunzio, had $358.4 million in listings. This year, she ranked No. 3, with $293.8 million. That tally includes an exclusive for the Woolworth Mansion at 4 East 80th Street, which has been included in Del Nunzio’s total since it was listed in March 2011 for $90 million.
Rounding out the top five are the Corcoran Group’s Carrie Chiang at No. 2 with $316.2 million in listings, Prudential Douglas Elliman’s Dolly Lenz at No. 4 with $255.1 million and Sotheby’s International Realty’s Serena Boardman at No. 5 with $198.9 million.
Collectively, the 75 agents with the highest dollar volume of listings had more than $6.34 billion worth of properties on the market, up 8 percent from last year’s total of about $5.96 billion.
Burger — who employs one full-time assistant but otherwise works alone — chalks up his success to the network of clients he has built over a 28-year career.
“Those people have fortunately come back to me over the years for all of their real estate needs and the needs of the next generation,” he told TRD during a phone interview from London, where he was attending a birthday party for a friend and client.
A Manhattan native, Burger was 22 years old when he obtained his real estate license, lured by the chance to work with both investment assets and people. “It’s sales and marketing, like many other forms of sales and marketing, but the end of the pipeline is somebody’s home, and that’s a very meaningful process to be involved in,” he said.
But this year has been a particularly successful one for Burger, thanks to eight-figure transactions like the $34.6 million sale of William Lie Zeckendorf’s co-op at 927 Fifth Avenue, and listings like a private investor’s full-floor co-op at 944 Fifth Avenue, priced at $50 million.
In addition, there are outside factors contributing to Burger’s — and other agents’ — jump in dollar volume of listings this year.
With the presidential election looming, homeowners may have a heightened sense of urgency to sell before new capital gains tax rates take effect, Burger said. He has also noted a “newfound confidence” in the Manhattan market.
Burger listed the unit at 944 Fifth, which comes with 70 feet of Central Park frontage and a separate guest apartment, on June 1. He declined to say whether the seller had received any offers since, but said interest in the home was “very strong.”
At another of Burger’s listings at 907 Fifth Avenue — a combination of three apartments that can be reconfigured back to architect J.E.R. Carpenter’s original 18-room layout — the seller bumped up the asking price to $29 million in May. It first went on the market for $25 million in January.
This year, several brokers are appearing in the top 10 for the first time, due in part to the presence of several extremely high-priced trophy properties on the market. Landing just one of these ultraexpensive listings can propel a broker into the top echelon of Manhattan listing agents.
Consider Noble Black, a former securities lawyer who joined Corcoran in 2005.
Black has never ranked on TRD’s top 75 list, but this year he is No. 7 with $135.1 million in listings. In January, he and Corcoran colleague Bonnie Pfeifer Evans listed songwriter Denise Rich’s penthouse at 785 Fifth Avenue for $65 million. (Evans, who frequently teams up with Black on listings, is a personal acquaintance of Rich’s.) Billed as the largest-ever penthouse offered on Fifth Avenue, the 20-room apartment is the third most expensive home on the market, according to StreetEasy.
Black is also listing a townhouse at 101 East 63rd Street — formerly the home of the late fashion designer Halston — for $38.5 million.
But despite a longstanding interest in real estate, Black almost didn’t join the profession: He was intimidated by staking his livelihood on commissions.
Then, while he was working at a law firm, the producers of “The Apprentice” approached the handsome young New Yorker about auditioning for the reality show. He didn’t get the part, but he did land a brief consulting gig with the production company. Then, instead of returning to his legal career, he reevaluated his professional life and decided to give real estate a shot.
That decision appears to be paying off: Black said he is now making more money than the partners at his ex-firm.
So would Black ever return to law? “Oh, God no,” he said.
Coming in one spot below, at No. 8, is real estate veteran Sharon Baum, director of Corcoran’s exclusive properties division, with $127.5 million in listings. Despite her long history in Manhattan real estate, Baum is making her first appearance on TRD’s top 10 list. (She did not appear on the 2011 ranking, and was No. 22 in 2010.)
Baum is one of four brokers sharing a $72 million co-exclusive listing at 828 Fifth Avenue. The spread is actually made up of three units: a duplex maisonette off the lobby; a triplex apartment spanning the second, third and fourth floors; and a penthouse on the sixth floor. The apartments previously belonged to the skyscraper developer Howard Ronson.
The other brokers on the listing include Corcoran’s Deborah Grubman and Leighton Candler, who occupy TRD’s
No. 11 and No. 22 spots, respectively, as well as Stribling & Associates broker
Alexa Lambert, who landed at No. 14.
“Do we like having it to ourselves better? Sure,” Baum said of sharing the listing with Stribling. “[But] we’re fine working with Alexa, because she’s terrific.”
Baum estimates that about 90 percent of her deals take place on Fifth Avenue, Park Avenue and Central Park West, plus the “great side streets” in the area. A former banking executive who was a member of the first Harvard Business School class to include women, Baum works with her younger brother, David Enloe, and three other team members.
Today’s market is unlike any other in her experience — not a seller’s market, not a buyer’s market and not quite a changing market either, Baum said.
“In a changing market, nobody’s right,” Baum said. “In today’s market, for the first time that I’ve ever seen it, I feel that everybody’s right.”
In other words, both buyers and sellers stand to benefit from market conditions, such as low interest rates, off-peak prices and a shortage of good properties.
To be sure, measuring brokers by dollar volume of listings — itself a moving target — does not give a complete picture of a broker’s abilities, since it eliminates important factors such as buyer’s side representation and closed deals — data that can’t be obtained in a comprehensive way presently.
The ranking also excludes certain properties, such as a $65 million townhouse at 7 West 54th Street, which is zoned commercial, noted Brown Harris Stevens’ Del Nunzio, who has the listing. Del Nunzio, a townhouse specialist, told TRD she got into real estate “through a love of architecture and its transformation of space and light.”
There are a number of other brokers this year with listings above $50 million.
Sotheby’s duo Elizabeth Sample and Brenda Powers have a $60 million listing at the Time Warner Center. After TRD collected the data, however, they took the property off the market for the slow summer months; the owner hopes to get a better price for the unit in September, Sample said.
“He is willing to wait for the market to catch up to where he wants to sell his apartment,” she added.
Sample and Powers are also listing a 4,825-square-foot unit at the Time Warner Center for $42.5 million.
All told, Sample and Powers had $162.9 million in listings, pushing them up to the No. 6 spot, a significant jump from their No. 19 position last year when they were still at Brown Harris Stevens. In 2010, they were No. 5.
Sample attributed their success in part to the strength of the luxury market.
“Just across the board, there are some record-breaking numbers — record-breaking dollars per square foot — and there is extremely limited inventory because there is such strong demand again,” she said.
Multiple ways to the top
Of course, marketing one or two trophy properties is not the only way to pull in hundreds of millions of dollars in listings.
Corcoran’s Chiang, for example, works on new developments as well as individual homes. Currently, she and her team are managing sales for the Cassa NY Hotel & Residences at 70 West 45th Street, where 39 units are on the market, ranging from about $951,000 to $20.3 million. (Chiang and Boardman, of Sotheby’s, both declined to be interviewed for this article.)
Chiang took over the marketing of Cassa from Ilan Bracha, founder of Keller Williams NYC, in February after Chinese firm HNA Property Holding Group acquired the building from an affiliate of Assa Properties.
Bracha is No. 18 on TRD’s ranking, with $100.4 million in listings.
Meanwhile, the Kleier team — made up of Michele Kleier and daughters Sabrina Kleier Morgenstern and Samantha Kleier Forbes — ranked No. 9 with 20 properties on the market. Their $127.5 million in listings range from a junior one-bedroom for $459,000 to a six-story mansion at 158 East 61st Street asking $13.5 million. The trio, which appears on HGTV’s “Selling New York,” debuted on the top 10 for the first time this year after coming in at No. 25 in 2011 and No. 51 in 2010.
Elliman’s Lenz seems to take a similarly diverse approach to listings.
Her exclusives include a three-bedroom unit at 15 Central Park West priced at $35 million — which Lenz called a “bargain” during an appearance on Bloomberg TV in the spring — and fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld’s three-bedroom apartment at 50 Gramercy Park North, now asking $4.95 million.
Ranked at No. 10 is Elliman’s Leonard Steinberg, who works closely with Hervé Senequier and seven other team members.
The Leonard Steinberg Group has a total of $127.3 million in listings, including the $11.5 million triplex penthouse and two other units at the Arman, an eight-unit condo building at 482 Greenwich Street where they are overseeing sales.
The group is also listing 54 East 81st Street, a 7,500-square-foot townhouse that is undergoing a gut renovation, available for $17.95 million.
“If you don’t have a product to sell, you have to create it,” said Steinberg, a former fashion designer. He realized long ago that he’d rather be involved in the conceptual stage of new developments, he said, rather than merely executing a developer’s vision.
In the next few months, Steinberg plans to start marketing 150 Charles Street, a 98-unit West Village condo conversion developed by the Witkoff Group.
Steinberg called the project the “most exciting” one he has ever worked on.
“It is shrouded in a veil of secrecy,” he said, “but when the veil is revealed, it will be beyond anything anyone’s ever expected downtown.”