Q&A: Risky Listing’s Alex Picken on being a TV broker

Reality star talks interoffice drama and watching the “so-called beautiful people”

TRD New York /
Nov.November 12, 2013 03:57 PM

Alex Picken, owner and founder of Picken Real Estate, is the anchor of Esquire Network’s new reality show “Risky Listing,” which plans to shine a spotlight on the sales and leasing of New York City’s trendiest nightspots. The show premieres November 19.

Picken has been in the real estate industry since 1988, specializing in brokering deals for restaurants, bars and nightclubs for most of those years. In that time he has brokered close to 1 million square feet of hospitality space, he said, counting spots like the eight-floor dance palace Tunnel Mike Club at 220 12th Avenue and Copacabana’s new spot across from the Javits Center among his notable deals.

The Real Deal sat down with Picken to get the goods on the new show, his business and reality TV’s foray into commercial real estate.

What can we expect to see on “Risky Listing”?
You’re going to see the workings of our office, everything from our morning staff meetings to showings and inspections of spaces. You’ll see brokers on the phone with clients and customers, landlords and prospects. You’ll see them taking prospects to individual spaces, negotiating leases or sales. Quite often they’ll come to me and ask for help closing the deal, so you’ll also see me get involved, especially towards the endpoint of a transaction.

What do you think makes your cast of brokers – Danielle Lacko, Michael Sottile, Jason Lewis and Hazm Aliessa – compelling to watch?
They all have some real good charisma going for them, which is part of what it takes to sell, and that works for the show as well as in real life. They each have their own styles, and there is some drama, which is natural when it comes to interoffice competition on, say, an exclusive.

How many exclusives do you deal with, and on what types of properties?
Generally we carry about 50 or so exclusives at any given time. The focus is on exclusives, and our specialty is nightlife hospitality-oriented, which would include bars, lounges, restaurants, and certainly nightclubs. We also do hotel consultation.

What are some of the unique challenges of these kinds of transactions, compared to more traditional commercial or retail leases and sales?
In the past, I brokered offices in building sales for other companies and “dry” retail. What we do is a much larger challenge because not only does it entail understanding those requirements, but there are unique physical and legal requirements for “wet” uses. You may have to put stacks in for venting a kitchen, say, and it’s critical to have contacts, know about codes, liquor licenses, community boards and zoning. The real challenge is to try to gain support from the community board for a liquor license, where they’re not trying to stipulate hours. When I started back in the ’80s the community board’s role was purely advisory to the state liquor authority, but nowadays they have a substantial voice.

So far, popular real estate reality shows such as “Million Dollar Listing” and “House Hunters” have focused on residential real estate. Why do you think we’re now starting to see a shift to commercial?
Commercial and retail can be very lucrative for the operators and landlords, and of course for the brokers. And then you get to see the agents behind the scenes getting the deals done, difficult as they are. It’s also exciting to see the conception of it, what the places look like, seeing the agents and myself putting the deals together and seeing the venues open to the public, with the so-called beautiful people coming onto the scene.

There’s been some controversy in the residential world about shows like MDLNY, with some firms banning their brokers from participating, saying such shows reflect poorly on the industry or are bad for business. What are your thoughts on that?
From what I understand, some of these reality shows in residential have been caught doing bait and switch, advertising an apartment that’s not really for sale. We’ve never done that and never will. Even though a number of listings say “name withheld,” they’re all signed exclusives with the files to back that up.

As far as what someone will say or do on air, there’s always a risk. But I feel good about the people who work for me. They have good hearts, they work hard, and believe me when I tell you that I spend maybe 70 percent of my day double checking them, watching them, reading cc’s of their email, talking to them to make sure they’re on track. And Esquire’s been wonderful the way that they’ve been working with us trying not to interrupt our work but just be able to reflect it and show what a typical day is like.

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