Robby Browne, one of the city’s most celebrated residential agents, who was known as much for his exuberance as he was for closing high-profile deals, died Saturday.
Browne had been battling cancer for several years but recently contracted coronavirus, sources confirmed to The Real Deal.
An avid gardener and self-described raconteur who rode his bicycle to showings, Browne was a veteran agent who spent 18 years at the Corcoran Group. On Instagram, the firm called his loss heartbreaking.
“To know Robby was to love him. He was a light that shined brightly — not only at Corcoran but across our industry, and to all who had the opportunity to meet him,” the statement read. “As we grieve this immeasurable loss, our thoughts and love are with his family, friends, and all of those close to Robby Browne.”
Over a career that spanned more than three decades, he built a star-studded roster of clients including Hilary Swank, Uma Thurman and Jon Bon Jovi. In 2014, he sold billionaire Jon Stryker’s penthouse at 50 Central Park West for $42 million.
That deal and others earned him an arsenal of accolades through the decades — Corcoran’s deal of the year, broker of the year and top sales team of the year awards on multiple occasions. He sold $218 million worth of real estate in 2018, placing 25th on Real Trends’ broker ranking last year. Browne left Corcoran for Brown Harris Stevens in late 2014 but returned in the summer of 2015.
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Today is a difficult, heartbreaking day for our Corcoran family as we learn of the passing of our very own Robby Browne. To know Robby was to love him. He was a light that shined brightly — not only at Corcoran but across our industry, and to all who had the opportunity to meet him. As we grieve this immeasurable loss, our thoughts and love are with his family, friends, and all of those close to Robby Browne.
In 2007, the year he turned 60, he accepted Corcoran’s broker of the year award dressed in a woman’s bathing suit and dancing to the Village People’s “YMCA.”
“It was a release for me, a remembrance of people I lost and a lesson for those in the audience that they too can achieve great things by keeping a sense of humor, maintaining their dignity, and being honest and true to their own spirits,” he told Leaders magazine in 2016.
Born in Louisville, Kentucky, Browne moved north to attend Princeton University and Harvard Business School. (He later did a stint as a Harvard admissions officer.) Before real estate, he owned Browne-Ladd Tours, which took students to Europe. In 1984, Browne was on the organizing committee for the Los Angeles Olympics.
In many ways, he was a broker of another era. Rising through the ranks before StreetEasy became ubiquitous, he memorized floor plans, sold and resold some of the city’s best units and knew which lines could be merged in particular buildings. It was a skill he learned, in part, from his mother, who was a residential broker in the 1950s. “She used to babysit me at open houses and I would draw floor plans of how I thought homes should be designed,” he said.
In an industry full of sharp elbows, Browne earned a reputation for being trustworthy and fair. “He never played games,” said Chris Kann, who worked with Browne for 20 years and called him a father figure. Extremely social by nature, he had a knack for striking up conversations wherever he went. “Robby connected with people like nobody else,” Kann said.
Browne bought at least 22 properties himself over the years. In 1990, he paid $650,000 for a condo at the Century, at 25 Central Park West — the sister building of the Majestic co-op, several blocks north. “Condos were a new idea, and a co-op would never have accepted me because I didn’t have any money,” Browne told TRD in 2007. “But at least with a loan from a bank, I could live in a condo.”
By 2016, he owned several apartments at 15 Central Park West and 25 CPW, where he cultivated a rooftop garden, as well as a home in Bridgehampton.
At both 15 and 25 CPW, Browne rubbed shoulders with titans of industry in the elevator, some of whom became friends and clients. In 2015, he hosted a “pope watching” party from his balcony at 25 CPW.
Entertaining became one of his calling cards. One of Browne’s favorite stories to tell was about the time he invited former First Lady Nancy Reagan to lunch just after he’d had eye surgery, putting him in the awkward position of trying to fix sandwiches while wearing eye patches.
“You’re like, ‘What? Why is Nancy Reagan coming for lunch?’” recalled Jennifer Ireland, who worked on Browne’s team for 10 years. (She said Browne was friendly with Reagan’s daughter, Patti Davis, and he knew both women through their shared AIDS advocacy work.)
Openly gay, he supported groups like the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, where he sat on the board for many years. “Partly as a result of my brother’s death from AIDS in 1985, and the death of so many of my friends from AIDS, and the fear that I was going to die myself, I channeled my energy into Gay Men’s Health Crises, Act Up, God’s Love We Deliver, and many other causes,” he told Leaders magazine in 2016.
Browne isn’t the first Corcoran agent to die from the coronavirus. Marc J. Goodman, who worked out of the firm’s West Side Gallery office, died in late March. Outside the firm, Stanley Chera, the Crown Acquisitions founder who owned one of the city’s most prominent property portfolios, died on Saturday. Other industry players have contracted the coronavirus, including Silverstein Properties’ Marty Burger, Soho Properties’ Sharif El-Gamal and Nest Seekers International’s Eddie Shapiro, but most have recovered.
In a business rooted in trading one address for another, Browne was loyal to the Upper West Side. In 1997, he moved briefly to Chelsea before returning to 25 CPW.
“This is home,” Browne said. “I get to be myself and go to appointments on a bike. You can’t really be successful if you can’t be who you really are.”