The Real Deal New York

At the desk of: Scott Durkin

The Douglas Elliman president on dressage riding, buying fictional floor plans and giving up modern dance for real estate
By Kathryn Brenzel | April 01, 2018 01:00PM

Scott Durkin (Photos by Emily Assiran)

Scott Durkin, 56, joined Douglas Elliman in January 2016 as executive vice president of acquisitions and growth and was promoted to chief operating officer in October 2016. He moved up the chain again this past December when he took on the second title and role of president, assuming additional responsibilities from the firm’s CEO, Dottie Herman. In his current role, Durkin oversees the brokerage’s national expansion efforts, as well as marketing, recruitment and technology ventures — including Elliman’s new partnership with StreetEasyThe firm, headed by Howard Lorber and Herman, recorded $5.23 billion in closed sales in Manhattan last year, making it the second most active in the borough after Corcoran, according to a recent analysis by The Real Deal. Durkin’s office on the fourth floor of 575 Madison Avenue is covered with contemporary paintings and horse-themed items. He is an amateur dressage rider, a sport in which the horse and rider are expected to perform a series of movements from memory. Durkin owns a Friesian, which he shares with his trainer, and four Warmbloods, which spend their falls and winters in Wellington, Florida, and springs and summers in the Catskills. He visits the horses almost every other weekend regardless of where they are. Durkin said he rides for enjoyment but leaves competing, for the time being, to his trainer. He said dressage is “a cross between dance and ice skating.” The brokerage executive received a Bachelor of Fine Arts in modern dance from Adelphi University in 1985 and got his start in real estate after realizing that a career in the ultra-competitive performing art wasn’t for him. After college, Durkin worked as a manager at the Pierre Hotel on East 61st Street, when it was still managed by the Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, for seven years before joining the Corcoran Group in 1991. A self-described protégé of Barbara Corcoran, he rose through the ranks during his 25 years at the company, eventually becoming COO. He still dons a Rolex watch that his mentor gave him when she sold the company to NRT in 2001. Durkin, whose father and mother worked as undersheriff and deputy of Washington County, respectively, grew up in the Adirondacks and worked at a dairy farm right by his home. As a result, he said, he doesn’t like to spend too much time away from the outdoors. He and his husband, Dave, divide their time between West Chelsea and a weekend home in the Catskills. But even when Durkin’s visiting his horses on the weekends in Florida, he’s working. Elliman has an equestrian division in Wellington, so Durkin uses those trips as an opportunity to meet with the 10-person team there.

Jane Fine painting

Durkin said he wanted to be an actor growing up but felt he lacked the necessary confidence to pursue that ambition. So, when Aldephi offered him a dance scholarship, he leapt at the chance. In 1993, the upstate native bought a Jane Fine painting that he feels reflects his experience when he first moved to the city. “It represents everything about living in New York and starting your career and trying to make everything work in this crazy city,” he said. “Stepping in puddles and getting everything all over you — being a survivor of it and finding the beauty in it.”

Horse pen

Durkin’s late mother-in-law gave him this brown Oldenburg horse pen as a stocking gift two Christmases ago. It reminds him of her, he said, as well as his own horses. He first got into dressage after seeing five black stallions at the Hampton Classic Horse Show a decade ago. Durkin said he was captivated by their docility and decided to buy his own horse. When choosing a riding discipline, he settled on dressage because he thought his modern dance background suited the riding form. “It seemed fitting for me to go into dressage, which is a cross between dance and ice skating,” he noted. “It’s very geometric; everything’s a pattern.”

New York pillow

This past summer, Elliman acquired Beverly Hills-based Teles Properties, a luxury real estate firm that claimed $3.4 billion in revenue last year. Durkin met with two of the company’s agents, Heather Roy and Learka Bosnak, during the acquisition, and they later sent him the Jonathan Adler needlepoint pillow with a yellow cab on it as a thank you. “They didn’t have to welcome us. We were buying their company,” he said. “I just thought it was the perfect gift.”

“Bewitched” floor plan

In 1989, Durkin purchased a blueprint of the fictional home of Darrin and Samantha Stephens from the television show “Bewitched.” The artist, Mark Bennett, is a Los Angeles-based postal worker who drew the floor plans for other beloved sitcoms, including “I Love Lucy,” “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” “The Brady Bunch” and “The Dick Van Dyke Show.”  “I was a child of the ’70s, and this was my show,” Durkin said of “Bewitched.” The floor plan also connects with his “passion for real estate,” he noted.

Turquoise bracelet

For centuries, turquoise has been regarded as an amulet of sorts to protect horseback riders falling from their saddles. The stone has been connected to horses since the 14th century, when Eastern European riders believed it prevented the animals from getting sick, according to evolutionary biologist Lance Grande and others. With this in mind, Durkin’s husband gave him this bracelet, made out of turquoise stones, from Barneys New York for his 55th birthday. “Knock on wood, it’s worked so far,” Durkin said. 

Dog bone

Durkin and his husband adopted a yellow Labrador and pit bull mix from a kill shelter in Harlem in January 2005. The 13-year-old dog died from cancer and Cushing’s disease last Memorial Day, but Durkin now keeps the canine’s favorite antler bone in the office. After Luke passed away, Durkin and his husband found where he’d last buried the bone: in a hayfield in front of their country house in the Catskills.