Karen Heyman and Alan Heyman, Sotheby’s International RealtyThe business of selling Brooklyn real estate has changed drastically in recent years. When Brooklyn native Karen Heyman first started selling Dumbo lofts in the 1990s, Manhattan residents refused to take the subway there. “I used to have to send my driver over the bridge to pick people up,” recalled Heyman, now a senior vice president at Sotheby’s International Realty. Today, “those same people are now on their third or fourth Dumbo apartment.”
Brooklyn brokers have seen their business (and wallets) expand exponentially over the past decade, as a trickle, and then a flood, of resettling Manhattanites ventured across the East River. In particular, agents have benefited hugely from the condo boom of the mid–2000s, which greatly upped Brooklyn sales prices (downturn notwithstanding).
For example, the priciest listing currently on the market in Brooklyn is a $23.5 million triplex penthouse in the ClockTower Building, a former cardboard factory converted to condos by developer David Walentas; a penthouse at Richard Meier-designed On Prospect Park is priced at $5.1 million.
Meanwhile, large Manhattan brokerages have infiltrated a borough once dominated by small mom-and-pop firms.
Despite these changes, there’s still little reliable data about Brooklyn’s real estate companies, or their salespeople. Last year, Brooklyn’s last two remaining multiple listing services — the Brooklyn New York MLS and the smaller Brooklyn MLS –officially merged. The new system, known as the Brooklyn New York MLS, has a membership of nearly 3,000 agents. But large Manhattan firms like the Corcoran Group and Prudential Douglas Elliman do not participate, because they belong to the larger, Manhattan-based Real Estate Board of New York.
Despite the scarcity of reliable information, The Real Deal has decided to go where no publication has gone before: a ranking of Brooklyn’s top real estate brokers. In the May issue, we ranked the largest Brooklyn firms by number of agents and listings volume. Just as in Manhattan, data about Brooklyn brokers’ closed sales is not publicly available. Instead, looked at which brokers were marketing the most property at press time, with the help of the real estate listings database On-Line Residential. Using this information, we compiled a list of the 25 residential brokers who are currently selling the most Brooklyn real estate. Below is a glimpse at the top 10.
No. 1: Karen Heyman and Alan Heyman, Sotheby’s International Realty
This brother-sister team is marketing some 19 Brooklyn properties worth nearly $60 million, including several multi–million dollar apartments at the ClockTower.
Yet it’s somewhat ironic that the duo is the borough’s top-ranked team, since Sotheby’s doesn’t have a Brooklyn office. Instead, the Heymans — who grew up in Brooklyn — work out of the firm’s 379 West Broadway office in Manhattan, though about 70 percent of their deals are done in Brooklyn.
The reason, Karen Heyman explained, is that when she started selling real estate in 1993, the Brooklyn market was far less pricey. So despite her Brooklyn roots, she worked in Manhattan.
Then one day, she was representing the seller of a loft in Hell’s Kitchen with stunning views of the Hudson River. The only way he would sell, she recalled, was if she found him a new apartment with a comparable view.
She’d heard about a new condo known as the ClockTower opening in the then–rough neighborhood of Dumbo, so she took her client there. “We walked around the neighborhood — well, there was no neighborhood — but he thought it was totally cool,” she said. She ended up selling him the apartment, and another one in the ClockTower, the first day sales at the building officially started.
Heyman’s Brooklyn business “blossomed after that,” she said. In 2004, her brother Alan joined her in the business, and four years later, they sold the 14th-floor penthouse at the ClockTower for $7 million, setting a record for Brooklyn’s most expensive condo sale.
Currently, they’re also marketing the borough’s most expensive townhouse: 70 Willow Street, the five-story Greek Revival in Brooklyn Heights where Truman Capote once lived. The 9,000-square-foot house is on the market for $15.9 million, or more than $1,700 per square foot.
Of course, the Heymans still make time for some Manhattan business. For example, their listing at 299 West 12th Street recently sold to actress Jennifer Aniston (though Heyman said she can’t comment on that deal).
No. 2: Mordechai Werde and Michael Ettelson, Prudential Douglas Elliman
Mordechai “Mordy” Werde and Michael Ettelson got their start in new developments working for developer Shaya Boymelgreen, who built more than 2,400 apartments in Brooklyn and Manhattan during the boom.
“We did most of [Boymelgreen’s] sales in Brooklyn,” recalled Ettelson, who said he and Werde are partners who share all of their listings.
That helped them get work on other new projects. “It definitely gets your foot in the door for meetings with other developers,” Ettelson said.
Of course, the Boymelgreen association could have the opposite effect now that his real estate empire is in tatters amid some 30 lawsuits filed against him. But the duo says their relationship with the embattled developer hasn’t hurt them.
“I don’t know too many developers who [didn’t] have problems” during the downturn, Ettelson noted. Besides, he added, “there were a lot of other brokers repping his deals.”
Currently, Werde and Ettelson, who both live in Crown Heights, have listings for more than 50 Brooklyn homes worth nearly $43 million. That includes the 250-unit condo conversion BellTel Lofts in Downtown Brooklyn. The duo took over the project a year ago from Manhattan super-broker
Ilan Bracha. Developer JJ Bistricer of Clipper Equity said at the time that the project needed a Brooklyn–based team of agents.
BellTel is now just over 60 percent sold, Ettelson said, with another 30 units rented out. The team is also marketing 33-unit 109 Gold Street in Vinegar Hill, and has at least three new Brooklyn developments set to hit the market in the next year.
No. 3: Albert Wilk, Wilk Real Estate
Albert Wilk, the founder of Wilk Real Estate, arrived in Midwood, Brooklyn, from Israel in the 1980s, when he was 22. Three years later, the Russian-born Wilk (pronounced ‘Vilk’) had started selling real estate for Fillmore, the borough’s largest brokerage. By 1987, he’d opened his own company.
Today, Wilk Real Estate, based at 626 Avenue U, has 30 agents and roughly $80 million worth of listings, many of them in Canarsie, Gravesend, Sheepshead Bay, Bensonhurst, Brighton Beach and Coney Island. Wilk himself is the listing broker on nearly 60 of those properties, he said, though his agents help with showings. His claim to fame is that “in Brooklyn, I can look at any apartment, any house, and within $20,000 I can tell you for how much it’s going to sell,” he said.
His company also works in Staten Island, but doesn’t specialize in that market. In fact, Wilk opened a Staten Island office during the real estate boom, but closed it around a year ago. “It didn’t work out,” he said.
No. 4: Leslie Marshall and James Cornell, the Corcoran Group
Leslie Marshall wasn’t always a real estate broker. Now a senior vice president at Corcoran, she started out as a criminal defense attorney. But after 10 years of working at the Legal Aid Society, she decided to make a career change. She took a job at Brooklyn Landmark Realty, which later merged with the
Now, “I’m doing what I love,” said Marshall, who with partner James Cornell is marketing more than 45 Brooklyn homes worth $30.6 million.
Cornell, meanwhile, is a longtime industry veteran who worked for two decades at the venerable Park Slope firm Warren Lewis Realty before joining Corcoran.
The two decided to team up around five years ago, after doing a few deals together. “We sensed that we worked the same way,” Marshall said.
Marshall and Cornell handle all kinds of properties, from a 5,800-square-foot townhouse at 69 Willow Street in Brooklyn Heights, priced at $5.75 million, to the 44-unit Carroll Gardens condo conversion Third + Bond. “Wherever the business takes us, we go,” Marshall said.
No. 5: Cheryl Nielsen-Saaf, the Corcoran Group
Real estate is “in my blood,” said Cheryl Nielsen-Saaf, a senior vice president in Corcoran’s Brooklyn Heights office. In her native Chicago, her grandfather was a developer, her mother an interior designer, and her father the head of a construction company.
So when Nielsen-Saaf moved to New York City after college, selling real estate felt “natural,” she said.
At first, she focused on the Upper West Side. Then, one snowy day, she went to look at an apartment in Brooklyn Heights, and immediately decided to move there.
“I felt like I had discovered some piece of heaven,” she recalled.
That was 26 years ago; she’s been selling Brooklyn real estate ever since. Currently, she has 15 Brooklyn listings worth nearly $30 million, but she is best known as the broker heading up the sales team
at Richard Meier’s On Prospect Park, one of the highest-profile new developments in Brooklyn. Nielsen-Saaf got the gig because she’d worked with the developer, SDS Procida, on several other projects, including 149-unit be@Clinton at 516 West 47th Street in Manhattan, which she sold out in only eight days in 2006.
Of course, that was before the downturn. Despite its starchitecture pedigree, On Prospect Park has sold slowly in the recession. Still, 75 percent of the project — including two penthouses — is now sold and occupied, Nielsen-Saaf said.
Three penthouses currently on the market are listed at $2.75 million, $4.9 million and a whopping $5.1 million — pricing some say is too ambitious for the building’s location on the border of Park Slope and Prospect Heights.
“I can understand people saying that because they’re not used to seeing those numbers,” Nielsen-Saaf said. But she said that the price per square foot — around $1,400 — is comparable with other sales in the area.
No. 6: Frank Castelluccio and Aaron Lemma, the Corcoran Group
New development specialists Frank Castelluccio and Aaron Lemma, who call themselves the CastLe Group, have worked together for three years. Based out of Corcoran’s Brooklyn Heights office, they are listing 31 Brooklyn homes worth $27.8 million.
Recently, they’ve been recruited to jumpstart sales at several previously troubled projects. For example, the two were brought in last spring to re-start sales at stalled condo be@Schermerhorn in Downtown Brooklyn, where construction delays had forced the developers to let the original buyers out of their contracts. With prices cut, 245 of the building’s 246 units have now been sold, Lemma said.
The CastLe Group was also hired to take over sales at
Clermont Greene in Fort Greene, which had originally been a Prudential Douglas Elliman project. Twenty months later, that project is 75 percent sold, Lemma said.
Now, the two are shifting their attention to two new projects, both of which hit the market last month, Lemma said. One, 233 Pacific Street, is a new 30-unit condo with a projected sell-out of $37 million. In addition, 75 Clinton Street is a 74-unit condo in Brooklyn Heights with a projected sellout of $64 million.
No. 7: Joyce Kafati–Batarse, Prudential Douglas Elliman
When Joyce Kafati-Batarse started working at Corcoran in 2003, she was quickly drawn to new developments. Specifically, this self-described “data nerd” was fascinated with finding out which units sold the fastest and garnered the highest prices.
“I have always been curious as to why things worked and why they didn’t, what people wanted and what they did not want,” Kafati-Batarse said. She started purchasing condo offering plans, and hired a team of people to help her enter the numbers into her own database. This growing stockpile of information gave her a leg up when it came to selling new developments, allowing her to unload properties faster than other brokers.
“We essentially built a reputation on selling in the shortest amount of time,” she said.
As the condo boom accelerated, Kafati-Batarse was recruited by Corcoran Group Marketing, the company’s new development division, which later became Corcoran Sunshine. In 2007, she moved to Elliman, where she is now an executive vice president. With her team of seven agents, project managers and researchers, she currently has 42 active residential listings in Brooklyn worth $24.4 million.
That includes 500 Fourth Avenue, a full-service new condo on the border of Park Slope and Gowanus. Kafati-Batarse said the building closed 65 units in 2010 and an additional 24 units in the first quarter of 2011, and has another 20 units in contract, leaving the project about 70 percent sold.
Another one of her projects, the Pencil Factory in Greenpoint, is now nearly sold out after a year on the market, with only five of 93 units unsold, she said.
No. 8: Jessica Buchman, the Corcoran Group
When Jessica Buchman first moved to Park Slope, she was a new mom focused on staying at home with her daughter. But when she decided to become a real estate agent several years later, she drew on her sales background as a fashion buyer at Barneys.
“I found the transition quite easy,” recalled Buchman, who started at Corcoran six years ago.
Of course, there was hard work involved. Buchman worked “seven days a week for three years” to get her business off the ground. It paid off: She’s been named the top broker in Corcoran’s Seventh Avenue office in Park Slope for the last four years straight.
But she has ventured outside of Brooklyn. In fact, her first year on the job she sold a $6 million house at 763 Greenwich Street in the West Village to a developer in a direct deal. The developer then converted the house into “an incredible two-family residence,” Buchman recalled. It was later purchased by actor Kiefer Sutherland in 2008 for $8.25 million, according to public records.
Buchman currently has 25 listings worth $23.7 million in Brooklyn, and like most top Brooklyn brokers, she sells both new development and resales. For example, she’s currently listing a townhouse at 409 Eighth Street in Park Slope for $2.99 million, as well as handling sales at the 21-unit Harbor Hill Condominium on 15th Street.
No. 9: The Kleiers, Gumley Haft Kleier
Big-time Manhattan broker Michele Kleier and her two daughters, Samantha Kleier Forbes and Sabrina Kleier Morgenstern, usually work on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. So it was a bit surprising when, in April, they began marketing Brooklyn’s priciest listing: David Walentas’s legendary triplex in the ClockTower Building. Walentas, who converted the ClockTower into condos in 1998, later struck a deal with the condo board to create a 16th-floor penthouse in a tower atop the building. The resulting apartment first hit the market for $25 million in 2009 with Raphael De Niro (another top broker who works mostly in Manhattan), and has been on and off the market since then.
However, the Kleiers have recently shot to fame, thanks to starring on the HGTV show “Selling New York.” So when Walentas put the ClockTower triplex back on the market after a hiatus last year, he was likely hoping their star power would help sell the apartment, which is now listed at $23.5 million.
No. 10: Deborah Rieders, the Corcoran Group
Deborah Rieders, who has lived in a townhouse in Boerum Hill for 19 years, is a former landscape and architecture photographer. Using this artistic background, she personally “art-directs” the marketing of each of her listings, she said.
Rieders takes so much pride in the presentation of her listings, she said, that to her, “the best compliment is, ‘it looked better online.’”
Her aesthetic sense appears to translate into dollar signs for her sellers. She’s currently marketing 40 Brooklyn listings worth $23 million, and she said she recently sold a townhouse at 421 12th Street in Park Slope for an impressive $900 per square foot. She also recently finished the sellout of 44-unit Park Slope condo C–560.