Day in the life of: David Schlamm

One of the city’s first adopters of the “100 percent commission” model on six-figure losses, meditation and being a Dead Head

Jul.July 01, 2019 10:00 AM

David Schlamm (Photo by Axel Dupeux)

The head of City Connections Realty has no regrets. David Schlamm, 61, has made a few mistakes, but they’ve made him a more confident decision-maker. In 2004, his boutique brokerage was one of the first in New York City to adopt a high-split “100 percent commission model.” The move made waves in a market where larger, better-known brokerages maintained lower splits in the name of building their brand. The best split today at City Connections is 95 percent — a change that Schlamm made after a broker sold a $32 million townhouse and the firm “didn’t make a dime” off the deal, he recalled. “Let me have a little taste, like ‘The Godfather,’ right?” Schlamm joked.

Rocking the boat, however, is no longer Schlamm’s style. City Connections, now celebrating its 30th anniversary, merged two years ago with Arik Lifshitz’s DSA Realty and the combined firm now has roughly 100 agents in the multifamily arena, where it handles exclusive rental agreements for about 300 buildings. The understated focus is intentional and comfortable to Schlamm. “It is challenging out there, but sometimes it’s O.K. to stay still and watch,” he said. “It’s important to stay proactive so long as you stay focused on your core business and not gravitate to the shiny new penny.”

From Schlamm’s experience, such a strategy rarely works. He has shuttered several satellite offices. A regional center to raise funds through the federal EB-5 investor visa program was closed by Schlamm in April 2017 after less than two years in operation. “It was the biggest mistake in that it distracted me from my main business,” he said. “Another shiny penny that was a six-figure loss.”

Schlamm even dabbled in product design and manufacturing after his wife, Jill, invented a series of stroller weights to prevent baby carriages from tipping over. While he said the weights ended up being a “niche product that was only good for Manhattan and another six-figure loss,” a set sits on a shelf in his office at 71 West 23rd Street, which is decorated with family photos and Grateful Dead paraphernalia. Schlamm now enjoys “playing air guitar” with his favorite Dead Head cover band and boating upstate on the Hudson River in Kingston. He lives with Jill and their 13-year-old Goldendoodle, Oliver, on the Upper West Side.

6:30 a.m. I naturally wake up. No alarm clock. Oliver is sleeping by my feet, so I usually pat Jill’s side of the bed because she’s already up and at SoulCycle by 6 a.m. She’s crazy. Oliver will come where her head was, lay down, and I’ll pet him. That’s how I get my good energy.

7:00 a.m. I’m a big coffee drinker. I go to the kitchen, pour myself a cup and sit on my living room couch. I have the news on, usually CNBC or CNN, and that’s when I start working. I answer all emails that came in since I go to sleep early. I also text my 22- and 25-year-old daughters to check-in. Sometimes I take Oliver for a walk. One morning a week I have a personal trainer come to my building’s gym. For breakfast, I cook myself an omelet with spinach or cheese in it, or both. [After that’s done] I take the 1 train to work.

9:30 a.m. I walk around the office and greet everybody. Part of my job is to help people, to motivate and be a cheerleader. If they’re working on deals, I [usually know] what they’re working on. We’re 50 percent rentals, 40 percent sales and 10 percent commercial. On the sales deals, everybody likes to feel loved and wanted.

11:30 a.m. I go out with my long-time exclusive landlords that I have portfolios with, such as J.R. Equities’ Steve Rosenthal and Rod Feldman of Tri-Star Equities. They, along with other landlords I do business with, have become personal friends for over 25 years. We don’t even have to talk about business. I also get together with those who own companies or are CEOs, like Citi Habitats’ Gary Malin. It’s not a competitive situation. I don’t have a master’s degree or MBA from Wharton or anything like that, so I meet with smart people, and we bounce ideas off of each other.

12:15 p.m. When I have extra time, I go to a meditation center on 24th Street called Kadampa Meditation Center. You sit for a half hour in a room, and there’s an instructor. He talks for a little bit, and we try to put the mind at rest. There are a couple things I do that make me happy — when I’m at a concert, on my boat, dancing and playing the air guitar — and sometimes I get that here.

1:00 p.m. I oversee some portfolios of rental exclusives. I’m also the sales manager, so if there are any sales questions or problems, that’s my thing. I don’t pick up the phone and try to recruit people. It feels wrong to me. But I should. Every real estate book I read says recruiting should always be a priority and done all the time. I’m guilty, I don’t.

2:00 p.m. Most of my afternoons involve walking around. I do that at least five, six times a day to see people in the office. We have about 50 here and 50 working virtually. A lot of my time is spent reaching out to people who I haven’t seen in a while.

3:00 p.m. The market is harder now for sales brokers to make a living, and it brings out bad behavior. We’ve had companies where we have written exclusives, and some companies are aggressive and will call the seller and try to get it. I will [often] call up a sales manager and say, ‘Hey, what’s going on?’ There’s never a huge problem. We basically try to do the right thing.

5:00 p.m. I’m always thinking of ways to make the company better. We just got a new website and have a new social media person. I try to do company events that are fun with speakers or something interesting. I tried stress reduction and meditation once a month, but the turnout wasn’t huge, so I dropped it. I used to say, ‘Why don’t they come?’ but I don’t anymore. This is a business where you eat what you kill, so what are you going to do? Meditate or show a $3 million apartment where you can make a $100,000 commission? I think the latter.

6:00 p.m. I leave, though sometimes it’s an hour later. I come in a little late and leave a little late. Until two years ago, I drove in everyday from Franklin Lakes, New Jersey. It was an average of two hours and 40 minutes back and forth out of my day. I would leave after rush hour. It’s a habit even now, coming up on two years in Manhattan.

7:00 p.m. Jill and I order in or eat out. Then I’m working and checking emails. I’m addicted to getting back to people right away — it’s important. I’ll also take Oliver for a walk around the block or, now that it’s spring, a loop around Central Park’s upper reservoir.

8:30 p.m. I love [Showtime’s] “Ray Donovan” and “Billions,” examples of pure greed, money, power and what people will do to get what they want. You should hate all the characters. They kill and screw people over. But somehow we’re fascinated — or I am.

11:00 p.m. I go to bed.

Related Articles

Billionaires rule the world, NYC real estate edition

Billionaires rule the world, NYC real estate edition

Blackstone's Stephen Schwarzman and Richard LeFrak 

NYC’s top rent-stabilized apartment owners

Billionaires rule the world, NYC real estate edition

Billionaires rule the world, NYC real estate edition

Blackstone's Stephen Schwarzman and Richard LeFrak 

NYC’s top rent-stabilized apartment owners

The Real Deal's July 2019 issue

The Real Deal’s July issue is now available to all subscribers!