Day in the life of: Frances Katzen

The Douglas Elliman broker on “multitasking like an octopus,” balancing motherhood and business and making the perfect boiled egg

Nov.November 01, 2019 12:00 PM

Frances Katzen (Photo by Emily Assiran)

Douglas Elliman powerhouse agent Frances Katzen, 44, runs a 10-person team of luxury brokers that has closed $2.5 billion in total sales and sold more than $250 million annually since 2010. Her team also produces the Katzen Report, a monthly newsletter that covers trends and data in New York City real estate. Katzen was born in Cape Town, but when she was five, her family left South Africa due to the apartheid regime, and her father took them to Sydney, Australia. Katzen moved to New York when she was 15 to study at the School of American Ballet. She joined American Ballet Theatre at 21, danced with the Miami City Ballet and performed as a soloist with the Suzanne Farrell Ballet in Washington, D.C. When a major foot injury forced her to stop dancing in 2005, Katzen turned to real estate. She worked at Corcoran for less than a year and moved over to Elliman, where she built her team. Katzen is marketing sales at 108 Leonard, Don Peebles’ 167-unit luxury condo development with a projected sellout of $640 million, which she’s co-listing with Elliman’s Raphael De Niro. She is also working with architect and designer Isay Weinfeld on his first New York residential project, on the High Line, and marketing sales at the Charles, 1355 First Avenue, Bluerock and Victor Homes’ 31-story condo tower with interiors by the late British designer David Collins. Katzen has two children: a six-year-old daughter, Freya, and a nine-month-old son, Oliver. She and her family live in a co-op on the Upper West Side.

6:00 a.m. I wake up and respond to emails while warming up a bottle to feed my baby, Oliver. He’s a beautiful, sweet, funny, kind little soul. Then I get my other little one, Freya, dressed. I’m Australian, so I don’t do cereal. I do a soft-boiled egg — that’s a skill. I get the pot boiling hot first, then I pop it in for probably four minutes. Freya likes to take the toast and dip. Sometimes she wants pancakes, so I make the mixture the night before. It’s fast and furious.

6:45 a.m. My husband or I will take Freya to school at Nightingale-Bamford. It’s such a privilege to be a mother. I just don’t agree that you either have to give up your career and be a full-time mom, or be a total narcissist and fuck up your kids. I may not be able to bake the brownies, but I can sure pick up a really nice set. I’m not going to apologize for it. I want my children to know women work.

7:15 a.m. I’m trying to get back in shape. I take ballet three times a week at Steps studio at 74th and Broadway. I see other ex-dancers and we laugh. I don’t enjoy it, but I have to do it. It’s like breathing. If you don’t do it, your body hurts more. I also have a trainer — very American of me.

8:15 a.m. I have a standing call with Elliman’s chairman, Howard Lorber. I will talk to him about what’s going on in the markets, and we’ll catch up on what’s going on with our developments. I always provoke him by asking questions. I’ll touch base with him about future business and ask: “If you were me, would you do it like this, or would you do it like that?”

9:00 a.m. I call Elizabeth Mordecai, my executive assistant, every day when she starts. She’s my better half who runs the team’s day-to-day operations. She’s my therapist and she’s my friend. Without her, I probably wouldn’t function. It’s such an intense business and I’m such a bossy-boots. I need someone who can handle that.

9:45 a.m. I have a marketing meeting once a week. People are busy complaining it’s been so shit and shit and shit … We’ve found people are bidding above the ask. If things are priced well, they’ll move.

10:00 a.m. I have a team meeting with all 10 agents I manage. We talk about everything — what’s working, what’s not working. It’s a very lonely business, and I need a good laugh. I also need to be able to delegate. As the business grows, I take one of the agents I think will be a good fit with a client, and we go and meet them at the property or sales gallery. There’s never a lackey running around with a key, and there’s never the feeling of, “Oh [Katzen’s] too big for me.”

11:45 a.m. I’m typically in a car on my way to several back-to-back pitches, showings or photo shoots. The car is one of the best places for me to negotiate a transaction. I’m isolated and locked in.

1:00 p.m. Every Monday, I have a meeting for 108 Leonard. I also have other new development meetings where we hammer out where we are with the sales, pricing, modifications on floor plans, rendering updates. And in between, I’m negotiating and taking people’s phone calls. It’s called multitasking like an octopus. The juggle is real.

3:00 p.m. For lunch I might have a salad at my desk. In New York, lunch is never enjoyable. It’s always on the clock.

6:30 p.m. I’m about to complete and sign off on a deal for a buyer at Extell’s One57. It’s a four-bedroom, four-and-a-half bathroom asking $17.5 million. Sometimes I have a pitch at 7 o’clock, and then at 8 o’clock I do a walk-through. It’s that constant balancing act. I put my baby, Oliver, to sleep at 6:30, and my six-year-old, Freya, goes to bed at 7:30.

8:00 p.m. I am working with our international partner Knight Frank on lots of referral business in Australia. The market is booming there, so sometimes I do a couple phone calls with clients in Australia and get them to give me a full diatribe. It’s morning for them.

9:30 p.m. After I put my kids to bed, I sometimes go out again and make an appearance at a launch party for one of my new developments to chat with sponsors, as well as some high-net-worth clients and power brokers.

11:30 p.m. On Friday nights, we leave the city when the traffic dies down. We drive to our place in the Hamptons. I’m an Australian, and I love the beach. Otherwise, after a 15-hour day, sometimes I just lie down and don’t do anything. No television, nothing. Then I fall into bed.


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