Editor’s note: The Way We Live Now

Oct.October 05, 2021 07:00 AM

Stuart Elliott

There are two types of people in this world: those who have enough money, and those who never have enough (even if they’ve got billions). 

If you are reading The Real Deal, you almost certainly fall in the second category and are probably thinking about that big commission check, property sale or some other creative means of landing the next windfall.

When I started as a business reporter, trying to understand the history and motivation of “the businessman” or “the entrepreneur” in order to imbue my writing with some depth (yes, I am a wonk), two books shaped my thinking.  

One was “The Financier” by Theodore Dreiser, and the other one was “The Way We Live Now” by Anthony Trollope.

I share these books with young reporters so they can better understand the desire to make money and how it shapes our world. The books get at the admirable qualities of the hardworking and striving entrepreneur, as well as the excesses and cautionary tales of bad behavior that sometimes accompanies great wealth. 

The main character of “The Way We Live Now,” Augustus Melmotte, is a mysterious investor in railway bonds who suddenly appears on the London scene, promising riches to the aristocratic set, who clamor to put their money with him despite the somewhat opaque nature of his enterprise. 

I make the literary reference because our cover story this month, about London’s secretive Reuben brothers, could almost be a sequel to that book. 

As reporter Joe Lovinger writes, billionaires David and Simon Reuben “have given one on-the-record interview in the 21st century, and promptly sued the publication for libel. They never appear on video, and the same handful of photos from some gala offer the only glimpses of them on the internet.”

As one top retail broker who didn’t know he was on the record put it, “Nobody knows who they are or what the fuck they’re doing.”

The brothers — who made their fortune in aluminum in the early days of Russian capitalism —  own a boatload of prime London real estate and in Covid times have emerged as the most opportunistic buyers of trophy real estate in New York, “descending on Manhattan seemingly out of nowhere to acquire some of the city’s most coveted retail and hospitality properties,” as Lovinger writes.

Elsewhere in the issue, we have our own home-grown billionaire titans fighting it out. Sam Zell and Barry Sternlicht spent the last few months locked in a $2 billion bidding war for Monmouth Real Estate, a REIT focused on the hot industrial market. We take you behind the scenes of that battle in a piece by Rich Bockmann and Keith Larsen.

Where there is turmoil, there is opportunity, and there are plenty of other areas of the market for budding billionaires to home in on. 

Two years after New York state’s rent law passed, a new crop of young, deep-pocketed investors are wagering that the regulations won’t last forever, and that there is upside in buying rent-stabilized buildings. Rent reform strengthened tenant protections but drew the ire of landlords, forcing some struggling owners to sell. As Suzannah Cavanaugh reports, where some have cut their losses, others are finding long-term opportunities.

Luxury residential brokers are upping their game in an active market where inventory is getting scarcer. As Cordilia James writes, “where buyers are itching to get their hands on a good home, some agents are spending big bucks to up their glitz and glamour game — even as there are fewer homes to show them. Think helicopter rides, swanky vans and private boat tours.”

Those residential sales over the past year helped prop up business at New York City law firms amid a dearth of big commercial sales (until recently). Check out our ranking of the most active real estate law firms.

Keep hunting for opportunities and enjoy the issue.


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