Leasing legends

A first-ever ranking of the most senior leasing brokers in New York City

Jan.January 03, 2012 07:03 PM

Commercial real estate insiders in New York City can easily tick off Manhattan’s top power brokers in the office leasing world — and rank the biggest firms here to boot.

But a haze obscures the actual amount of business each of these brokers — who collectively handle millions of square feet of office leasing every year — participates in.

This month The Real Deal created a first-ever ranking of the city’s most senior leasing agents to shine light on an area of the business that has, for a variety of financial and internal political reasons, been kept out of sight.

Creating a list of top leasing agents is not a straightforward process, in part because complex and overlapping broker collaborations make it virtually impossible to untangle who deserves credit.

To ensure an even-handed system, The Real Deal adopted a highly restricted methodology. For simplicity and fairness, we credited only the broker with the most senior title on the deal even when other high-ranking brokers participated. (In the case of brokers with the same title, both were given full credit.)

In order to do this, The Real Deal combed through roughly 700 deals totaling more than 25 million square feet. We looked at both deals that were reported in the press and those available through leasing databases, including CoStar Group, to compile a list of 20 senior brokers. The data is for 2011 through December 27.

The ranking includes both renewals and relocation deals that were 10,000 square feet or greater, for Midtown, Midtown South and Downtown.

According to Cassidy Turley statistics, roughly 34.8 million square feet of deals (both new and renewals) were done in 2011 — a total which, unlike The Real Deal’s survey, includes deals for less than 10,000 square feet.

The list reveals which brokers were active in 2011 on both the agency and tenant sides. It also indicates, although not explicitly, who brings the most money to a firm. (Commission information is both privately held and closely guarded by the companies.)

The findings were shared with all of the firms for verification, but several firms declined to participate.

One source said it was simply nobody’s business what kind of activity a broker generated.

“To say you have a right to know [how much money] they make — you have zero fucking right,” the source said.

Cushman & Wakefield, CBRE Group and Studley said any results The Real Deal came up with would be inaccurate and incomplete because of the limited information available, including confidential deals.

“Cushman & Wakefield would never divulge an internal production ranking of its professionals because we believe it’s proprietary information, and because most of our largest transactions are collaborative efforts of many, and not individual, brokers,” a company spokesperson said.

CBRE, through a spokesperson, said, “We have a fiduciary duty to our clients to closely guard deal-specific information. As such, we do not make our deal database available to third parties.”

But others saw value in attempting to drill down and go beyond vague national transaction tallies or the city’s top 50 lease deals, which are published every six months.

“It will be interesting simply because it is not something we typically focus on, and it gives greater clarity on where a lot of the leasing velocity comes from,” said Richard Bernstein, vice chairman at Cassidy Turley. “It is very easy in a market that churns 20 to 30 million square feet to lose some sense of clarity because so many deals are getting done. This will be the scorecard.”

Power players

While the term power broker may be overused, it is still unavoidable when talking about the top 10 on the list.

In descending order of square feet leased, Mary Ann Tighe, Scott Panzer, Tara Stacom, John Cefaly, Scott Gamber, Peter Riguardi, Mitchell Konsker, William Cohen, Mitchell Steir and David Falk were the most senior-ranking brokers on deals, and leased between 1 million and just over 2.2 million square feet.

The combined production of those individuals — who together represent CBRE, Jones Lang LaSalle, Cushman & Wakefield, Newmark Knight Frank and Studley — was over 15 million square feet, more than 40 percent of Manhattan’s total for the year.

CBRE’s Tighe and Cushman’s Stacom were propelled to the top tier by last year’s largest new deal — the 1 million-square-foot Condé Nast lease at the under-construction One World Trade Center. In that deal, Stacom (see this month’s Closing) represented the landlord, which is the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, while Tighe represented the publishing house.

Panzer, a vice chairman at JLL, earned a top spot by representing NBC Universal with a 1.4 million-square-foot lease renewal at several Rockefeller Center buildings. (On the other side of the deal, representing the landlord GE Capital, was CBRE’s Gamber.)

Winning leasing agencies, in which a broker represents an entire building for a landlord, was a consistent route to the top of the pack.

Most brokers tend to specialize on one side of the deal or another. Among the top 10 on the list, only a few showed a level of parity in both tenant and landlord deals. On that short list were JLL’s Riguardi, Studley’s Steir, Newmark’s Falk, and Tighe.

It’s not easy to crack into the top tier of office leasing brokers. Most of the top 10 agents have a minimum of 20 years in commercial real estate experience.

Some insiders pointed out that a number of the biggest rainmakers did not appear on the list, as would be expected.

For example, Robert Alexander, a vice chairman at CBRE, is generally recognized as one of the city’s top producers, but he was only publicly identified on four deals larger than 100,000 square feet. Likewise, Bruce Mosler, chairman of global brokerage at Cushman, is missing a few deals that were not made public, according to sources. And, Mark Weiss, a vice chairman at Newmark, had only a small amount of deals listed publicly, but the brokerage said he was on far more than 1 million square feet of office leasing deals in Manhattan in 2011.

However, some insiders said big producers may take a piece of the deal “ticket,” but may not want credit publicly, either to keep a low profile or for other reasons. Or they have stricter confidentiality clauses dictated by clients.

Pay day

Commissions on leasing deals, of course, are not publicly reported anywhere and are impossible to calculate with certainty, but there are some general rules of thumb that offer a range of how much these top brokers pulled in last year. The basic commission calculation for a tenant broker is about one-third of the gross of the first year’s rent payment. So if a 100,000-square-foot lease was signed at $50 per foot annually to start, the commission would be about $1.65 million on $5 million in rent. Of that, the tenant team members would divide up the commission based on factors like who found the business (15 percent), who secured the business (35 percent) and who executed the business (50 percent).

Agency brokers get about 20 percent to 50 percent of the amount a tenant broker gets, sources said, and they give a higher percentage of their commission to those who execute the business.

Once the percentages are allocated, each broker loses 30 to 50 percent of their cut to the house. To further complicate matters, some brokers have sharing arrangements whereby they split their commissions with other partners who were not even in on the deal.

One notch below

Below the top 10 Manhattan leasing brokers sits a cushion of 10 other successful dealmakers who were the most senior brokers in deals between about 450,000 and 1 million square feet of transactions in 2011.

Some of these brokers are household names in the real estate community, while others might prompt only blank stares. In the former group are Stephen Siegel, CBRE’s chairman of global brokerage, and Cushman’s Mosler.

Lower-profile, yet active brokers include Andrew Peretz, an executive director at Cushman, and Scott Gottlieb, a vice chairman at CBRE. (note: correction appended)

Overall, some brokers said there was simply a natural aversion to these kinds of rankings.

Michael T. Cohen, president of the New York office of Colliers International, said there was no good reason to rank the brokers because it’s generally the same brokers at the top of the list annually.

Cohen, who represented accounting firm Marks Paneth & Shron in a deal for 85,460 square feet at 685 Third Avenue in 2011, said, “From one year to the next, the same names rise to the top. This is not the world of the one-hit-wonder, where the Knack has ‘My Sharona.’”

And, he added: “There is a mutual respect, and while we are fiercely competitive, I don’t think we rank like that. I don’t think we fine-tune it down to the individual. We know who the .400 hitters are, and we kind of leave it at that.”


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