At 23, when Anthony Lolli, the founder of the Brooklyn-based rental brokerage Rapid Realty, made his first $1 million after just four years in the real estate business, he bought himself a watch.
And not just any watch. His was a Rolex Masterpiece in three shades of gold with a diamond-encrusted ring around its face. The price: $36,000.
“Work like others won’t, so you can live like others can’t,” writes Lolli in his new autobiography-slash-real-estate-primer “The Heart of the Deal,” a title play on the “Art of the Deal,” President Donald Trumps 1980s best-selling book.
In entertaining (though occasionally facile) prose, the book charts how a college dropout rose to become the multi-millionaire head of a firm with 800 agents and offices in five states.
There’s no shortage of gee-whiz tips in this 212-page tome, which was published in June by Diversion Books, about how to strike it rich in business (“There’s only so long you can afford to pay someone who isn’t doing the job you need them to do”) and specifically in real estate (“apartments are a safe investment because you’ll seldom have significant vacancy”).
But seasoned property investors or industry players will be left wanting. The book feels more targeted to green agents looking to kick-start a new career on the lower rungs of the industry.
Sections of the book, for example, are dedicated to the difference between “agents” and “brokers” and between commercial and residential buildings. One portion explains how to calculate capitalization rates.
But the book, written in conjunction with Benjamin Platt, Rapid’s former longtime publicist, is still enlivened with clever touches.
Lolli advises that residential agents familiarize themselves with the exact sizes of mattresses and carry tape measures, so when renters ask if their beds can fit in a room, an agent can answer them quickly.
And in discussing how his firm surfed the wave of interest in Brooklyn in the early 2000s, connecting landlords with a flood of new renters, he writes, “sometimes I felt like my job was translating Hipster into Landlord and back.”
Similarly, those who buy this book hoping for behind-the-scenes details about the double-dealing for which the industry is often known will come away disappointed.
Even the tiny Brooklyn Heights firm that gave Lolli an early break when other firms said he was too young goes unnamed in the book. (In an interview with The Real Deal, he revealed that it was now-defunct McCurdy Real Estate).
Lolli also described how agents at Rapid began to defect en masse in the mid-2000s, but he didn’t name the firms they ended up at. “When you name other firms, you empower them, and then they target you,” Lolli told TRD, adding that most of those firms no longer exist.
In fact, about the only non-Rapid name that is spelled out in the book is Trump.
“I have a lot of respect for him personally and professionally,” Lolli said. “But I look at myself more like his dad” — the late Fred Trump — “because I started my business.”
On Trump as president, Lolli said he’s waiting to see what kind of economic growth is delivered before taking a stance.
The only child of Nicolas Lolli, a public-school teacher, and Gladys, an Ecuadorean immigrant and hairstylist, Lolli, 40, spent his childhood in affluent Brooklyn Heights. “But while we walked by multimillion-dollar brownstones every day, my parents and I shared a one-bedroom shack,” he writes.
An early trip to a Manhattan department store, where his mom told him she couldn’t afford to buy him an $18 watch, set the stage for Anthony’s itch to get rich. Today, Lolli often tools around town in a Rolls-Royce, and he lives in a custom-built five-bedroom house in Bay Ridge with an eight-seat movie theater.
Nicolas Lolli eventually padded his income by strolling around the city with blue-and-gold macaws, getting tourists to pose for Polaroids. That extra money, along with help from a city program that allowed civil servants to put down smaller-than-average down payments for homes, enabled the purchase of 370 Butler Street in Park Slope. At the three-unit brick apartment building, Anthony was tasked with collecting rents, his first brush with real estate and a challenging one. Once, Nicolas was almost attacked with a hammer after trying to evict a deadbeat tenant, according to the book.
Anthony still owns that property, along with about three dozen other rental buildings, most with 10 units or less, in Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island and the Bronx. He said he also owns real estate in Ecuador and is now looking in Armenia, where his fiancée, Tereza Hakobyan, 30, a model and actress, is from. The couple and their 6-month-old daughter, Love Lolli, live in Bay Ridge, while Lolli’s 5-year-old son, Nico, from a previous relationship, resides on Staten Island with his mother.
The privately held Rapid, meanwhile, is headquartered on Third Avenue in Gowanus. And while the firm still focuses on rentals, since 2009 it’s been franchised, which Lolli said was the best way to manage the quick growth.
His franchisees pay an upfront fee to open an office, then royalties on transactions.
Today the company has 70 offices nationwide (30 of them in Brooklyn), including in Atlanta, Dallas and Miami.
A few years ago — quick to recognize the value of a publicity stunt — Lolli encouraged his agents to tattoo the firm’s logo on their bodies for a 15 percent commission hike.
About 110 of his agents are inked today, in a trend that generated tens of millions of dollars in media coverage, Lolli said, adding that he’s worth about $75 million.
While Rapid’s agents may make news for their body art, they also occasionally seem to draw attention for other behaviors. Yelp and other review sites are dotted with critical comments about firm employees, using terms like “confused,” “unprepared” and “unprofessional.” Rival firms like Ben Bay Realty; Wiechert Realtors; and Fillmore Real Estate don’t seem to generate as many harsh comments.
Negative internet reviews aren’t something Lolli is shy about confronting in his book, suggesting they’re the work of disgruntled former employees. “I’ve been on the receiving end of every dirty trick in the book,” he writes.
Almost energized by the opposition, Lolli later writes, “in every story that’s worth telling, the hero has to overcome obstacles to get what they want. And the bigger the obstacles, the more satisfying it is when they come out on top in the end.”
But one firm head defends Lolli, saying that rental agents are just more likely to get slammed than sales agents. “People get upset more easily with rentals,” said John Reinhardt, president of Brooklyn-based Fillmore, which is more focused on sales.
Lolli’s “is a great story. He rose quickly, he is powerful, he is a charismatic personality, and he has a following,” Reinhardt added. “He may not be everybody’s cup of tea. But neither am I.”