The Closing: Carrie Chiang

The Corcoran Group powerbroker on selling condos for Donald Trump, sniffing out “fake” buyers and watching soap operas in Chinese

September 01, 2019 01:00 PM

Carrie Chiang (Photo by Guerin Blask)

Carrie Chiang is the consummate closer. To date, she has sealed more than $6 billion in residential real estate deals.

Hand-picked by Barbara Corcoran to join her eponymous brokerage more than 35 years ago, Chiang has been a perennial top producer along with her partner, Janet Wang.

Last year, the duo was No. 1 on The Real Deal’s ranking of top listing agents in Manhattan, with $384 million in exclusives. And the team closed $174 million in sell-side deals in 2018.

Born in Shanghai, Chiang has such celebrity clients as Barbra Streisand, Jim Carrey and Sean “P. Diddy” Combs.

Her easy laugh — and preference for being chauffeured to showings in a beat-up minivan — belies what sources say are her tough-as-nails negotiating skills and ability to push complicated deals over the finish line.

In the 1990s, Chiang leveraged her connections in Hong Kong to introduce Donald Trump to a consortium of investors who put $100 million into his 74-acre development project on Riverside Boulevard.

And last year, Chiang took on a complicated portfolio of three adjacent Fifth Avenue buildings owned by the National Academy of Design. In the end, each fetched more than $25 million.

“Carrie pushes and pushes all the way to the edge of [every] deal,” said Loy Carlos, who has worked on Chiang’s team for 14 years. “Until the deal is dead, dead, dead, dead, she will try to squeeze and make it happen.”

Lives in: Trump Palace
Hometown: Hong Kong
Family: Remarried with three adult children

Where did you grow up? I was born in Shanghai and grew up in Hong Kong. My father was in the plastic import-export business. I went to a strict Catholic convent school.

Were you a good student? I don’t think so. I left one year before I graduated to come to the United States. I stayed at my aunt’s house in Ohio, then I went to college at Kent State. I studied chemistry with a math minor. After college, I went to live in Brazil with my late ex-husband for 12 years. We met in Hong Kong, but his family had a flour mill business. He was assigned to a company there.

What was it like living in Brazil? At the time, it was an easy life. I learned Portuguese. I was just a housewife there. I think I enjoy working more.

You have three adult children. Are any in real estate? One of my sons and two of my daughters-in-law. They’re on my team, but I don’t give them business.

How did you get into real estate? I left Brazil when I got divorced. I wanted to bring the kids to New York for school. I didn’t have any experience working, but I had a friend in real estate. She said, “Why don’t you do it. You don’t need a resume.” I joined a rental company just to get the experience. I worked very hard — through snow days, rainy days. I was always working.

How did you meet Barbara Corcoran? In 1988, I was taking her course at New York University. I interviewed with her and she said, “I want to hire you.” But I couldn’t because I had three deals going on. If I left, they wouldn’t pay me. Three or four months later, she called again and said, “Can you come now?” I said I still have deals going on and I’d lose $30,000. She said, “I’ll pay you.”

Did she? Yes. It was the best cut she had in her life.

Where do you live? Trump Palace. I sold 70 units there for him. The view from the 39th [floor] is amazing. I look at all my big deals over there [on Billionaires’ Row]. The same apartment there is $20 million. Donald gave it to me for $1.3 million.

You introduced Trump to a group of investors that co-developed his Riverside Boulevard project. But when they sold the site for $1.76 billion, you sued. How did that work out? We won. But we were still friends.

What do you think of him as president? I can’t comment on that.

What was your first big break? I was selling all of Donald Trump’s condos. I was called the “condo queen.” But I got very bored. I thought, well, townhouses are interesting. Since then, I’ve sold 100 townhouses. My biggest break was when [the elite private school] Lycée Français [de New York] hired me. I handled six townhouses with five buyers. It took two years. I thrive on difficult deals. I’m a problem solver.

How do you vet clients? There are so many fake buyers. My God, I could write a book. I can smell when fake people come up. One of the most interesting situations was when I was selling four apartments at Trump International Tower. There was a guy who claimed he was the son of Sara Lee Schupf [of dessert brand fame]. He came with a pregnant wife and said they lived in Connecticut. He said he wanted to buy the whole package. It just sounded a little bit ridiculous. During the showing, something felt wrong. It turned out he was a con artist. The Chicago police were trying to find him.

Your clients are sometimes famous. Is it different working with a celebrity than someone less recognizable? Not really. We see billionaires every day. We sign NDAs almost every week. They’re normal people.

How do you celebrate when you win a big deal? Go to the next one.

What keeps you up at night? I close my business around 6:30 p.m., and that’s it. Maybe I’ll make one more phone call. If I go out, I usually pick Japanese. Actually, I’m kind of anti-social. I don’t like parties — it’s all empty talk. I’m not a fake person.

What do you do when you’re not working? Watch soap operas — all in Chinese because I have to practice my Mandarin.

Any hobbies? Ballroom dancing. Twenty years ago, it was my second career. I would dance at competitions. I would go to London to take lessons. I used to dance the 10 dances — waltz, foxtrot, quickstep, tango and Viennese waltz and five Latin dances. I still dance, sometimes twice a week, but not the way I used to. Competing is too much on the leg [which she injured]. I also play mah-jongg.

Do you play for money? Big money! $1,000 chips.

You also invest in real estate, right? I have a couple of townhouses — one on the East Side and one on the West Side. They make money, but some of the townhouses I sold to my clients I should have bought myself. There’s a commercial one in a prime location off Fifth. I sold it for like $5 million. They’re getting $1 million triple net in rent every year.

You typically don’t do interviews. Why? I don’t know. I don’t need publicity. There’s information all over Google. I have a 30-year Rolodex. If they want to find me, they find me. I don’t go solicit — I just get a phone call.

Do you have any pets? Bobo, a white Pomeranian. I got him eight months ago. He’s very rare. His father is a champion from Taiwan, and “bobo” in Chinese is a little treasure. The building [660 Madison, where Corcoran headquarters is located] would not allow him to come in. I got a doctor to say I’ve got a stressful career.

You’ve been known to lose your temper over deals that don’t work out. Is that true? I [used to] scream and yell all the time. But I think I’m more mellow now. At one time, they asked me to take Lexapro to keep my anxiety down. It used to be if a deal failed…. Now, if a deal fails, fine. Move on to the next one. Loy has been with me 14 years. He always tells people, ”Let Carrie scream. Instead of internalizing it, get it out and then the next minute she’ll be OK.”

Do you like to travel? I don’t. I don’t like to go on airplanes and [deal with] jet lag. I’m not the kind of person that likes history or museums or churches. It’s boring. I won’t even go to Paris because whatever you can buy in Paris, you can buy here.

Are you a big shopper? I don’t like to shop. I go to three or four stores only — Chanel, Gucci, Loro Piana, Hermes. I have all the jewelry I want [points to a canary yellow diamond ring]. I have five. I have pink, I have blue. I have a ruby and sapphire and a seven-and-a-half-carat diamond.

It must be hard to buy you a present. That’s true. My daughters-in-law don’t give me gifts because I have everything. If I buy shoes, I go to Chanel and get 15 of them. The thing is, if you go high-quality, it doesn’t go away.

Do you have other homes? I have the Hamptons house. It’s in Bridgehampton. It’s big — 13,000 square feet with 12 bedrooms. I bought it right after the crash. It was a $9 million house, brand new, I bought it for six and change. Now it’s probably worth eight or nine. Unfortunately, it’s across the pond from Donald Jr., who just bought.

Do you just go in the summer? No, I go there almost every weekend in the winter. We spend Thanksgiving there because the house is big. I have a Chinese chef here and a Brazilian chef there. 

How do you get around town? When I go to the Hamptons, I have a Tesla and drive myself. Here, I use a driver. In my business, I have to, right? It’s a van. [Some] people have a Bentley, but I don’t want to show off. As long as we can have three rows — because sometimes I have guests and the back seat can be pulled out. 

Do your clients mind roughing it? One Chinese client commented, “You need a better car.” I said, “What do I care, as long as I get there. The car is not mine. When an accident happens, I don’t have to worry.” If I go out with an expensive client, I do dress up. I will be wearing four-carat rings.

What do you want your legacy to be? As a female and as a minority, I want to help pave the way for others to have the same opportunities. I don’t feel disadvantaged — but I’ve gained respect. Reputation is everything.

Edited and condensed for clarity.


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