The gentleman broker: Is Kyle Blackmon the new go-to agent for the city’s priciest pads?

Apr.April 01, 2012 07:00 AM

Kyle Blackmon

Christopher Jeffries, cofounder of real estate development firm Millennium Partners, last month listed his duplex penthouse at the Ritz-Carlton for $77.5 million.

That price tag makes Jeffries’ apartment, at 50 Central Park South, the most expensive condo on the market. But even if it goes for the full asking price, it won’t be the priciest Manhattan home ever sold. That honor, of course, goes to the penthouse at 15 Central Park West, which former Citigroup chairman Sanford Weill recently sold to Russian chemical magnate Dmitry Rybolovlev for a record $88 million.

The go-to broker for both deals? Kyle Blackmon, a 34-year-old Brown Harris Stevens senior vice president who’s been in residential real estate for less than a decade.

Blackmon, himself one of the first buyers at 15 Central Park West, represented Weill in purchasing the building’s penthouse for $42.4 million in 2006. Still, it raised eyebrows in the industry when Weill passed over the city’s most prominent brokers to hire Blackmon, a relative newcomer, in the first place.

Some speculate that they were introduced by Blackmon’s mother, Sandra Feagan Stern, who had a high-level job at Citigroup’s private banking arm when Weill was chairman. But a source familiar with the deal said that it was someone who had done business with Blackmon who made the referral, not his mother.

In any event, the relationship seems to have paid off for both client and broker. Blackmon scored a 4 percent commission on the $88 million sale, split with Brown Harris Stevens’ Maria Torresy, who represented the buyer.

“We truly value our relationship with Kyle,” said Weill and his wife, Joan, in a statement. “He is a real pleasure to work with as he epitomizes professionalism, hard work and attention to detail. He also recognizes the importance of giving back to society, which we applaud.”

The deal — widely reported around the world — gave Blackmon a level of visibility reserved for only a select group of Manhattan brokers. And it may just have catapulted Blackmon into the most elite levels of residential brokering.

Southern gentleman

Despite his youth, Blackmon has developed a reputation for being an old-school broker: a well-mannered, Southern gentleman who forges relationships with colleagues and takes care not to make enemies. (He declined to be interviewed for this article.)

“I don’t think anybody would say anything bad about this guy,” said Donna Olshan, founder of luxury brokerage Olshan Realty.

Elizabeth Sample, a Sotheby’s International Realty broker who has shown Blackmon’s listing at the Ritz-Carlton, agreed.

“I really would only have good things to say about Kyle,” Sample said, adding that the Jeffries spread is “a beautiful, beautiful apartment.”

Blackmon is “an exceptionally fine person — a professional and a gentleman,” added Torresy, who declined to comment in more detail.

But the fast-paced Manhattan real estate world also requires toughness, and Blackmon can also be “aggressive” when the situation warrants it, said one experienced broker.

Mitchell Speer, a senior vice president at Corcoran, recalled doing a deal with Blackmon at 15 Central Park West. Speer’s client, the seller, had accepted an offer, but was disappointed with the amount. Blackmon arranged to have a client fly out from Wyoming on short notice to see the unit, and his buyer ended up purchasing the apartment for $8 million.

Blackmon “did everything he could in order to make the deal happen,” Speer said.

(Just over a year later, Blackmon helped the Wyoming client sell the same unit for $12.4 million.)

Blackmon grew up in Charlottesville, Va. His mother, Sandra, worked as a teacher and university administrator while raising Kyle and his sister on her own. Sandra later become founder and managing director of Home Advisory & Concierge Services for Citigroup’s Citi Private Bank, where her role was to advise the private bank’s most elite clients. She now runs a concierge business that caters to wealthy clientele.

Sandra is now married to Evan Stern, the cofounder of National Office Supply, which he and a partner sold to Staples in 1994 for $99 million in equity and debt. The couple lives in Englewood, N.J.

Blackmon attended Albemarle High School in Charlottesville, where he regularly played guitar at a local coffee shop, according to his yearbook. After graduating in 1996, he studied business and marketing at the University of South Carolina.

Blackmon, who claims to have sold more than $500 million worth of real estate, has credited his success to his mother’s determination.

“I believe I have made it here largely because my mom taught me to be relentless in the pursuit of my goals,” he told his mother’s alma mater, the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education, after establishing a fellowship there in 2008 in her honor.

Smart moves

After college, Blackmon moved to New York City and finagled an internship at Brown Harris Stevens — which seldom hires rookie brokers — by cold-calling the office.

“I said, ‘I’ll clean out the closets — I’ll do anything,’” Blackmon told The Real Deal last year.

After a stint as an assistant for Brown Harris Stevens broker Ileen Schoenfeld, Blackmon began developing his own clientele. (Schoenfeld did not return a call seeking comment.)

He quickly won industry recognition: The Real Estate Board of New York gave him salesmanship awards in 2004 and 2007. Last year, he made The Real Deal’s top agents list and was featured in a cover story headlined “Moguls in the Making.”

Much of the attention has focused on Blackmon’s deals at 15 Central Park West, the luxurious condo developed by brothers William and Arthur Zeckendorf, the owners of Terra Holdings (the parent company of Brown Harris Stevens).

Blackmon was one of the first buyers at 15 Central Park West. He signed a contract in September 2005, two weeks after top broker Robby Browne of the Corcoran Group signed the first deal there. Blackmon plunked down $2.8 million for a two-bedroom on the 25th floor — a savvy move that undoubtedly elevated his career, brokers said.

“[Blackmon] made a very astute decision when he decided to purchase an apartment in the building,” said Karen Duncan, a senior vice president at Fox Residential Group who worked in the sales office at 15 Central Park West from 2005 to 2007.

As a building resident, Blackmon not only has access to a wealthy and well-connected clientele (as well as potential sellers), he no doubt has pricing, availability and unit information at his fingertips, brokers said. Blackmon has sold $125.2 million worth of real estate in the building, and represented buyers in an additional $96 million worth of deals there (including Weill’s penthouse purchase), according to Brown Harris Stevens.

In November 2011, Blackmon listed Weill’s penthouse for $88 million, or $13,000 per square foot. Just before the listing officially hit the market, Weill announced that he would donate the proceeds to charity. Less than a month later, the deal was in contract for the full asking price, with the multilingual Torresy — who specializes in international clients — representing Rybolovlev.

“As brokers, we all wish we had listings like that, and they sold like that,” Corcoran’s Speer said.

But the seeming ease of the sale — and the charity component — has also led to some speculation that the listing was designed as a public-relations stunt.

Some brokers suggest that Blackmon’s family connections, including his stepfather’s presence in the business world and his mother’s Citigroup ties, must have played a role in his success.

Still, Blackmon has continued to rack up eight-figure sales — and to repeatedly represent buyers who then hire him to sell their units — further solidifying his reputation in the industry.

He is currently listing an $18 million duplex at the Trump International Tower that belongs to Andrew Rosen, founder of the apparel company Theory, as well as consultant Corbett Price’s two-bedroom at 15 Central Park West, on the market for $7.4 million. (Representatives for Rosen and Price did not respond to requests for comment.)

As for Jeffries’ apartment at the Ritz-Carlton, that listing is likely the direct result of the Weill sale, brokers said, especially since Jeffries is rumored to have been quietly shopping the 14-room property for several years now with another broker. (Jeffries did not respond to requests for comment.)

As Olshan put it, “success breeds success.”

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