The top rental deals of 2012 — and the agents behind them

A look at the brokers who closed the biggest residential leases of the year

Jan.January 01, 2013 07:00 AM

With the luxury residential market booming, expensive rentals have recently been in higher demand than ever — getting snapped up faster than usual and, in some cases, sparking bidding wars. Manhattan rents were at an all-time high this past year even as Citi Habitats’ third-quarter rental market report, the most recent data available at press time, showed the historic rental highs that occurred between January and August had plateaued during 2012’s third quarter (see related story: “Manhattan sales volume perks up”).

While in the past rentals were considered a less-prestigious (and lower-paying) sector of the brokerage business, six-figure rental deals have changed that, and a number of high-end brokers have found themselves focused on rentals.

This month — using data provided by listings website StreetEasy — The Real Deal looked at the priciest closed rental deals in Manhattan in 2012 (see chart), the brokers who executed those deals and how the transactions came together.

This Waldorf-Astoria unit was rented by Margaret Bay of BHS for $135,000 a month.

Margaret Bay

Brown Harris Stevens

The most expensive rental apartment deal of 2012 — a unit at the Towers of the Waldorf-Astoria that leased for $135,000 a month — was handled by Margaret Bay of Brown Harris Stevens.

After eight months on the market, the unit was rented in July. The three-bedroom apartment features a formal dining and maid’s room, and has views of the Chrysler Building and East River.

Through her long-running relationship with the Waldorf, Bay has made luxury rentals her domain for years. Indeed, she rented the same apartment for $140,000 in October 2010, according to StreetEasy.

And, these big-ticket rentals come with big-time commissions.

According to Gary Malin, president of Citi Habitats, no matter the price of the transaction, brokers take home the usual commission, which is 15 percent of a year’s rent — as long as the lease is at least six months long.

If the unit is rented for less than six months the commission is usually one month’s rent, said Malin, who was not connected to this deal.

But he noted that everything is negotiable. “It’s the same thing [as a normal rental],” he said.

Bay — who was at Sotheby’s International Realty for 15 years before jumping to BHS in 2005 — is the exclusive rental agent at the Waldorf, which is located at 100 East 50th Street and has all of the amenities of the famed hotel, which is located on the floors directly below the residential portion of the building. All the units there are available for long- and short-term leases.

Last year, Bay rented a unit there for $75,000 a month (a deal which actually tied for the third-priciest rental deal of 2012) to two different renters — one in March and the other in July. The unit has not been relisted again since July.

She also has the rental listing for the famed Cole Porter apartment, which has an asking price of $150,000. That unit previously rented for $140,000 a month. It’s not clear when renters last inhabited the iconic apartment because it’s gone on and off the rental market several times in the past three years.

Bay declined to comment for this story, but her profile page on BHS’s website said “a fortuitous phone call combined with her entrepreneurial spirit” landed her the exclusive Waldorf gig.

Matt Zolbe, director of sales and marketing at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, described Bay as “flexible” and “responsive,” and said she works with “lightning speed.”

“Do it once and do it right,” is how he described her attitude.

Although Bay has other luxury rental and sales listings across Manhattan — such as a $46,500-a-month penthouse at the Plaza Athenee Hotel — the Waldorf makes up the majority of her business.

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Ashley Teitel

Town Residential

After only a year in the business, Town broker Ashley Teitel is making a big splash in New York City’s high-end rental market.

Indeed, Teitel — who was previously an account executive for Christian Dior and earned her master’s degree in diplomacy and strategy at the Raphael Recanati International School in Israel before getting into real estate — brokered the second-most-expensive rental in Manhattan in 2012. The apartment was a $90,000-a-month unit at the Enrique Norten–designed Cassa Hotel and Residences at 70 West 45th Street between Fifth and Sixth avenues.

The deal, which closed in July, was the second-priciest rental to close in 2012 — though some of her others at the Cassa were also on the list of 20 priciest rentals as ties.

For example, Teitel rented out the $90,000 penthouse for $60,000 and for $40,000 last year. It’s unclear if either of those deals were for an entire month, however.

Teitel said her international affairs degree has helped her “bridge the gap” with her real estate clients. In fact, she told TRD that it came in handy when she was working with the renters of the Cassa unit — a Saudi Arabian family who came to New York for medical care. She said demand among international clients, like the Saudi family, for furnished, short-term rentals is strong.

And that unit is not her only high-priced rental. While at Douglas Elliman, she said she had an exclusive relationship with Cassa and handled numerous deals at the building, which was developed by Assa Properties. The tower has 165 hotel rooms and 57 residential units, which include a mix of rentals and condos, according to Street­-Easy.

Teitel said her family was in the real estate business, which prompted her to become a broker. She worked at Halstead Property from December 2011 to April 2012 and then at Elliman from April to November, before starting at Town.

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Frans Preidel

Brown Harris Stevens

Although Frans Preidel (who hails from the Netherlands) moved to the United States almost 24 years ago, he’s only made his mark on the New York City brokerage world in the last few years.

Perhaps that’s because Preidel worked in finance for years and then started his own food-production firm. But when his business went under in 2004 (a reality he blamed on post-9/11 market conditions), he transitioned into residential brokerage.

Preidel started out at Elliman, and around 2006 moved to Brown Harris Stevens, where he focuses mostly on sales.

But that didn’t stop him from tying for the third-priciest rental unit in Manhattan last year: a four-bedroom apartment at 151 East 58th Street that leased for $75,000 a month. The One Beacon Court unit went on the market in June, and was picked up in less than a month.

Preidel rented the unit out for the owner, who purchased the apartment for $18.5 million in June 2010. At the time, a tenant was already occupying it, Preidel said. When that lease expired, the owner asked him to find another tenant, Preidel explained.

The rental was one of three Preidel did in 2012 in deals he said ranged from $5,000 to this $75,000 transaction. He attributed his success partly to his business background.

“I understand how entrepreneurs think,” he said. “I understand how financial people think. It’s a completely different mind-set, a completely different point-of view.”

Debbie Korb and Roberta Golubock

Sotheby’s International Realty

Many in the New York City brokerage world know of Debbie Korb for the work she’s done with celebrities. She’s currently listing the $24.99 million Greenwich Village townhouse owned by acting power-couple Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick. Previously, she’s worked with Julianne Moore and French fashion designer Thierry Mugler.

But last year, she and fellow Sotheby’s powerbroker Roberta Golubock also tied for the fifth-priciest rental deal — a $60,000-a-month transaction at 50 East 73rd Street between Park and Madison avenues. (The townhouse was listed for sale in 2011 for $8.95 million, before renting this past April.)

Golubock — who represented the buyers on the $52.5 million sale of Courtney Sale Ross’s apartment in May (see related story, “The Year of the Penthouse”) — ranked fourth in sales production in Manhattan for Sotheby’s in 2010, according to the firm’s website. She also has a law degree from St. John’s University.

Meanwhile, before becoming a broker, Korb’s career spanned the legal, banking and advertising industries. Korb did not respond to requests for comment, while Golubock declined to comment.

John Barbato

Stribling & Associates

Only four years into his real estate career, John Barbato is scooping up some of the priciest rentals in town. After abandoning a career in architecture to get his real estate license, Barbato began learning the residential market at a small, now-defunct residential firm on the Upper East Side before joining Stribling three years ago.

His $60,000-a-month rental deal in Olympic Tower, a luxury condo at 641 Fifth Avenue near 51st Street, is Barbato’s priciest thus far, he said. But he has come close in the past, most notably with a $50,000-a-month deal in 2009 and others in the $20,000-to-$30,000 range, he said. In 2012, Barbato said he rented apartments priced between $5,000 and $60,000.

“I pride myself on being comfortable with a client in any price range,” he told TRD.

He said he got to know the owner after some of his friends did a photo shoot for a clothing line in the apartment. The owners then contacted him about renting out the place two years later. The 11-room duplex was rented in February after nearly seven months on the market. He declined to reveal personal details about the owner or the renter.

Sam Bader

Brown Harris Stevens 

After 40-plus years of running his own legal recruiting firm, Sam Bader joined BHS just over eight years ago.

Bader declined to comment, but according to his BHS profile, he became “intensely interested” in the New York real estate market because he owned four East Side co-op apartments, and served for 18 years on the board of a Park Avenue co-op.

This year, he tied for the 10th-priciest rental in Manhattan — a $50,000-a-month townhouse at 9 East 77th Street between Madison and Fifth avenues. The five-story, six-bedroom townhouse has a garden, three terraces, a library and chef’s kitchen.

Bader has also closed a number of other transactions on the Upper East Side and has a listing for a $6 million Park Avenue co-op.

Bahar Tavakolian

Stribling & Associates

When Stribling’s Bahar Tavakolian put a condo at 923 Fifth Avenue between 73rd and 74th streets on the rental market for $40,000 per month, she thought she had priced it too high. But when the unit, which has sweeping views of Central Park, quickly drew strong interest, she increased the price to $47,000. And sure enough, the unit received two competing bids, Tavakolian said.

The condo owner eventually chose the bidder who wanted a longer, two-year lease, Tavakolian said. The deal, the 13th-priciest rental in Manhattan for 2012, closed in May after the unit was on the market for three months.

Tavakolian said the owner is an out-of-towner who almost immediately put the unit up for rent after buying it for $10.9 million in December 2011 as an investment.

The apartment has a full bar off the dining room and a media room.

Tavakolian mostly does sales, but did six rentals in 2012 ranging from $7,000 to this $47,000 deal. She started out at Fox Residential, but has been at Stribling for nearly four years.

Andrea Wohl Lucas

Corcoran Group

Luxury sales broker Andrea Wohl Lucas told TRD she’s beginning to understand the art of a rental deal.

Lucas began her career in real estate in 1985 at Elliman, after leaving a job as a schoolteacher. While she’s focused on sales — she has a $4.1 million sale at 170 East End Avenue that recently went into contract and a $3.55 million listing at the same address — the Corcoran broker said some of her top clients are increasingly renting out their apartments as an alternative to selling.

She said many investors are seeking a return on their investment through rentals and some sellers think they will get a better deal in the future and are therefore renting their units in the interim.

As a result, she’s now renting out apartments she’s previously sold.

That was the case with a rental she brokered at 170 East End Avenue — which was built by Skyline Development in 2008 and where she’s done a number of deals. Indeed, she rented the 14th-priciest Manhattan rental of 2012 at the building: a $45,000-a-month unit. The owners moved out of the country, Lucas said. And rather than sell, they decided to rent to see if the market would improve, she said.

Although she’s come close to renting out apartments at that price, she has yet to top it.

In 2012, her rental deals ranged from $10,000 to $45,000 with about $200,000 in rental transaction volume, she said. She added that she did about eight to 10 rental deals in 2012.

Susan Barkin

Barkin & Associates

Barkin, the founder of the boutique firm Barkin & Associates, started her own firm over 20 years ago. In addition to doing rentals and sales, the firm, which now includes nine other agents, also manages over 100 apartments in Manhattan. The firm’s current rental listings range from $3,500 to $11,000.

Barkin’s $40,000-a-month, three-bedroom rental was in the high-profile 15 Central Park West and tied for the 15th priciest rental of 2012. It was leased in March after less than two weeks on the market. The building has a 75-foot pool, private restaurant and library. The corner unit was previously rented in April 2010 for $38,000 and sold for $14 million in May 2008.

Barkin could not be reached for comment. Details on the owner and renter were not available.

Torsten Krines

Sotheby’s International Realty

Although Torsten Krines began his career in real estate in the U.S. about eight years ago when he was humbly renting out $1,000 studios to college students, this year he rented one of the most expensive apartments in Manhattan.

His real estate endeavors, however, began in Germany 15 years ago after he received his real estate license there. “I worked my way up,” he said.

Last year, he rented out a $40,000-a-month townhouse at 36 Grove Street between Bedford and Bleecker streets in the West Village. The deal not only tied for the 15th spot on TRD’s priciest rental list, but was also the most expensive rental below 14th Street in 2012.

The four-story, six-bedroom townhouse has a grand parlor entrance in addition to a garden-level entrance and chef’s kitchen. The house was sold in January 2007 for $10.9 million.

Krines, who focuses on luxury rentals, said the owner was introduced to him by one of his previous clients. Before Krines started at Sotheby’s in 2005, he worked at the Manhattan-based firm, Maison International, for two years, he said.

Krines said he primarily does rentals ranging from $10,000 to $40,000, with the majority in the $20,000 range, and that a significant number of his listings are Downtown.

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