Marcos Cohen: the under-the-radar power broker

Elliman’s new No. 1 puts his South American connections to good use amid a flood of international buyers

Marcus Cohen of Douglas Elliman
Marcus Cohen of Douglas Elliman

Marcos Cohen’s motto is “fun first, real estate second.” The Brazil-born Douglas Elliman executive vice president may be fun-loving, but his successful career is no joke.

In February, Cohen was named Elliman’s top individual broker by gross commission income for 2012. Among his sales last year: a 4,170-square-foot condo at Olympic Tower at 641 Fifth Avenue, which Cohen and his Elliman colleague Sabrina Saltiel sold for $14 million, according to the listings website StreetEasy. Cohen also sold a unit at 110 Central Park South for $6.25 million.

But the low-profile Cohen, 48, shied away from talking about his deals during a sit-down interview with The Real Deal at his Upper East Side apartment last month.

When asked about his priciest sale of 2012, he said: “I really don’t like to pinpoint one. Because it wasn’t just one, it was a combination of all of them. They were all nice, big deals.”

Selling the big stuff

Cohen grew up in Rio de Janeiro in the 1970s, the middle child of four. From the time he was 15, Cohen worked in his dad’s textiles store, mostly helping out during the busy Christmas period. His job was waiting on customers, who loved his happy-go-lucky approach. But he wanted a better life — and he figured New York City was the place to find it.

After a short stint in Europe, the then-22-year-old Cohen moved to New York in 1987. After a couple of odd jobs, he landed a position at an electronics store, where he was assigned to get passersby to come into the store. The multi-lingual Cohen lured customers by speaking to them in their own languages. “If they were Russian, I’d say something in Russian,” he said.

The strategy worked. He was quickly promoted to salesman, then store manager. With his talent for sales, real estate seemed like a logical next step. “Why sell the small stuff? Go sell the big stuff!” Cohen recalls being told.

He joined Elliman in 1994, and said he’s been in the top 20 percent of agents at the firm ever since.

Recently, however, New York City has seen an influx of international buyers and especially Brazilians, many of whom are flush with cash now that the country’s economy is booming. Cohen has carved out a niche working with international clients; he said Brazilians now make up about half of his clientele.

“People feel more comfortable with someone who speaks their language, especially when you’re talking about technical terms,” said Mauricio Morato, a Brazil native and longtime client of Cohen’s.

Maurcio’s wife, Simoni Morato, is CEO of Safra National Bank. The couple first met Cohen when they moved to the U.S. from Brazil in 1996, and he helped them find a New York apartment.

During that first search, Cohen paid close attention to what kind of home the couple wanted by picking up on subtle signals about their lifestyle, Mauricio said.

The Moratos now live in Westchester, but when they decided to buy a Manhattan pied-à-terre last year, they called Cohen, who helped them buy a $1.35 million apartment on the Upper East Side.

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“He knew exactly what to show us,” Mauricio said.

The recent up-tick in Brazilian buyers in the marketplace has helped catapult Cohen to the top of the heap. In 2010, he was named Elliman’s No. 2 broker, behind super-broker Dolly Lenz (who has since withdrawn from the awards competition). Last year, Cohen said he closed around 20 deals — more than his usual total of 10 to 15 — ranging from studios to 11-bedroom apartments.

His deals are mostly condos on the Upper East and West sides, but he said he never turns down a listing because it’s too small. The only thing he steers clear of: buyers and sellers who aren’t serious, which he said he can spot a mile away after years of working retail.

“I would sell anything,” Cohen said. “I can sell ham to a rabbi.”

Marcos and only Marcos

Cohen’s sense of humor makes him popular with his colleagues as well as his clients.

Elliman CEO Dottie Herman, whose office is on the same floor as Cohen’s at the firm’s Madison Avenue headquarters, said she “couldn’t be more pleased” that Cohen landed the top-broker spot.

“I love Marcos,” she said. “He always makes me laugh.’”

But Cohen keeps a low profile, and prides himself on his self-sufficiency. Unlike other top producers, he doesn’t have a team or even an assistant. He doesn’t have a publicist and he rarely advertises, preferring to get clients through referrals and word-of-mouth.

And despite having warm relations with the company’s heads, he said he has never received a client through the firm.

Cohen “never really asks for anything,” Herman confirmed.

Many nights, Cohen can be found breaking bread with clients at one of his favorite haunts: Bar Pitti, Da Silvano, Nello’s, Amaranth, E.A.T. or Sant Ambroeus.

During these evenings, contracts sometimes get inked and properties are pored over, but Cohen said he also just likes his clients’ company.

“Especially buyers coming from Brazil, he really spends a lot of time with them, entertaining them so that they understand New York City better,” said Alfred Renna, Cohen’s manager.

Renna added: “When people hire Marcos, whether it’s a buyer or a seller, they know they get Marcos and only Marcos. That’s the level of service he’s able to provide.”