The Closing: Dottie Herman

Dottie Herman (photo by Michael Toolan)
Dottie Herman is the president and CEO of Prudential Douglas Elliman, which has more than 60 offices in New York City, Long Island and the Hamptons. Herman, who began her career as a real estate broker on Long Island, purchased Prudential Long Island Realty in 1989. After expanding the company to the Hamptons, she purchased longtime Manhattan brokerage Douglas Elliman for nearly $72 million with her business partner, Howard Lorber, in 2003. The company continues to grow, recently opening new offices in the West Village and in Fort Greene, Brooklyn.

What is your full name?

My real name is Dorothy, but everyone calls me Dottie.

What is your birth date?

I’m not telling. I’m not putting that on the tape.

Where did you grow up?

Franklin Square, Long Island.

Where do you live now?

In the city I live on Central Park South. On the Island, I live on the North Shore. And I have a place in the Hamptons.

Do you own or rent in the city?

I own, and I bought at the peak of the market. I knew I was paying a lot, but there weren’t many apartments available and I just went with it.

When you buy property, who do you use as a broker?

I actually used one of my brokers [Howard Margolis]. The listing was from a competitor. By the time the transaction was done, she was with me.

Of all those homes, which one is your favorite?

I love them all differently. I guess the home in the Hamptons is special because I always dreamed of owning a home there. I purchased it when we were going through a pretty bad recession … in the early ’90s. At the time, people said, “Why would you buy in the Hamptons? Look what’s happened!”

Is it on the water?

No. I couldn’t afford on the water. If I could have, I would have.

How many children do you have?

I have a daughter, [Christine]. She’s 32. She lives on the Island now.

How long have you been married [to second husband Jay Herman] and how did you meet him?

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I’ve been married … a long time. He’s an attorney. I met him socially. I was in my 20s, I was out with friends.

How often do you see each other?

We don’t see each other much, especially not during the week. It’s worked for us; both of us were serious about our careers from the day we met. Any relationship takes compromises. I don’t think there’s a perfect formula for marriage. If it works for both of you, that’s what counts.

What time do you go to bed and wake up?

I get up at 5:30. I work out at 6:15. I have a trainer and I work out four days a week if I can. I’m not a sleeper. You can talk to anyone who works for me; they get e-mails from me at 1 a.m.

When you were young, your family was involved in a car accident that killed your mother. How has that impacted you?

Because my mom died when I was 10 and I was the oldest, I think that I really fended for myself more than most kids do. I kind of grew up quickly. I’ve often wondered what it would have been like if my mother hadn’t died.

When you started in real estate, you were a divorced single mom. What were some of the challenges you faced?

I didn’t have the money for a nanny. I had to rely on family and neighbors. At the time, most mothers didn’t work. My daughter would say, “Everyone else’s mom is home.” But in certain ways I was a role model for the kids.

What was one of the mistakes you’ve made in your career?

There was a deal where somebody shook my hand and said, “I’m giving you my word.” I was hesitant, but I was working with another broker who said, “Oh, just take it.” And he broke it. So I learned that in business, anything you decide to do should be put in writing. Even with friends.

Before you bought Douglas Elliman, you had a successful company on Long Island. Why did you decide to begin a risky and expensive venture in New York City?

I could have sold. I was offered a decent price. But I wasn’t done. There was no company that was from Manhattan to Montauk. But it wasn’t about the money. I did it because it was my vision.

Did you encounter snobbery from other agents?

I wouldn’t know what other people said. I can just tell you that I had really good experiences with all the brokers and with all the owners.

How do you get back and forth to Long Island?

I have a car. I love driving, but not in the city.

What kind of car do you drive?

I’ve had a Mercedes SL for I don’t know how many years. It’s a convertible. When it’s nice out, I can put the top down and I can listen to my music. A lot of my best thoughts come when I’m driving.

Tell me about your office. Is that a photo of Bill Clinton?

Yes, I had a fundraiser for Hillary at my house. You see the big shoe in the background? My house in the Hamptons has a shoe theme. I love shoes. That’s what people give me when they don’t know what to get.