Manhattanites swimming in Palm Beach luxe

Brokers look to corner deals in the 'triangle' with New York, Hamptons

Filled with high fashion and high society, Palm Beach can seem like Manhattan but with palm trees.

So it’s no surprise that New York-area real estate firms have gobbled up space there to compete for a constant stream of New Yorkers flying south to find second, third and fourth homes.

Two of New York’s premier brokerages, Brown Harris Stevens and Corcoran, have operations there. Another with New York ties, Fite Shavell, formed two years ago and jumped to the top ranks of Palm Beach’s real estate world. Cofounder Wade Shavell opened the firm after helping launch Corcoran’s Palm Beach branch. He was joined by former Prudential Douglas Elliman CFO David Fite.

It’s not hard to figure out what’s drawing buyers to Florida’s exclusive retreat, the onetime John F. Kennedy “winter White House” location where power, wealth and sometimes notoriety seem as plentiful as sunny days.

In fact, some of the biggest or most newsworthy deals in Palm Beach in the last several years have involved New Yorkers on either the buyer or seller side. Donald Trump sold his mansion on North County Road in 2008 for $95 million, the area’s biggest sale that year. Through an LLC, Jane Goldman, daughter of real estate mogul Sol Goldman, bought a spacious home on the Intracoastal at 212 Via Palma that same year for $22.45 million. And last year, Rudy Giuliani and his wife, Judi, purchased a $1.4 million condo at 315 S. Lake Drive, after first buying a Palm Beach pad in 2004.

Fite said the typical buyer he sees is from the New York area. “The kind of people that have that kind of wealth are always choosing Palm Beach and the Hamptons, and their primary residence is in New York City.”

The real estate website Zillow shows that the median list price for homes in Palm Beach is $1.1 million, down 26.4 percent from 2009. The area’s average per-square-foot price has fallen from about $600 near the peak of the boom to just over $450 today. Still, Palm Beach has seen an almost 30 percent increase in the number of homes sold in the past year, according to Zillow, as prices have fallen and wealthy out-of-state buyers have jumped in, often from the tri-state area.

The Palm Beach-New York transaction is typically a joint affair with one broker in each location.

“We do go back and forth with our office in Manhattan, the Hamptons and Brooklyn,” said Ava van de Water, executive vice president at Brown Harris Stevens in Palm Beach. “We have their brochures in our window and [they have] ours in theirs.”

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Van de Water said the joint marketing push also involves Palm Beach properties being shown on plasma screens in places like the Waldorf-Astoria in New York City. Referrals work both ways. “We refer business back and forth all the time,” she said. “We had a lady here in Palm Beach recently, for example, who saw one of the brownstones in Manhattan in our window display, and she came in and wanted to know how it worked. We referred her to our office up there.”

Corcoran’s Grace Brown is based in Palm Beach and handles a number of these transactions, including referrals, which are split 50-50 with the New York counterpart.

“Someone might be looking for an apartment one day [on the Corcoran site] and switch from New York to South Florida,” Brown said. “Especially if it’s a freezing cold day in New York.”

Fite said his firm has a strong New York buyer network, buttressed by a satellite office in Westport, a frequent second-home destination.

Buyers from New York often demand more attention than luxury buyers in Florida, brokers said. “If I get a message at nine at night, New Yorkers are expecting a response right back then,” said Brown. “Other clients not on city time are a little more laid back.”

And sometimes agents need to hunt for deals outside their turf. In the summer, Palm Beach’s slow season, Fite Shavell’s agents head to places like the Hamptons and Nantucket to find prospective buyers for their Florida properties.

“You can’t just be waiting by the phone anymore,” Fite said. “I’d say we have about a third of our agents heading up to either Nantucket or the Hamptons or Westchester — we want to make sure we’re where our buyers are.”

It always comes back to what Fite calls the “triangle.”

“We share the same buyers,” said van de Water. “Usually the buyer has an apartment in Manhattan, a summer house in the Hamptons and a house here in Palm Beach.”