Aaron Jungreis, NYC’s busiest multi-family broker, courts clients and controversy

Aaron Jungreis
Aaron Jungreis

In Bedford-Stuyvesant on a Monday morning, broker Aaron Jungreis is taking stock of a 20-unit apartment building, part of a 12-building, $40 million Brooklyn portfolio he had just been hired to sell.

“It’s a little dirtier than I expected,” said Jungreis, founder of Rosewood Realty Group, noting trash outside the building, which he will mention to the seller. “Did you see that cigarette butt?”

To prepare a building for sale, he said: “You want it to be crisp, to look nice.”

Jungreis is not an imposing figure. He’s just five feet, seven inches tall and a bit stocky — and he looks far younger than his 43 years. That, combined with his Canarsie accent, and a hop to his step, gives the impression that he’s just another junior sales associate.

Yet by buildings sold and commissions earned, he’s by far New York City’s top multi-family broker. Jungreis personally topped more than $1 billion in over 200 individual building sales last year, doing more deals than Robert Knakal, chairman of Massey Knakal Realty Services, widely considered the most active broker in the city over the past three decades.

And last month, Jungreis, representing both the buyer and the seller, brokered his largest deal ever: a 35-building Manhattan package that is set to close for $247 million. He declined to provide additional information before the sale was finalized.

In an industry dominated on the high end by institutional brokerage firms with global connections and flashy research departments, and on the low end by smaller firms limited by geography or product, Rosewood stands out as a firm modeled like a small one yet grabbing deals from the big ones.

Founded in 2007, Rosewood brokered $1.4 billion in 124 transactions last year in New York City, an analysis by The Real Deal showed. This year, Jungreis said he expects his 17-person company to top $2 billion.

Because of the low-profile nature of multi-family and the outer-borough location of much of the product he sells, Jungreis remains largely out of sight to most of the real estate industry. In fact, one of the city’s top investment sales brokers said he’d never heard of him. But within his market, there is no overlooking Rosewood. Jungreis has brought an aggressive and old-fashioned style to deal-making, and insiders said he’s equally at ease with the Orthodox Jewish black hats of Brooklyn and the white-shoe investors of Park Avenue.

“We all thought that old-fashioned brokerage was dead, with the Internet,” said Amit Doshi, executive director at investment sales firm Besen & Associates, who has worked with Jungreis on “many” deals over the past two decades. “But Aaron shows you can actually do brokerage [that] way.”

Still, Jungreis has ruffled feathers over several commission disputes, and he’s a maverick among the brokerage community with his openness to discuss his commission structure, as well as admitting to investing in deals he brokers and going so far as lending money to help close deals.

“He’s relentless,” said Joshua Eisenberg, principal at New Jersey–based Urban American, one of the city’s large private-equity-backed landlords. “[Some] institutional players are more comfortable with a formulaic marketing process. But if you want a quote unquote off-market or a discreet sale, then Aaron Jungreis is the guy to call.”

‘The Pad’

Neil Rubler, CEO of landlord Vantage Properties, which has purchased and sold thousands of units in recent years, described a Jungreis pitch thusly:

“‘I know your building well, I know the 10 people most likely to buy it, and I will get it sold in a way that is quick and efficient,’” Rubler recalled Jungreis saying. “’We are not going to send out 500 books that lead to 20 tours that will lead to the eight people I would have called in the first place.”

It works. Jungreis has sold about a half-dozen buildings with more than 750 units for Vantage, Rubler said.

Stuart Morgan is a principal with the Morgan Group, the owner of a Bronx portfolio with about 3,000 apartment units. He said he’s bought dozens of buildings represented by Jungreis.

Jungreis “knows exactly what I look for,” Morgan said. “Other brokers, I’ll buy one in 10 properties [they offer]. With Aaron it’s about seven out of 10.”

Jungreis’ main tools are a cell phone and “the Pad,” a notebook he uses to track scores of daily calls. Every few days he fills more than a page with red and black ink, tracking dozens of current and potential deals in tiny handwriting.

To the casual observer, the Pad looks like inscrutable scribbles, but Jungreis has a system. Approximately every other day, he creates a list of all the calls he needs to make: The main contact is in red, and other information — addresses, additional details — is in black. Not the phone number, which he typically keeps in his head. Once he has made the call, he circles the item. The goal is to circle all the items by the end of the day.

“I tried Outlook,” he said, but all the pop-up reminders just became chaotic.

Robert Knakal, whose team sold 127 buildings in the city last year, valued at about $1 billion, acknowledged that Jungreis topped him in 2012.

“Aaron is a great broker who works tenaciously,” Knakal said. (The firm Massey Knakal with more than 100 employees did about $2 billion in NYC deals last year, edging out Rosewood, TRD’s analysis showed.) Jungreis did his share of high-profile deals last year.

On behalf of a joint venture of private equity firm Westbrook Partners and Ben Shaoul’s Magnum Real Estate Group, Jungreis sold a package of 17 East Village buildings for $130 million in December that had 264 apartments and 24 stores, including 211 Avenue A, a 38-unit building at the corner of 13th Street. The buyer was a joint venture led by Midtown-based Kushner Companies.

Kushner has snapped up additional East Village buildings sold by Jungreis this year, including 335 East 9th Street, which Icon Realty Management sold for $28.75 million in March.

In addition, Jungreis brought high-profile deals to buyers such as the Chetrit Group and David Bistricer’s Clipper Equity. Chetrit and Bistricer, represented by Jungreis, purchased 98 Montague Street in Brooklyn, the former Bossert Hotel, from the Jehovah’s Witnesses for $81 million in November 2012.

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And in 2010, Bistricer and Rieder Holdings, represented by Jungreis, bought 752 West End Avenue for $72 million. Last month, Bistricer and Rieder, now represented by Eastdil Secured’s Doug Harmon and Adam Spies, sold it for $120 million.

“[Jungreis] is in constant touch with the major owners and sellers of property in the city,” Bistricer said. “No question, he is one of the top brokers in the city.”

From left: 884 West End Avenue and the former Bossert Hotel at 98 Montague Street in Brooklyn Heights

From left: 884 West End Avenue and the former Bossert Hotel at 98 Montague Street in Brooklyn Heights

Getting into the business

Jungreis was born and raised in Canarsie, the son of Benjamin, a rabbi, and Goldie, an elementary school teacher. Jungreis was the second oldest of five siblings. After graduating from Touro College in 1991, he took an uncle’s advice and gave life insurance a shot. He lasted just eight months.

“It fizzled,” Jungreis said. “I think the main reason is, I did not like bothering my friends and family to buy insurance. It was nerve-racking.”

His next move was more successful. A cousin of Jungreis’ is married to Allen Gross, CEO of family-controlled GFI Capital Resources Group, which at the time was launching its GFI Realty Services.

Jungreis took a job at GFI Realty Services in 1993, cold calling names from the so-called owners book, a compendium of all the landlords in the city formally known as the TRW REDI Book. His first year he did one deal, then eight the next year. He started in Brooklyn, then moved to the Bronx, taking Sundays to walk the neighborhoods and buildings.

He had an incentive to work hard: In 1993, he wed Ruthy Ohana. The couple, who now live in a sprawling 9,000-square-foot mansion in Lawrence, L.I., have four children — ages 10, 13, 16 and 18.

Jungreis became the top broker at GFI, and in 2001 was named president and a partner of GFI Realty, running a shop with more than two dozen brokers. In 2007 the firm did about $1.5 billion, according to news reports from the time. Jungreis recalls that during his best year at the firm, he did about $800 million in deals.

In the fall of 2007, Jungreis split with GFI. Neither he nor anyone at GFI would comment on the exact reasons why he left. Insiders said that there was a dispute over commissions. But Jungreis said he also wanted to take a bigger role in the company, but instead opted to launch his own firm.

In November of 2007, Jungreis and a former GFI colleague, David Berger, launched Rosewood Realty Group (along with another broker, who has since left the industry). The company started with five employees. While Jungreis does the bulk of the work, he has junior brokers, such as Michael Guttman, David Sheer, David Cohen and others, who execute deals alone or with him.

Rosewood has closed some $649 million through the middle of last month. Of his success, Jungreis said: “I am pinching myself. I can’t believe I am brokering more [multi-family buildings] than anyone in the United States.” (His statement could not be verified, and a search in CoStar did not show any broker coming close. However, there are several major multi-family brokers in the western part of the country.)

Yet in the mad rush of deal-making, Jungreis bends some of the traditional rules of brokerage: He says he occasionally flips contracts he himself inks with sellers, and even invests alongside buyers that he represents. It’s an open secret that real estate brokers invest in some of the deals they broker. What’s unusual is that most won’t admit to it.

Jungreis has been an investor in “about 40 to 50 deals,” he said, worth millions of dollars, including several properties he owns outright.

For example, he signed a contract to buy the 67-unit apartment building at 884 West End Avenue on the Upper West Side, but later brought in a controlling joint venture partner, which acquired the building for $31 million in November 2011. He now holds a stake he described as less than 1 percent in the deal.

He also admits things other brokers won’t. In an industry known for its lack of transparency, most brokers shy away from talking about commission structures or how they’d prefer to do a deal without a co-broker.

Jungreis, however, freely discusses his willingness to reduce a commission to accommodate a client, and said he’s gone so far as to not specify an exact commission fee, and just leave it up to the parties, saying: “You can decide what to pay me at the closing.”

And he’s frank about the fact that he prefers to do direct deals rather than co-broking. “I can’t say in good conscience that I could actually call up the seller and say, ‘hey, I have this other guy.’ I might say, ‘I have another guy, but go with my buyer.’”

These unconventional techniques have sometimes landed him in hot water with other brokers. A single deal in 2008 led to Jungreis getting hit with two lawsuits. Brokers Debrah Lee Charatan and Georgia Malone of separate, eponymous firms sued him over the sale of 13 multi-family properties on West 39th Street between Eighth and Ninth avenues. Charatan claimed Jungreis, who represented the Orbach Group that paid $68.5 million for the portfolio, cut her out of a portion of a commission, and Malone claimed he used her analysis of the property without compensating her for it.

Charatan’s lawsuit was settled, while Jungreis won his case against Malone in the New York State Court of Appeals in 2012.

Despite the disputes, Charatan continues to work with Jungreis, she said. Malone did not respond to a request for comment.

Next phase

Jungreis and his firm have sold the occasional development site and retail unit, but those transactions are few, and he recognizes the challenges of getting into an entirely different buyer base. He’s also got his eye on more institutional business. He says institutional firms like Praedium Group, Vantage, Area Property Partners, Westbrook and Dermot Company represented about half of his deals last year, and he expects they will be about 70 percent of his deals this year.

He expected his firm would attract more institutional players, despite not putting out the most comprehensive offering memorandum books.

“There will be more business for myself and the guys who work for me, all eager dogs with our tongues out and ready to get more deals done,” he said.