Manhattan’s top listing agents

Sky-high prices protect luxury brokers from inventory squeeze

Clockwise from top: John Burger of Brown Harris Stevens, Serena Boardman of Sotheby's International Realty, Paula Del Nunzio of Brown Harris Stevens, Deborah Grubman of the Corcoran Group, Leonard Steinberg of Douglas Elliman and Carrie Chiang of Corcoran
Clockwise from top: John Burger of Brown Harris Stevens, Serena Boardman of Sotheby's International Realty, Paula Del Nunzio of Brown Harris Stevens, Deborah Grubman of the Corcoran Group, Leonard Steinberg of Douglas Elliman and Carrie Chiang of Corcoran

With more eight- and even nine-figure listings hitting the market, Manhattan’s top brokers aren’t feeling the inventory squeeze as much as their colleagues in other segments of the residential industry. While nearly all of Manhattan’s top 10 brokers have fewer properties on the market than last year, most have a higher dollar value of listings, according to The Real Deal’s annual ranking of Manhattan’s top 75 listing agents.

That includes Sotheby’s International Realty brokers Serena Boardman, Elizabeth Sample and Brenda Powers, who are co-listing what is currently the most expensive apartment in Manhattan: the late investor Martin Zweig’s triplex at the Pierre Hotel at 795 Fifth Avenue for $125 million. Boardman, ranked at No. 2 on TRD’s list, had 17 listings worth $304.49 million as of May 1, up dramatically from her $198.9 million total last year. Sample and Powers, who work as a team, came in at No. 5 with listings worth $215.3 million, a jump from $162.9 million in 2012.

For Deborah Grubman of the Corcoran Group, getting the exclusive on Stephen Cohen’s $115 million duplex at One Beacon Court helped propel her to No. 3, from No. 11 last year. This year, she had 12 listings worth $258.82 million, far more than her $125.47 million last year.

“The numbers are bigger now than they’ve ever been,” Grubman said.

Using data collected from the listings portal On-Line Residential, TRD ranked the top 75 agents based on dollar value of Manhattan listings on the market or in contract as of May 1.


Sotheby’s International Realty brokers Serena Boardman, Elizabeth Sample and Brenda Powers are co-listing a triplex at the Pierre Hotel for $125 million

Going solo

The city’s top real estate brokers have vastly different approaches when it comes to marketing properties. Some hire large teams of agents to assist them, while others work primarily alone, joining with other agents only for occasional one-off deals.

One lone wolf is John Burger of Brown Harris Stevens, who for the second consecutive year earned the No. 1 spot on TRD’s ranking, with 25 listings worth nearly $411 million.

Besides his assistant of 10 years, Burger works alone — something he believes his clients value.

“The backbone of [my] business is personal service,” said Burger, who has been in real estate for nearly three decades. “I believe that my clients want me. And I try to be as available as possible. I answer my own telephone, and I answer my own emails.”

Because of his approach, Burger said he “easily” turns away two to three clients a month, referring them to other Brown Harris Stevens agents. That means he gets to pick and choose his listings, which currently include a duplex penthouse at 55 Central Park West on the market for $35 million, and a 16-room penthouse at 52 East 72nd Street for $21.95 million. Burger also recently put a penthouse at 10 Gracie Square on the market for $23 million, though the property wasn’t included in TRD’s ranking because it was listed after May 1.

When Burger ascended to the top of TRD’s rankings last year, he displaced another longtime top Brown Harris Stevens broker, townhouse specialist Paula Del Nunzio, who was ranked No. 1 in 2011 but slipped to No. 3 in 2012.

21 Beekman Place

21 Beekman Place

This year, Del Nunzio came in at No. 6, with 12 properties worth $195.77 million. Among her current listings: a $43 million townhouse at 21 Beekman Place with views of the East River.

Like Burger, Del Nunzio said she works alone except for a “superb” assistant. She does occasionally partner with other agents, “depending on the nature of the property.” For example, she and Burger are currently working together to market a nine-room penthouse at the prewar co-op 1088 Park Avenue.

Del Nunzio said no matter what the market conditions, she relies on the same strategy.

“I am always trying to customize a marketing plan and presentation of a property, so the buyers will know precisely what the property is and they’ll come in droves,” she said. “The money stays the same — the pockets change.”

The notoriously press-shy Boardman, who declined to comment for this story, often works with fellow Sotheby’s broker Meredyth Smith. The two sold a penthouse at 730 Park Avenue in Decemberto hedge funder Daniel Benton for $39 million, and recently represented Boardman’s brother-in-law, RFR Realty President Aby Rosen, in the $47 million sale of a townhouse at 22 East 71st Street to Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabr al-Thani.

On her own, Boardman is the listing agent for a $14 million unit at 19 East 72nd Street.

Sample and Powers, by contrast, have worked together on every listing for the past 20 years, ever since Powers left the hotel business to join Sample at Corcoran. In early May they had only five listings on the market and one in contract, down from 10 at this time last year, but one of them is the $125 million Pierre penthouse. Sample and Powers sold the apartment to the Zweigs in 1999 for $21.5 million.

The Zweigs are “friends of ours and long-, long-time clients,” Sample told TRD. “We have a history with them.”

Still, “every firm in town” pitched the family for an opportunity to list the iconic prewar penthouse, which occupies the top three floors of the Pierre, Sample said. Some firms, she said, even suggested listing it for as much as $200 million.

“It’s very difficult to price apartments,” Sample said. She said the high price of the Zweig triplex, however, is justified by the fact that the apartment is “irreplaceable.” Although she declined to specify the co-op’s exact square footage, she said the price per square foot is “well below $10,000,” which makes the price “very compelling” compared to other apartments on the market now asking $15,000.

Sample and Powers are also listing a $50 million penthouse at the Mandarin Oriental at 80 Columbus Circle.

969 Fifth Avenue

969 Fifth Avenue

Teaming up

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Other top brokers choose to work in teams, hiring other agents to show their listings, schedule appointments and help bring in new business.

Grubman, for example, leads Corcoran’s Deborah Grubman Team, which is made up of three agents — senior vice president David Dubin, senior associate Paul Albano and salesperson Marianna Klaiman — and a full-time driver.

The team set-up represents a change for Grubman, who for years worked as a partner with broker Carol Cohen, who left Corcoran in 2010 in the midst of a lawsuit involving Cohen’s rent-stabilized apartment at 737 Park Avenue.

For Grubman, having a team has “made my life much easier in many ways, because just the scheduling of appointments has become a full-time job,” she said. “I’m sort of the face of the team and that’s very nice, but the back office is just as important, because if they don’t do their job right, it’s not an efficient team.”

Grubman declined to comment on the One Beacon Court listing, saying that her clients appreciate her discretion. She is also listing several other pricey apartments across the city, including a five-bedroom duplex at 158 Mercer Street for $42 million.

Raphael De Niro of Douglas Elliman, who with 22 listings worth $189.89 million moved to No. 7 from No. 20 last year, also heads a team. De Niro joined Elliman in 2004, and said he has been building up his team ever since. It’s now grown to seven other agents, including his wife, Claudine.

“I’ve been selective with who I bring on to the team,” De Niro said. “There hasn’t been a lot of turnover, and I haven’t added additional people in a while.”

The team nearly doubled the value of its listings in the past year, which De Niro attributes to its focus on exclusives.

“I’ve put an emphasis for myself and my team to become listing agents, and focus on winning every pitch,” De Niro said. “We take those really seriously, and pull out all the stops.”

De Niro made headlines last July when he and fellow Elliman broker Victoria Logvinsky listed developer Steven Klar’s penthouse at CitySpire for $100 million, a record-high asking price for Manhattan at the time. The unit was taken off the market in January, and has since resurfaced. It is now listed with Klar’s Long Island brokerage, Klar Realty.

“Douglas Elliman, they definitely did promote it well,” Klar told The Real Deal last month. But after the exclusive expired, he decided that he would let Klar Realty “take a shot at it.”

De Niro said the highly publicized listing, which was widely criticized as being grossly overpriced, was something of a mixed blessing.

“My name went around the world in the course of weeks, and I don’t know if that would have happened any other way,” De Niro said. “Some might say it hurt my reputation in certain ways. Others say, ‘no press is bad press.’ The jury is still out.”

Another top team is Corcoran’s Carrie Chiang Group. The team, which includes Janet Wang, Richard Phan and Julian Berkeley, had 52 listings worth $258.18 million — putting Chiang in the No. 4 spot, down from No. 2 last year.

Chiang rarely speaks to the press and declined to be interviewed for this story. But her team is listing NFL president David Seldin’s townhouse at 131 East 64th Street for $19.9 million, a townhouse at 120 East 71st Street for $16.9 million and two penthouses at the Cassa Hotel and Residences at 70 West 45th Street for $20.3 million and $16 million, respectively.

For years, Chiang battled Elliman’s Dolly Lenz for the No. 1 spot on TRD’s top agents list. This year, Lenz fell from No. 4 to No. 8 in the rankings, with 11 listings worth $175.88 million.

Lenz, who did not respond to requests for comment, is co-listing a full-floor unit at the Sherry Netherland with Brown Harris Stevens’ Kathy Sloane for $95 million, and a penthouse at 1 East 62nd Street for $29.5 million.

New to the top 10 this year is Dan Neiditch, president of the boutique firm River 2 River Realty. Neiditch moved to No. 9 with $168.3 million in listings, up from No. 23 last year.

Neiditch said he started his firm about 10 years ago as a branch of his family’s real estate firm, which manages and owns buildings. The seven-agent brokerage handles rentals and sales at the Atelier at 635 West 42nd Street, where its headquarters are located and where Neiditch has been president of the building’s condo board for the past seven years.

Neiditch is currently listing a block of nine apartments at the building with an asking price of $85 million. If combined as advertised, the units would become a 10,000-square-foot apartment spanning the entire 45th floor of the Atelier.

While most of his listings are at the Atelier, Neiditch does have listings in other buildings. In November, for example, Neiditch sold beer heiress Daphne Guinness’s apartment at the former Stanhope hotel at 995 Fifth Avenue for $11.3 million.

Rounding out the top 10 is Elliman’s Leonard Steinberg, with $139.93 million in listings. Steinberg started the LuxuryLoft team 11 years ago, with fellow agent Hervé Senequier and an assistant. Now, the team has 10 members.

“As much as there was something wonderful about being on my own, there’s something to be said about having a team to support you, and to work together to make things better,” said Steinberg, whose team also ranked No. 10 last year. “I think it’s been very successful.”

Steinberg is currently listing a mansion at 144 Duane Street in Tribeca for $49.5 million, and an apartment at 40 Bond Street for $26 million. And along with De Niro, Steinberg and his team are handling sales at the new condo development 150 Charles Street. (However, due to the lack of public listings at the building, none of the units were counted in TRD’s rankings.) Steinberg said he’s been working on marketing 150 Charles Street for five years.

“I really dedicated myself to 150 Charles Street,” Steinberg said. “While everyone says we’ve been this overnight success … there were five years of meetings and product planning and tweaking the product again and again. It was pretty intense.”