Inside Liza Pulitzer’s world navigating Palm Beach real estate

Pulitzer and partner Whitney McGurk are BHS’ top producers on the island

Real Estate Broker Liza Pulitzer on Selling Palm Beach

A photo illustration of Liza Pulitzer (Getty, Brown Harris Stevens)

In Palm Beach, your real estate agent’s name may sound familiar. 

You may have seen it in a magazine advertisement. Or perhaps you saw it on a building, an award or the tag on your colorfully printed dress.  

At least, this would be the case if your agent is Liza Pulitzer. 

Pulitzer and her partner are the top Brown Harris Stevens team in Palm Beach County, closing more than $550 million in deals since they teamed up in 2018. 

“I bought hairspray, a scarf, everything I thought a real estate agent needed,” she said, but it didn’t amount to much. “I made $200 on a rental.”
Liza Pulitzer, Brown Harris Stevens

Always a luxury hub, Palm Beach is now an epicenter of trophy properties, with deals regularly breaking price records. In the wake of the boom, though, inventory is down and the pace of business has slowed. 

“It’s a tough business,” Pulitzer said. “People want to see results.”

Dealmaking is less a science and more an art form, which is where Pulitzer thrives. 

Pulitzer, 67, daughter of the late Lilly Pulitzer, has made a career out of a life steeped in the island’s society. She understands its most prized principle: discretion. 

Like other trophy markets, Palm Beach’s luxury properties are quietly shopped off-market and regularly trade between anonymous trusts and Delaware LLCs. The island is also a notoriously tough social scene for outsiders to break into.

“I think that people look at me as somebody who was born and raised here on the island. They know that they can trust me,” she said. 

But the 40-year veteran got a new spin on her successful streak in 2018, when she took on an unexpected partner. 

Twenty-four years her junior, Whitney McGurk is childhood best friends with Pulitzer’s son Bobby Leidy. He grew up on the island, calling fashion icon Lilly Pulitzer “Granny” and eating at her table.

They joined forces at the right time. Two years into their partnership, a global pandemic would upend the island’s market, sending demand and prices into unprecedented stratospheres. 

Together they represent hedge fund billionaires, socialite artists, real estate developers and even Leidy in multimillion-dollar deals. Pulitzer and McGurk are a meeting of the left and right brains. McGurk is a self-described numbers guy. He gets contracts written, photographers booked and data pulled — a balance to Pulitzer’s outgoing personality as a woman about town with the Rolodex to match. 

Meeting of the minds

They came together naturally, they say. But Pulitzer wasn’t so keen on having a partner at first. 

“I wasn’t even thinking I wanted anybody,” Pulitzer said. She didn’t want to train a newbie agent, and she didn’t want to share commissions. 

McGurk had just returned to Palm Beach in 2014. He had been living in New York City and working as one of Ralph Lauren’s top watch salespeople when he came back to the island for Leidy’s wedding. Fed up with the city drudgery, he realized he didn’t want to go back.

“I told Ralph I was leaving,” he said. “Less than a month later, I was home.”

Back on the island, McGurk had to find a new career. His dad had been an agent, so he figured he’d give it a try. The lessons from selling $20,000 watches also applied to selling $20 million homes, he said. McGurk got his license and joined Brown Harris Stevens. 

Trying to learn the business, McGurk would help other agents, including Pulitzer.

Sign Up for the undefined Newsletter

In 2017, he represented spec developer Todd Glaser in his $5.9 million purchase of a lakefront Palm Beach home. Six years and one renovation later, he and Pulitzer are co-listing the property, but this time the price tag is $30 million.  

“He was born here. He was raised here. He knows the nuances of the island,” she said. ”He didn’t have to come in here to train.”  

It would take another born-and-bred Palm Beacher to match Pulitzer, whose family’s roots on the island run a century deep and have been closely intertwined with the evolution of the old money enclave.

She is the great-granddaughter of newspaper baron Joseph Pulitzer. On her mother’s side, she is tied to family fortunes originated by Carnegie Steel and Standard Oil. Those same fortunes were the first to develop the barrier island in the late 1800s.

From dresses to deals 

Decades later, the same last names still reigned on the island. Lilly Pulitzer started her eponymous line in 1959, three years after Liza Pulitzer was born. The bright cotton shift dresses cemented the brand’s status as the sartorial signature of Palm Beach when they were spotted on American royals Jackie Kennedy, Happy Rockefeller and Wendy Vanderbilt. 

Before real estate, Liza Pulitzer designed a juniors line for Lilly Pulitzer. But the brand closed shop in 1984, and working for mom was no longer an option. (It was revived in 1993 by Sugartown Worldwide, who sold it to Oxford Industries for $60 million in 2010, according to published reports).

An avid real estate watcher, Liza Pulitzer decided it could be fun to get her license, but never “thought of making a career out of it.” 

“I bought hairspray, a scarf, everything I thought a real estate agent needed,” she said, but it didn’t amount to much. “I made $200 on a rental.”

Palm Beach’s brokerage landscape was much different than it is now. There was no Brown Harris Stevens, no Corcoran, no Douglas Elliman. Most firms were mom-and-pop shops. Sotheby’s International Realty opened its first Palm Beach office in 1976.

“Sotheby’s was probably the biggest firm back then, but all my friends were there,” Pulitzer said. “I needed to have my own space and my own environment.”

It was a boutique brokerage that came to her promising her own space –– and an office on Worth Avenue. 

“Martha Gottfried came to me and said, ‘Liza, you’ll have no competition,’” she said of joining Martha A. Gottfried Inc., the firm started by Palm Beach developer Bob Gottfried’s first wife. “And that was that.”

After working for Gottfried and a brief stint at Engel & Völkers that she “doesn’t count” (it was a poor culture fit, Pulitzer said), she landed at Brown Harris Stevens in 2011. 

She could have partnered with other family members dabbling in real estate, but she was comfortable in her solo act.

Her sister Minnie Pulitzer and Minnie’s daughter, Lilly Leas Ferreira, are licensed with Brown Harris Stevens. Their sister-in-law, Kourtney Pulitzer, is also an agent with Sotheby’s International Realty in Palm Beach.

Liza and Minnie occasionally work together, whenever a property within the family is going on the market. 

But her biggest listings will be with McGurk. So far this season, they have more than $100 million in listings. Even facing low inventory and sales declines, their ambition is unbridled. 

“My goal is to not just be the top team at Brown Harris Stevens,” McGurk said. “I’d like to be the highest-producing small team in Palm Beach.”

That would mean surpassing Douglas Elliman agents Chris Leavitt and Ashley McIntosh

Pulitzer and McGurk’s friends and family share that confidence.

“Five years in a row they’ve been the top team at our brokerage,” said Ferreira, Liza’s niece. “I don’t see that changing any time soon.”

Recommended For You