With pro athlete clients like Randy Winn, brokers need to be on their game

September 03, 2010 09:30AM

Randy Winn, Nelson Cabassa, Adam Modlin and Trump Place

Talk of Tiger Woods’ rumored Manhattan bachelor pad abounded this week, breeding envy among real estate agents who would no doubt love to work with the wealthy golf star.

But finding homes for professional athletes comes with a unique set of challenges.

For one thing, their plans can change on a dime, as Bond New York’s Nelson Cabassa recently discovered when he rented an $11,000-per-month apartment to pro baseball player Randy Winn. Cabassa talked to The Real Deal about the experience, which typifies the challenges elite athletes face when house-hunting.

Winn, a free-agent outfielder who spent the last three years with the San Francisco Giants, signed a one-year, $2 million contract with the Yankees in January. Cabassa helped Winn, 36, and his family get settled in a three-bedroom condo at Trump Place at 220 Riverside Boulevard, between 70th and 71st streets.

But there are some things that even the most skilled real estate agent can’t control: Winn had a dismal season.
“I played terrible and that’s the bottom line,” Winn told ESPN at the time.

He was released from the Yankees in May and center fielder Curtis Granderson returned to the lineup. Within days, Winn had signed a contract with the St. Louis Cardinals, which sent Cabassa scrambling to find a new tenant for the apartment and ensure a smooth transition between renters.

These speedy changeups are common in the world of professional sports, explained broker-to-the-stars Adam Modlin, whose client roster is rumored to include New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist and Yankees slugger Alex Rodriguez (he is notoriously guarded about his client list).

“When an athlete is traded to a new city during the season, it’s very short notice,” Modlin explained. “Once they get a phone call that they’re being transferred, they have to show up on the field within 24 hours.”

That means brokers have to be on their game.

“It is an extremely fast-paced situation, and you need to be prepared to be up to the task,” Modlin said.

Cabassa has worked on real estate transactions involving Hollywood celebrities and politicians in the past, but finding an apartment for the Winns “was a unique situation in that their schedule was very demanding, and their ability to be here was very limited,” he said.

As a result, he said, his duties went far beyond the typical real estate-related task. “I was very much involved with personal assistance to their transition here, more than I normally am in most rental transactions,” he said.

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When Winn and his wife, Blessings, learned that they’d be relocating from San Francisco to New York, they contacted Cabassa, whom they’d met years ago through mutual friends.

Shortly thereafter, Cabassa met Blessings at the airport at 8:30 a.m. on a Saturday morning in a limousine. They drove to Bronxville, looking at several single-family homes in the 5,000-square-foot range, and then on to Manhattan.

The Winns had a couple of important requirements for their future home, Cabassa said. The building would need tight security and a location within 15 minutes of Yankee Stadium.

First they checked out a penthouse at the new Columbus Square development, comprised of five rental buildings spanning 97th to 100th streets and Columbus to Amsterdam avenues. But it was the next stop — unit #42D at Trump Place — that won the day.

Overlooking the Hudson River, the 49-story tower has a health club and garage. The building, which was home to Hideki Matsui when he played for the Yankees, “get [its] fair share of baseball players and celebrities,” Cabassa said.

Blessings liked the security features at Trump Place and “the amount of space that they were getting,” Cabassa said. The 2,000-square-foot apartment has “a wall of windows,” he said, as well as dark cherry wood cabinets and stainless steel appliances. Perhaps most importantly, it is located near the West Side Highway, so Winn could get to Yankee Stadium in 12 minutes, Cabassa said.

Moreover, in “that part of the Upper West Side, there’s not a whole lot of foot traffic so the likelihood of running into fans and being inundated with that is a lot less in that location,” he said.

But Cabassa’s work wasn’t done. When the Winns sold their house in San Francisco, they moved their belongings to a home they own in Florida. To save them the trouble of having to transport the contents again, Cabassa worked with an interior designer to select rental furniture for the Trump Place apartment. His duties also included “making sure everything was ready for them” to arrive, even signing for packages.

Then, when Cabassa learned in May that Winn was relocating to St. Louis, he found himself “basically reversing the entire transaction.” He needed to find a new tenant as quickly as possible so the condo owner — an Ohio doctor — wouldn’t be stuck with a vacant apartment, and the Winns wouldn’t have to pay a fee for breaking the lease.

“I got a call on a Saturday afternoon, and as soon as I got home I put up and ad for [the apartment],” Cabassa said. Luckily, he quickly received a call from a family who had their sights set on moving into Trump Place. By Monday, the new renters were filling out a condo board application.

Pro athletes — especially those transferred during the middle of the season — often need to move again when the season is over, Modlin said, so a standard 12-month-lease doesn’t work. As a result, “in New York, most homes are not going to be appropriate,” Modlin said. Brokers working with athletes “need to figure out which homes to show, where a landlord understands that they’re only going to get a three- or four-month commitment.”

Cabassa was able to negotiate a deal where the Winn’s departure coincided exactly with the new tenant’s arrival. The new renters signed on to finish out the Winn’s lease at $11,000, then pay $11,250 the second year.

“It was a little bit of a trick, but at the end of the day the owner lost no time and money,” Cabassa said. The extra work was worth it, he said, because both parties were satisfied. “In this situation, you have to put your best foot forward.”

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