Q & A with top Hamptons broker Tim Davis

The Corcoran broker talks about the ups and downs of the East End market as the summer takes off, and, of course, having Dolly Lenz, of a rival firm, as a client

Tim Davis, Dolly Lenz, and 39 Cobb Hill Lane

What may be fairly obvious is that Tim Davis, with 28 listings, worth about $292 million, is one of the top brokers in the Hamptons.

Harald Grant of Sotheby’s International Realty may have more listings in the wealthy beachside getaway, with 31, and for more expensive homes — a total of $378 million, with some prices not even disclosed. But Davis clearly is outmuscling agents like Peter Turino of Brown Harris Stevens, another major earner, whose 12 listings total $136 million.

Plus, the Corcoran Group’s Davis, a 30-year Hamptons real estate veteran, had a hand in last year’s biggest brokered deal: the $38.5 million sale of a colonial house on 15 acres to a group of buyers that included designer Tory Burch (the property was carved into three lots for the deal to happen).

Comfortably navigating the overlapping Hamptons circles of Hollywood and Wall Street, Davis also counts New York real estate bigwigs among his clients, like Mary Ann Tighe, CEO for the tri-state region at CB Richard Ellis, and Leslie Himmel, a managing partner at Himmel + Meringoff Properties.

But the real estate client that has really gotten tongues wagging recently is Dolly Lenz, the uber Prudential Douglas Elliman agent, who has apparently crossed party lines and chosen a Corcoran broker to help sell her Cobb Hill Lane home. That seven-bedroom Water Mill contemporary home, with a pool, tennis court and a carriage house, has lingered on the market for a year.

In a conversation with The Real Deal, Davis, who recently quit his management duties to concentrate on selling homes, offers his theory why an Elliman broker would turn to Corcoran for help; why the Hamptons property market is not out of the woods just yet; and why the trophy homes are actually doing well.

Elliman’s Laura Nigro was marketing Lenz’s house last year. Now you and Lenz have it as a co-exclusive. Why do you think Lenz turned to you?

I’m not quite sure. I have known Dolly for some time. And I think she was looking for new energy and added value with marketing and services that I can provide to the seller. Do I think it’s unusual? I think she is a smart business woman, and she’s looking to be creative about getting her property sold.

What it’s like working with Lenz, who many describe as a tough-as-nails broker who is the biggest agent in the country?

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She definitely takes a hands-on approach like she does with all of her business. She is very involved with using photography. I had her house photographed several times by the same photographer. Then she had her own photographer come in and shoot it, and we used some of those pictures, too. And she chose the photos that would work.

In a soft market, why did you raise the price from last year to this year, to $5.9 million from $5.495 million?

It went up because she spent $1 million on renovations and redecorations in order to make the property fresh and new to the market, which is what most buyers are looking for. She completely refurnished the house, and staged it, if you will. She added moldings, replaced carpets and completely decorated it with new finishes, accessories, artwork… The property really looks fantastic.

The median sales price has dipped in the Hamptons in recent months, but you have said that the $15 million-plus market is a sweet spot. Explain.

That is accurate. There have been more sales of those homes since January than we saw in all of 2010 and in all of 2009, actually about 20 at that price point.

I think the diversification of assets on Wall Street explains it. Buyers are pulling funds out of the market to invest them. I now have six listings that are over $15 million, and I think I have a very good chance of selling three of those listings by the end of January. Now you’re probably going to check back in with me to see if I did it.

But overall, prices have dropped, fewer homes are selling, and those that do are taking much longer to do so. Why the struggles?

One of the challenges with our market is that we are not selling like-kind properties. It’s not like buying an apartment based on the view [or] floor plan. For us, it’s all very subjective. One view can add tremendous value to a home, but the one right next-door may not have that view, and will sell for much less. So, comps are very difficult.

Values are down 20 to 25 percent from 2007, and sellers have adjusted to reflect that pricing. There has not been an uptick in the market, but I feel it has stabilized. And our inventory is down from last year by about 6 percent.

But conventional wisdom suggests that vacation homes would be the first to be sacrificed in a tough economy.

We are different. This place is a lifestyle. People are not using these homes for two months but year-round. We’ve become much more of a year-round resort community. After Labor Day, a lot of East Hampton closes down. But more people are moving out of New York [City] and living here full-time. Cantor Fitzgerald has an office in Water Mill now. UBS has an office in Southampton, and so does Merrill Lynch. To a certain extent we have become a bedroom community, for those who need to go into the city three days a week.

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