Meet the townhouse experts topping TRD’s rankings

Lesser Kantha Team founders reflect on market highs in Brooklyn, downtown Manhattan

Lesser Kantha Team's Ravi Kantha and Matthew Lesser
Lesser Kantha Team's Ravi Kantha and Matthew Lesser (Leslie J. Garfield, Getty)

The existence of the Lesser Kantha Team implies that of a greater one, though you’d be hard pressed to find a duo with more recent townhouse sales than Leslie J. Garfield’s Matthew Lesser and Ravi Kantha.

After six years of partnership, the pair has garnered a reputation as experts in the property type, with a focus on downtown Manhattan and Brownstone Brooklyn. Last year marked a high point for townhouse sales in the city, earning the team a top spot in The Real Deal’s 2022 broker rankings.

“It’s great to be a specialist,” Kantha said. “That’s how you separate yourself from the broker who’s running around selling $500,000 apartments in Bed Stuy and some houses in Carroll Gardens, and they’ve got a listing on the Upper East Side. That’s a hectic business life to lead.”

Though the two now share business — and each other’s passwords, according to Kantha — their journeys to real estate are in many ways a tale of two opposites. Lesser, an 18-year-veteran in the industry, joined Leslie J. Garfield fresh out of college and became a partner at the firm just eight years later.

But real estate is Kantha’s second career, one which he said he couldn’t afford to fail. Kantha was a lawyer, first as a prosecutor and then as a private practice criminal defense attorney specializing in white collar crime. By the time Kantha joined the industry, he was 29 years old and saddled with over $300,000 in student loans. 

“I couldn’t be worried about my future,” Kantha said. “I didn’t want to start at a place that wouldn’t be supportive, that wouldn’t give me an opportunity to succeed.”

Kantha found that opportunity when Lesser brought him on as an assistant eight months after he joined the firm. The two connected over their time as collegiate athletes, Lesser said, and it was Kantha’s legal experience and follow-up post-meeting that sold Lesser on the partnership.

The two have since grown their team and the scope of their business, with Kantha heading their foray into Brooklyn.

The Lesser Kantha Team placed seventh in TRDs ranking of top resale brokers in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens, with $187 million in closed sales across 32 deals. The group ended the year with its priciest sale — a Brooklyn Heights home that closed for $16.8 million.

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The sellers, financier Mark Werner and his wife Dawn, bought 212 Columbia Heights in 2012 for $11 million, which at the time, was the most expensive sale in the neighborhood since 2003. The five-story, six-bedroom townhouse underwent a gut renovation before it hit the market in February 2021. 

The home’s lofty sale price points to what Kantha described as high demand for turnkey product and a tight purchase market in Brooklyn last year, with more buyers from the $10 million plus price point setting up roots in the borough instead of Manhattan. 

“Everybody wants to be in now,” Kantha said. “Everybody has had a friend or a friend of a friend who’s renovated and had an absolute nightmare story.” 

Renovations have gotten pricier over the last few years and taking on that process anywhere in the city comes with its own set of hurdles, Kantha added, particularly navigating permitting from the Department of Buildings or contending with complaints from neighbors. 

“I think a lot of people look at that process and say, ‘I don’t want to do it.’” 

It’s an experience with which Kantha is all too familiar. He and his wife, attorney Kathryn Kantha, are fighting a lawsuit filed against them by their neighbor claiming renovations to their Brooklyn Heights townhouse have damaged her property, among other allegations. 

“The claims are baseless, and the facts will come to light through this process,” Kantha said in response to the lawsuit.

After a banner year, the duo said they’re looking to expand beyond their six-person team to cover more space in Brooklyn and increase their presence in Manhattan. But even with potential growth on the horizon, the brokers are committed to their niche. 

“We’re not trying to be all things for all people,” Lesser said.

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