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In the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, New York City was hit first — and hardest. With the unfolding tragedy came a flood of residents suddenly looking for properties outside the city as well as anxious whispers that the city might never return to its former glory. The effect on NYC’s real estate market was severe: In the second quarter of 2020, Manhattan sales fell 54.1 percent, their steepest decline in 30 years, while prices dropped 17.7 percent, according to data from Douglas Elliman.
But by the last few months of 2020, there was an upsurge in activity, and demand has only grown through 2021. “It’s still the greatest city in the world, and everybody wants to be here,” says Core NYC broker Emily Beare. Homes priced over $10 million in Manhattan recently had their best sales week in eight years, and both sales volume and prices continue to spike. “New York City has a resiliency that a lot of other markets don’t have,” says Pamela D’Arc of Compass. “We’re seeing exactly what we saw after other tragic events that have happened in the city, which is that people paused, and then the rebound was extraordinary.” Here, The Hollywood Reporter highlights the city’s top agents who are inking marquee deals and helping A-list clients navigate the brisk, reinvigorated market. (Note: Client names that are included, unless otherwise noted, were all publicly reported transactions.)
OREN AND TAL ALEXANDER
When it came time for hotelier André Balazs to sell his $10.3 million SoHo apartment, he turned to Douglas Elliman’s Oren and Tal Alexander of The Alexander Team. The pair are known for breaking multiple SoHo price records and hold listings in trophy buildings from 432 Park Ave. to 111 West 57th St. In 2021, New York City’s market “has been wild,” says Tal, “and I don’t see it slowing down anytime soon.” They also are licensed in Florida, where they have handled sales for Tommy Hilfiger and restaurateur Jeff Zalaznick (Carbone).
Core’s Emily Beare is consistently one of New York City’s top agents, with more than $4 billion in career sales. She also has become the broker of choice for designer Nate Berkus, whom she represented in the off-market sale of a $13.5 million West Village townhouse in August. Beare previously has worked with Diane Kruger and sold a SoHo property once owned by Kanye West. She currently holds a $35 million listing at tony condo building 15 Central Park West. “There’s a lot of good buyers out there and not enough inventory,” says Beare. “Not a day goes by that I don’t get emails from brokers asking, ‘What do you have for $20 or $30 million in the West Village?’”
Sotheby’s International Realty
In her 20-year career at Sotheby’s International Realty, Serena Boardman has sold more than $4 billion worth of property. In 2021, Boardman listed a $21.5 million Central Park West mansion belonging to Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones as well as a $60 million Upper East Side townhouse owned by billionaire Ron Perelman. Boardman recently handled a $32 million penthouse listing for Broadway producer Terry Allen Kramer, as well as a $17 million mansion listed by former Simon & Schuster head honcho Dick Snyder.
Brown Harris Stevens
When Bette Midler unloaded her Upper East Side penthouse for a cool $45 million and the Nasser family (who made their fortune in textile manufacturing) sold their Fifth Avenue co-op for $35 million this year, Brown Harris Stevens’ John Burger was behind both deals. Burger also has repped Jeff Bezos on numerous deals. His current listings include a $32.25 million Fifth Avenue apartment that was the longtime home of jeweler Harry Winston and a $60 million Upper East Side duplex said to be owned by Princess Firyal of Jordan. As for which areas of Manhattan are hot, Burger says, “I think there’s been a bit of a renaissance for the Upper East Side and Central Park West markets. Central Park is the crown jewel of New York, and people have started to embrace it more than ever. For many people it was their only opportunity to be outdoors and socially distanced during COVID.”
Since starting her career in 1988, Corcoran’s Carrie Chiang has worked with bold-faced names including Barbra Streisand, Jim Carrey, Sean Combs and Derek Jeter. She currently represents the $28 million 6 Sutton Square townhouse being sold by Yue-Sai Kan, known as “the Oprah of China,” and is in contract for the $14.9 million sale of the China Institute building. Chiang also is no stranger to eye-popping Billionaire’s Row listings and currently reps a $79 million penthouse at 432 Park Ave, as well as $63.75 million spread at Central Park Tower. “I focus mostly on the Upper East Side, and a lot of the people I’m working with might have lived downtown or in New Jersey [before the pandemic], but now they want to be near their kids’ private schools,” says Chiang.
A 28-year industry veteran, Pamela D’Arc moved to Compass in 2019 when the firm acquired Stribling and Associates and hit the ground running. Over the course of the pandemic, D’Arc conducted deals for the likes of Jennifer Lawrence and the estate of the late Alan Rickman and in 2021 has seen a rush of activity from Los Angeles-based clientele. “I have so many L.A. people who have decided to move to New York or move back to New York,” says D’Arc. This fall, she also helped former MTV Networks CEO and chairman Judy McGrath sell her Upper West Side brownstone for $7.8 million.
Like many of New York City’s top luxury brokers, Corcoran’s Danny Davis has fielded a higher-than-usual volume of off-market deals since the start of the pandemic (see sidebar at end of story), including the sale of WeWork co-founder and CEO Adam Neumann’s West Village townhouse for $13.65 million in August. Davis also led the listing team behind the June sale of a $15 million Tribeca penthouse owned by director-producer Shawn Levy (and formerly owned by Jon Stewart). Levy and his wife had purchased the property for $13 million just two months prior, per public records. Davis is nearing $300 million in total sales for 2021 and is currently repping a $12.5 million penthouse at the Clark Building in Tribeca. “I’m very optimistic and really looking forward to what’s going to happen with the foreign market,” says Davis. “I know a handful of people all just waiting to fly back to New York and buy property.”
PAULA DEL NUNZIO
Brown Harris Stevens
Over the course of her 25-year career, Brown Harris Stevens’ Paula Del Nunzio has developed a specialty for ultra-high-end townhouses, working with marquee names including Jessica Chastain. Currently, she holds the listing for a $52 million Upper East Side townhouse owned by the American Irish Historical Society as well as a $14.5 million townhouse that Gwyneth Paltrow lived in as a child that is now in contract. Earlier this year, she sold billionaire Vincent Viola’s 20,000-square-foot Upper East Side mansion for a whopping $60 million. “The interesting thing about the luxury market is that it seems to prevail no matter what else is happening because there are a certain number of people who will always want to be in New York,” says Del Nunzio. “They may have homes in many other places and countries, but they still always want something in New York.”
FREDRIK EKLUND & JOHN GOMES
This Douglas Elliman duo not only has taken their Eklund Gomes sales team bicoastal in the past few years but expanded into Florida and Texas as well. “The biggest trend we see is wealthy people buying more residences around the country,” says Fredrik Eklund (who also made THR’s list of Top 30 Hollywood Real Estate Agents this year). “They now collect these apartments like art. You had your art collection, now you have your home collection.” The team, which has worked with everyone from Keith Richards to Jennifer Lawrence and Gigi Hadid, led sales at the Lenny Kravitz-designed 75 Kenmare and currently represent a $79 million condo at 432 Park Ave. The group also co-leads sales at recently launched luxury development The Olympia in Brooklyn’s DUMBO neighborhood.
STEPHEN FERRARA & CLAYTON ORRIGO
Working together as the Hudson Advisory Team at Compass, Clayton Orrigo and Stephen Ferrara work closely with New York City power players from media to fashion and beyond, having sold Nelson Rockefeller’s former Upper East Side apartment in late 2020 and representing the likes of Graydon Carter and Marc Jacobs. In 2021, the pair sold a $50 million penthouse at Tribeca’s so-called “Jenga building” and expanded their purview beyond New York City to assist Tom Ford in the $48 million sale of his Tadao Ando-designed New Mexico ranch. “We’ve seen a shift to multiple homes,” says Ferrara. “Ultra-high net worth people have always had multiple homes, but I think the wealth creation that’s occurred [recently] has obviously opened up that possibility for a lot of people. In New York, that’s created an incredibly strong pied a terre market as well.”
Corcoran broker and Million Dollar Listing New York star Steve Gold sold a slate of penthouses over the past year, including one at 15 Hudson Yards, which was the highest recorded sale ($29.5 million) ever at the development. He also was behind the sale of all three penthouses at the Zaha Hadid-designed 520 West 28th St. “These trophy properties are getting swooped up, and people are betting on the resiliency of New York and its comeback,” says Gold, whose clients in the past year included model Hilary Rhoda, Griffin Dunne and Spotlight producer Michael Bederman.
RAVI KANTHA & MATTHEW LESSER
Leslie J. Garfield
Working together as the Lesser Kantha Team at Leslie J. Garfield, Ravi Kantha and Matthew Lesserhave sold a slew of townhouses to high-profile buyers across Brooklyn and Manhattan. This year, the duo worked with Brooklyn Nets head coach Steve Nash on the purchase of a $5 million Brooklyn townhouse and handled the listing of a $10.5 million Chelsea carriage house owned by Arthur Miller’s daughter. “2020 and 2021 have been some of our best years in the business. Once we were able to show again [after the initial lockdown], the floodgates opened,” says Lesser. “The demand for townhouse living surged dramatically. Buyers want privacy, outdoor space, and multi-floor living.”
Sotheby’s International Realty
While most high-profile sellers are eager to keep their listings under wraps, when Jimmy Fallon and his wife, producer Nancy Juvonen, put their Gramercy Park triplex on the market earlier this year, “They were happy to have it out there because it’s so unusual,” says Sotheby’s International Realty’s Debbie Korb. “It’s very eccentric in the most wonderful way and reflects both of their personalities.” Korb also currently holds the listing for David Duchovny’s $7.5 million Upper West Side apartment and previously brokered the sale of Maggie Gyllenhaal and Peter Sarsgaard’s Park Slope townhouse.
Adam Modlin, founder of Modlin Group, can easily be counted among the city’s top power brokers, handling high-profile and occasionally sensitive deals for some of the city’s most well-known residents. This year alone, Modlin’s list of clients includes Jennifer Lopez, Kanye West, Josh Kushner and Karlie Kloss, Joe Jonas and Sophie Turner, former Google CEO Eric Schmidt, Ryan Seacrest, Tom Brady and Gisele Bündchen, and Emma Stone. Modlin also brokered the $51 million sale of disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein’s former Upper East Side townhouse to Australian financier Michael Daffey and recently closed a record-breaking sale of a Hamptons property priced at more than $100 million. He currently is marketing a $50 million penthouse at the Time Warner Center owned by developer and Miami Dolphins co-owner Stephen Ross.
Over the past year, Million Dollar Listing New York mainstay Ryan Serhant appeared on the show’s 10th season, had a second season of his iHeartRadio podcast picked up and left his longtime home at Nest Seekers International to start his own firm, Serhant, which has a division dedicated to concierge services for high-net-worth clients. Serhant also handled the sale of Bella Hadid’s $6.5 million SoHo penthouse as well as sales for chef David Bouley and hotelier Ian Reisner. Serhant is leading sales at Brooklyn’s Quay Tower, where buyers have included Zendaya. “There’s an excitement in the real estate business right now,” he says, “that I’ve never seen personally in my career.”
Off-Market Sales Soar in New York City
While high-end Manhattan sales have picked up pace across the board, a number of brokers have noticed the same trend: More and more of these deals are being handled off-market, meaning the property is never formally listed for sale. “At the really top end, a lot of these deals are being done off-market,” says Douglas Elliman’s Tal Alexander.
In some cases, an off-market listing can be a matter of maintaining a high-profile seller’s privacy. “I’ve had listings of well-known actors, but because they didn’t want their names in the press, I had to do the selling through word-of-mouth, more or less off-market,” says Sotheby’s Debbie Korb.
Adds Compass’ Stephen Ferrara, “Twenty-eight percent of our business this year will be done off-market. In previous years, it might have been 2 to 4 percent.” And notes Compass’ Clayton Orrigo: “Buyers and sellers are connecting with things off-market and chasing trophy assets. A huge portion of [those deals], nobody even knows about.”
If the city’s sales market continues at its current pace, and sees an additional expected boost as foreign buyers begin to return in force, some luxury buyers may find themselves rethinking their quiet sales and trying their luck generating a bidding war on the open market.
Says Corcoran’s Chris Kann: “We’re in a seller’s market, and we have such low inventory. It seems a seller would want to capture this great market, list an apartment and see what kind of pricing they can get, conceivably over asking. There are so many buyers out there and so much pent-up demand.”
Kann added, “Anything coming on now is going to trade significantly higher than a year ago. The pandemic discounts are over.”
This story first appeared in the Nov. 22 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.
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