The following was written for the May 2017 print edition of Long Island Pulse Magazine. You can read the original version here.
Long Island’s real estate market is as dynamic as it is diverse. The suburban single-family home that first designated the region as prime for young families in the 1940s has evolved to meet our changing demographics and increasingly affluent clientele. Today, Long Island is home to a rich housing stock, ranging from old money estates harkening Gatsby on the Gold Coast to modern mega-mansions on the North and South forks.
It takes a special breed of realtors to grasp the nuances of these individual communities and successfully sell real estate in a competitive region of multifarious abodes. That alone is an exclusive dexterity—but only the cream of the crop can buy and sell homes on behalf of the wealthy and powerful who choose to call Long Island home. These transactions combine high-priced dealings with even higher buyer/seller expectations, an arena where only the truly talented thrive. Take a look inside their guarded playbook. These insights are enough to land your next buying or selling experience on the A-list.
When the rich and famous want to buy, sell or invest they turn to Douglas Elliman realtor Enzo Morabito. For more than 30 years, Morabito has been the mastermind behind some of the most exclusive transactions in the Hamptons. Just ask Christie Brinkley. When it was time to sell her 20-acre, 9-bedroom oceanfront estate in Bridgehampton, Morabito was the man for the job. The supermodel and longtime face of Cover Girl resided at the waterfront property for 18 years before it was put to market last June. The 11,040-square-foot house, known as Tower Hill, is the quintessential celebrity beach home. Naturally, buyers have much to fawn over. Morabito explained that high profile listings such as Brinkley’s require special attention, particularly in terms of privacy. “The public, and certain newspapers, scour listings in certain price ranges,” he said, noting there’s plenty of publicly accessible information available on deals of a certain caliber. “It’s important as a broker to tell their story, because the story will run on its own either way. You want to embrace the process of selling the home.” Morabito added that people often jump to their own conclusions when one isn’t presented and encourages his clients to be as open as possible.
Gawkers Need Not Apply
Even with a certain degree of openness in mind, it is important to be selective when it comes to taking the next step with a potential buyer. People can’t help but be curious about what’s behind the walls of high profile listings, Morabito said. His job is to attract attention to the sale, regardless if the listing is in the upper realm of luxury or of more moderate means. “There are always gawkers of all economic domains,” he said. “There are discrete, non-discriminatory ways to ensure that potential buyers are credible. We try to read credibility. [A potential buyer’s] banker can write us a letter of bankability that essentially says, ‘Yes, this person can buy the property.’” Plus you can check the other listings of their broker to ensure they’re within their comfort zone. The question to ask is, “Does this person swim in these waters?” Morabito said.
“You have to expect some level of disclosure depending on the level of celebrity or price point, but some is necessary,” added Sheri Winter Clarry, an associate broker at the Corcoran Group with more than 20 years experience in the high-end real estate industry. Clarry, a member of Corcoran’s prestigious Multi-Million Dollar Club 2005-2015, is currently selling a blockbuster of a property—the $20 million, 200-plus acre Big E Farm, owned by the Entenmann Family and more commonly known by wine enthusiasts and tourists as the home of the award-winning Martha Clara Vineyards. When dealing with listings of such a caliber she stresses the importance of reasonably protecting privacy within luxury circles. “You’re just working with another client and you need to make sure they are protected, regardless if they are the buyer or the seller.”
Setting the Stage
In the same vein, selecting a pre-screened buyer helps ensure the high expectations of the seller are met. For example, famous clients (who are often the subject of tabloid gossip) typically avoid staging their homes, Morabito said. With so much exposure in the limelight, a down to earth presentation of a celebrity property pays off with pre-qualified buyers. “Celebrities don’t stage homes. They’re secure in their surroundings,” he said. “Everything else is so public, and it’s a draw for us to show their real home. It’s who they are and it isn’t necessarily always their public persona.”
High-priced and highly visible sales come with inherent challenges. Once a buyer is selected and a walk through is complete, it’s time to sit down at the negotiating table. “It always gets ugly,” Morabito said about negotiations getting testy. In these cases, he needs to strike a delicate balance: going above and beyond for the client while not stepping outside of his purview. In one anecdote, Morabito described how he worked with both parties to reposition a fence in order to resolve a dispute regarding lot lines. “A good broker is also a maître d’. You need to say, ‘Don’t worry,’ and solve problems right to the end.”
Similar to Morabito, Clarry advised that making a deal could become a contentious business if the broker isn’t tactful. “These are emotional purchases at times. The buyer is making a lifestyle purchase,” she said. A top-notch broker acts as a buffer to ensure that emotions don’t cloud the transaction. “You handle any issues from start to finish and the other party won’t know there was an issue,” she said. “Keeping the peace is so important. You can’t approach it with any ego whatsoever.” This approach has served Clarry well in the real estate industry on the North Fork, Manhattan and beyond. “When something arises you need to handle it with finesse. It’s truly an art.”
Understanding how the sale of a high-end property impacts the immediate neighborhood is important, regardless of any of the parties’ position in the marketplace. In exclusive markets that are already home to celebrities, the addition of another high-profile resident won’t exactly bolster home prices for a less notable neighbor, but their arrival certainly won’t hurt the market either. “Whenever a celebrity is in the area, it helps the total area,” Morabito said. “Like Disney World, the Hamptons are filled with magical people, celebrities, artists and titans of the universe. So does it help? Yes. Does it increase prices? No.”
Richard Murdocco regularly writes and speaks on Long Island’s real estate development issues. He is the founder and publisher of The Foggiest Idea, a public resource for land use in the New York metro region, and received his Master’s in Public Policy at Stony Brook University, where he studied regional planning under Dr. Lee Koppelman, Long Island’s veteran master planner.
More of his views can be found on www.TheFoggiestIdea.org or follow him on Twitter @TheFoggiestIdea. You can email Murdocco at Rich@TheFoggiestIdea.org.