Dolly Lenz Falls to Earth

transferslocationcover2 Dolly Lenz Falls to EarthOn Feb. 12, after seas of silk-scarved, shiny-shoed, power-suited real estate brokers shuffle into the Pierre’s ballroom, the colossal real estate brokerage Prudential Douglas Elliman will name its broker of the year. Just as it’s been since Dottie Herman and Howard Lorber bought the company in 2003, and as it will be until the day onyx bathrooms and heated-floor kitchens all cease to exist, the award will go to Dolly Lenz.

“One of the great killers of all time,” Donald Trump called her at the firm’s awards ceremony five years ago, when Ms. Lenz fought off her slick-haired ex-protégé Michael Shvo, who had threatened to leave if he wasn’t named top broker.

On Feb. 12, after seas of silk-scarved, shiny-shoed, power-suited real estate brokers shuffle into the Pierre’s ballroom, the colossal real estate brokerage Prudential Douglas Elliman will name its broker of the year. Just as it’s been since Dottie Herman and Howard Lorber bought the company in 2003, and as it will be until the day onyx bathrooms and heated-floor kitchens all cease to exist, the award will go to Dolly Lenz.

“One of the great killers of all time,” Donald Trump called her at the firm’s awards ceremony five years ago, when Ms. Lenz fought off her slick-haired ex-protégé Michael Shvo, who had threatened to leave if he wasn’t named top broker. He left. Last year, Jackie Teplitzky, an Israeli Army sergeant–turned–broker, complained publicly that the ceremony’s rules had been changed to give the award to Ms. Lenz.

But her biggest problems these days are these days themselves. Back in the bubbly autumn of 2007, Ms. Lenz was reported to have sold $748,319,000 of real estate the year earlier, four times higher than the country’s second-biggest broker. Since then, as the luxury housing market has fizzled gruesomely, she’s been replaced at her three biggest projects: the gargantuan white-brick Manhattan House; the New Age–branded Miraval Living; and Wall Street’s Cipriani Club Residences, where, the brokerage confirmed, Elliman’s Raphael De Niro, the actor’s son, has been the main broker for over a year.

But everyone’s fallen. There are no super-powered super-brokers in the recession. It’s made mortals of all, even the woman who once said things like “I don’t go through a lot of tirades, because I kind of just say, ‘That’s it. It’s over, O.K.? Sorry, can’t do that, goodbye.’” Even the agent whose ex-client Dennis Kozlowski called “Jaws.”

“Who’s to say you go from ’07 and do more? The market is not the same. And it may never be the same,” Mr. Lorber, Elliman’s chairman, said this weekend. “No one’s very happy. Developers aren’t happy, brokers aren’t happy, customers aren’t happy.” He pointed out that it wouldn’t be a disgrace to have sold a little less last year. “It’s like you buy a stock at $1 and it goes to $100—and then to $50. Did you make $49, or did you lose $50? What do you measure from … Didn’t we all like ’07 better than ’08?”

But we are all not Dolly Lenz. She has her own BlackBerry commercial and, she says, 12 BlackBerrys. Her name is all over the real estate gossip pages—and her face is on real estate ads (next to Grace Kelly’s on one Manhattan House piece). When she’s on the Fox Business Channel, anchors say: “The No. 1 real estate agent in the country—this lady is just printing money!” Or: “Let us ask the Dolly.”

 

“RIGHT NOW, everyone’s losing a few things. She might be losing more because she had more to begin with,” said Claudine De Niro, whose husband and associate, Raphael, took over at the 106-unit Cipriani Club Residences in September 2007. When first asked about the condo, she denied that Ms. Lenz had left the project, pointing out that the broker’s name was still on listings. Later, Ms. De Niro said, “We’re all hurting. No one’s doing great. If they are, tell me who they are. I’ll hire them.”

Even though the Wall Street condo’s Web site says its units are 90 percent sold out, Mr. Lorber puts the figure at 70 to 75. “We said, ‘Maybe try something a little bit different.’ She was busy starting work at Miraval at the time, so we just said, ‘Look, Raphael’s a downtown broker.’”

But Miraval, the condo at 515 East 72nd Street that promises “massage centers, aroma-therapy spas, in-house sex therapists and skyline views,” hasn’t gone perfectly, either. In November, when Ms. Lenz was replaced, only 107 of 365 units had reportedly been sold. “Miraval is now on its third marketing team,” Mr. Lorber said. “So whatever those issues are, they are.”