Dolly Lenz Falls to Earth

“She’s a gifted dealmaker, but she’s not a marketing person,” said a source at Corcoran Sunshine, which took over from her at Miraval. “Good at marketing herself: Dolly Lenz as an institution, an epic, mythological figure. But not as far as laying out a strategic vision.”

Then there was the massive Manhattan House, a pale gray, glazed-brick emblem of the bubble’s gigantism. Not only did the Truman-era rental sell for a record $625 million four years ago, but the new owners aimed to turn the thing into a $1.1 billion condo. Besides the project’s sheer size, its furious old tenants, its hefty financing problems and its tepid location between Second and Third avenues, the new co-owners, Jeremiah O’Connor and Richard Kalikow, had a brutal falling-out. Mr. Kalikow left in October 2007.

In late January, the New York Post ran a feature about Ms. Lenz’s personal office in the Manhattan House, with its white silk roses and spotless glass desk. Later that day, according to The Real Deal, she was notified of the decision to remove her. Only a quarter of the 583 apartments had been contracted to sell, and only a third of those had actually closed.

“When they start talking about 25 percent, it’s bullshit,” said Mr. Lorber, pointing out that a chunk of the 583 units had rent-stabilized tenants or simply hadn’t been put up for sale yet.

“Look, as a company, would I have rather not lost it? Obviously,” Dottie Herman, Elliman’s CEO and co-owner, said later. “But, by the same token, if something is not going to sell at a certain price, you might as well stand on your head.”

“It seems Dolly’s timing was bad since it coincided with the financial crisis that no one anticipated or could stop,” said Joseph Aquino, an executive in Elliman’s retail real estate division, and a Manhattan House condo buyer. “The crisis was and still is global, and it was our 21st-century tsunami. It affected all of us.”

“I admire her,” he said later. “They use the following parable when the stock market tanks: ‘When the prostitution house gets raided, they even take the piano player.’”

 

BUT MS. LENZ has a Gatsby-like knack for transcendence. In a 2003 television interview, she and her husband said they spent, “swear to God, all the cash we had in the bank” on an $8,800 fur coat and nice dress so she could look the part of the power broker, back when she was just starting out. Four years later, asked by The Observer if she ever suffers envy, she said, “I’m just so busy doing ‘it.’ To covet you have to be outside ‘it,’ coveting.”

When she goes on, say, CNBC to tell the post–Bear Stearns world, “I think we’re actually going to be perfectly O.K., if not possibly better off,” she doesn’t just look like a mega-agent, golden hair swooping down just so, perfect nose tilted up toward the camera; she looks like a mega-agent in a Robert Altman film. Even in print interviews there’s an air of ascendancy: In December, when brokers were starting to scamper around with their arms in the air, she told the Post, “I don’t see panic at all.”

And when the Daily News ran a story last year that not only vaguely alluded to an oft-rumored affair between the broker and Mr. Lorber, but asked if she would leave the firm, she shrugged and said, “I don’t know why this starts every year.”

“I guess that’s cute for the bloggers,” Ms. Herman said this week. “But at the end of the day, you know what counts? You know what buyers and sellers care about? They don’t really care what they did or didn’t do. They care about results.”

So what exactly have Ms. Lenz’s results looked like since the November 2007 list put her sales at $748,319,000? She wasn’t included in the most recent list in November 2008—because, it turned out, Elliman declined to submit its agents’ stats.

On Monday, Feb. 9, Ms. Herman was in an office with Elliman’s Manhattan president, Steven James, working on the upcoming award ceremony. When asked, Mr. James said that Ms. Lenz’s total commissions last year were her best ever: “Over $7 million.” He said some of that money had come from deals that were signed before 2008, but took a while to close. When this reporter called back to point out that Ms. Lenz has said her annual commissions have been as high as $9 million or $10 million, Mr. James hung up. “Then don’t use the information,” he said. “I’m going into my meeting. Goodbye.”

“Tell her to show her 1099. All top brokers are curious to see,” one of the best agents in New York emailed this week, referring to the income tax form. Rivals don’t believe, for example, that one year’s sales could have been three-quarters of a billion dollars.

“I don’t know how people think I make it up. They’re out of their minds,” Ms. Herman said later, going over the awards stats in her office. “You know what? It’s just ignorance, I’ll tell you that.”

“Two thousand seven was lower, and 2008 was a bit higher,” she said about the firm’s top broker. In separate interviews, she and Mr. Lorber both offered to find specific dollar figures for Ms. Lenz, though Ms. Herman later apologized and said they were private.