Dolly Lenz, Gotham's Super-Broker

Location: According to rankings just printed in the Wall Street Journal, you did $748,319,000 in sales last year, the most in the nation–and four times higher than the second biggest broker. What explains that?

Ms. Lenz: I don’t stop working. My 90-hour week, or 80-hour week, is everybody else’s three weeks.

I’m very tenacious. If I think there’s a reason for me to be there, I’m going to be there, and you’re not going to be able to get rid of me. I live in the future, so I’m not living here and now and dealing with this deal right here and now, I’m living over there with all the things that could come up between what’s happening now and what’s happening three weeks from now. I’m overcoming all those obstacles today, so when you give me the obstacle I already know it, and I’m like boom, boom, boom, boom—playing a chess game, a three-dimensional chess game.

But I think it’s mostly that I truly just work so much more. You know, most people in real estate don’t work; it’s not a job of workers.

Are there times you can turn off the business person, maybe on a Saturday afternoon?

Everyone would tell you that I never turn it off. And I think it’s probably because I fear turning it off. I fear that if I turn it off, I’ll enjoy it, and I won’t want to turn it back on. It’s like the same reason I run everyday. I run everyday because I fear if I don’t run everyday, tomorrow I won’t want to run.

What do you think could happen? You’re the most successful broker by a large percentage. Are you afraid you would no longer get really good listings?

No, no, no, it’s not like that, it’s my own internal thing. It’s going to sound strange, but it turns me on … And that just keeps you here [points high], I need to be here, I don’t work effectively here [points low]. It’s just who I am. And everybody who deals with me has to deal with that, which is difficult–you know, for my children it’s very difficult.

How much time do you actually spend with your two teenage kids each week?

I would say I spend an hour with my daughter, and I would say I speak to my son 10 minutes a week. My son is at Penn, and I never, until last weekend when I attended a dinner, visited Penn. And this is his second year. I didn’t go with him for the tours, I didn’t go when he moved in, I didn’t go when he moved in again, I didn’t do any of that. And the parents all kind of said, ‘You know, your mom doesn’t really exist. You don’t really have a mom.’ So he protested very loudly, and I decided to show up at a parents’ dinner for two hours last week. But it was a big deal to go there for two hours, travel for two hours each way. And I just said to him, I said, ‘Listen, this is why you get tuition paid.’

But it’s really who I am, so it’s much more than that. Probably if I didn’t work tomorrow I’d have enough money, it’s not a problem. It’s really who I am, and I can only deal effectively on that level.

Most people would say they get satisfaction in life from religion or their families or art. Do you get that satisfaction from doing a good sale?

I get satisfaction from a challenge, whether that challenge is a sale, or getting the listing.

Give me an example of a recent deal that only you could have done.

One is a high-end Fifth Avenue co-op, sold it immediately… It closed a week ago. Record price—second-highest price ever in that building, probably third-highest price ever in the city; not been reported. And this man came to me after looking for two years, I showed him one apartment. I said, ‘This is the apartment for you’ before I showed it to him. I just knew him.

He’s brilliant, and obviously very wealthy, and very interesting, like not quite the average person who’s in this building. It’s a very pedigreed building. And he said, ‘Well I’m not going to get through the board.’ I said, ‘You’ll get through the board.’ And he said, ‘How do you know?’ I said, ‘Because I’ll make two phone calls, and I’ll find out in 30 seconds—if you want the apartment and if you’re willing to pay the price, let’s get over those hurdles first.’ So he said, ‘OK, yes.’ Called the president of the board, someone I knew, told him all the good and bad, and boom! We made the deal.

It was reported that you made $7 million in 2005. What’s do you expect in commissions for 2007?

It’s higher. It depends on when things close, because I have a very big deal that either closes in December or could push into January. I mean, it should be more than 10 [million].

Tell me more about that deal.

It’s a commercial property—midtown, prime, prime, prime. This one is $308 million.

The Douglas Elliman broker Linda Stein was just murdered, allegedly by her assistant. You’re so similar, with a big persona and reputation and client list. Do you fear that bad things will happen to you because of how outsized you are?

Never … I feel like I treat everybody 100 percent fairly, and I think at the end of the day that’s all they really expect. You can piss somebody off; you can have a huge fight. But you know what? At the end of the day, you were in your corner, I was in my corner, and whatever happens, happens.

I give a great credence to judging people by how they treat people in a lower station–it doesn’t mean beneath them, but a lower station. I find that if you see people who treat their housekeepers, who treat the nannies, who treat the drivers, who treat the assistants badly, that’s a very bad sign.

Dolly Lenz, Gotham's Super-Broker