While many wish for a crystal ball, Greg Kraut prefers a good newspaper.
The broker has parlayed an addiction to reading everything from trade publications to China Daily into an uncanny ability to spot future trends. "I'm always looking for the next big thing," Mr. Kraut told The Commercial Observer in August 2010. "What I was seeing right before this recession hit was a sprinkling of Chinese firms and Indian firms starting to set up shop here," he added.
Call it a lucky guess, but if so, it's not the first time the first vice president at CB Richard Ellis has been lucky. He also helped sharp techies snap up space during the dot-com boom--admittedly, only to watch many of them go out of business months or weeks later.
Recently, Mr. Kraut has finessed major deals for CICC, one of China's largest investment banks; the Japanese government; and a 17,000-square-foot expansion for London-based law firm Clyde and Company. He also represents a Chinese solar energy firm and several Indian firms.
The New Jersey native moved to Greenwich, Conn., and spends the train ride reading voraciously and looking for the next boom. If he's found it, he's not telling yet.
Glen Kunofsky spent most of 2010 hopping between fast-food joints and gas stations. It might not be glamorous work, but it's put him at the head of a modest boom in net-leased transactions.
Mr. Kunofsky recently cinched a $1.7 million deal to unload a 2,470-square-foot Burger King in Binghamton, N.Y., to Kamala Holding, which plans to lease it back to the Carrols Restaurant Group. He's also about to close a sale-leaseback transaction for a $14 million gas-station portfolio on behalf of Pennsylvania-based Lehigh Gas Corporation.
Since joining Marcus & Millichap in 2001, the broker has represented food industry giants such as Ruth's Hospitality Group, Carrols and Whole Foods. His firm, NNN Properties, now subcontracts to M&M, where he's been the top retail agent for four years running by closing an estimated $2 billion in deals.
Given his prolific record, when Mr. Kunofsky says the market is picking up, we tend to believe him. "Demand has been, like I said, hitting its stride," he told The Commercial Observer in October. "In New York, we were less hit than a lot of the other commercial real estate sectors. We've had a lot of volume lately."
When people say the city looks different than it did 10 years ago, they usually mean the Gaps, Barnes & Nobles and Whole Foods that have squeezed into spaces once reserved for offices and local retailers.
This vertical suburbia is largely thanks to Ariel Schuster, whose vision for how giant retailers could build upward has driven a big-box boom. Since joining Robert K. Futterman in 2001, Mr. Schuster, now an executive vice president, has sealed more than 3.75 million square feet of transactions. The young broker, who began his career at The Lansco Corporation, has represented the retailers listed above, as well as 7-Eleven, Modell's Sporting Goods and PetSmart.
The recession has wounded a couple of giants, such as Barnes & Noble in Lincoln Center, but new chain stores continue to pop up under the young broker's guidance. This year, Mr. Schuster cinched deals for two grocery mega-stores: a 45,263-square-foot lease for Fairway's inaugural Upper East Side store; and a 47,000-square-foot deal for Whole Foods at East 57th Street and Second Avenue.
Going into 2011, all eyes are on the Noho building, where Mr. Schuster and Izzy Anthony are in charge of leasing 26,000 square feet being vacated by Stereo Exchange.
Paul Amrich adjusted his tie and leaned forward in his chair. "I ask myself, 'Where are you going next?'" he said. "'What's your next chapter going to be written about?'"
For the lanky mid-career broker, who just turned 38, it might seem early to talk about legacies and closed chapters. But with 6 million feet of transactions under his belt, Mr. Amrich's accomplishments could indeed fill a novel--or at least the first half of one. It would begin, perhaps, with his favorite building, 230 Park Avenue, his first major leasing project as a young broker at Cushman & Wakefield.
Mr. Amrich moved to CB Richard Ellis in 2006, where he's now an executive vice president. One of his biggest ongoing challenges is the stubborn 510 Madison Avenue, once Harry Macklowe's cherished liability. The new building has long stood empty, but since Boston Properties took over in August, there's been the first glimmer of hope, as two tenant signings are pending, with others anticipated.
In the last couple of years, Mr. Amrich and his five-person team have stayed busy during the leasing downturn by advising clients on capital markets. He counseled the Canada Pension Plan on its investment in SL Green's 1221 Sixth Avenue and Rockpoint Group about its cash purchase of a stake in 299 Park Avenue. He advises such diverse firms as Monday Properties (which now owns 230 Park), as well as Westbrook Development, Paramount Group and the Savannah Real Estate Investment and Development Firm.
Mr. Amrich lives in Westport with his wife, Myra, a breast oncologist. The broker, who can both close a deal and analyze its details, might just be a triple threat thanks to a college golf game that once made him contemplate going pro.
"I finally said, 'You should get a real job,'" he recalls of his decision to go into real estate. But a good golf swing, he adds, "has definitely been a business benefit."
Neal Golden chuckles a little before offering a primer on his 20-year career in real estate.
He's won nine deal-of-the-year awards in 10 years in cities around the country, but in New York City, he finds himself again a rookie.
"If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere," Mr. Golden said, invoking the Sinatra standard at the end of an hour-long interview, though it seemed inevitable all along. Since joining Newmark Knight Frank in 2002, the Texas native oversaw major national accounts, including Microsoft and CNN/Turner broadcasting. But in late 2006, the senior executive vice president made the leap to New York City to head his own team.
Mr. Golden recalls his thinking at the time: "You don't become a player by herding cattle," he says. "You make a name by getting the big deals done."
With the help of a group of brokers steeped in the local market, Mr. Golden has wasted no time doing just that. This year he's inked a 140,000-square-foot lease for Capital One at 90 Park Avenue and helped bring a Harry & David's pop-up to the Flatiron district. He'll score yet another deal-of-the-year award this week, from the NAIOP Commercial Real Estate Development Association, for Starwood Hotels and Resorts' massive 300,000-square-foot relocation to Stamford. But the broker seems finally poised to win widespread local recognition for his work marketing the 350,000-square-foot hotel condo in the former New York Times building.
This business is incestuous, Mr. Golden admits, but he's got a little bit of New York real estate in his blood, too. His father is Raymond Golden, who left his job as the chief financial officer at Salomon Brothers to help launch a New York investment practice for Texas real estate firm Trammell Crow. Though Mr. Golden speaks with a Southern drawl, he's also been a die-hard Yankees fan since birth. "I have my grandfather to thank for that," he laughed.
"For me this was an important last step in a great career," Mr. Golden said, then corrected himself: "Or should I say first step?"
With a fondness for both complex deals and flashy 60-person dinner parties, Ira Schuman doesn't seem an obvious broker to watch at the tail end of a recession. But in a 33-year career, the Studley executive vice president has proven he can make marquee deals happen in times good and bad.
He helped broker the benchmark 1988 lease bringing Cravath Swaine & Moore to the West Side, as well as a deal last year revitalizing Hunter College at 127 East 79th Street. The latter won him his first Most Ingenious Deal of the Year award from the Real Estate Board of New York.
Mr. Schuman embraced yet another challenging deal in mid-2010, helping the Gay Men's Health Crisis sublet 166,000 square feet of space from his client, WNET, even though it required making concessions to the landlord that angered some activists.
Nonetheless, Mr. Schuman says he's eagerly awaiting the upswing.
"I've seen irrational exuberance and seen recession," he told The Commercial Observer in July. "And, I'll say, I prefer irrational exuberance."
All the good karma Suzanne Sunshine has accumulated is finally paying off.
When the longtime broker, formerly of CB Richard Ellis and Cushman & Wakefield, opened her own firm specializing in nonprofits a little over a year ago, it was far from obvious she would succeed. Endowments were low and nonprofits had "lost confidence in their ability to expand," she said in an interview with The Commercial Observer in January.
But, fortuitously, the move came just before nonprofits began snapping up spaces at discount rates. So far this year, her eponymous S. Sunshine & Associates has closed more than a dozen transactions, including a 26,000-square-foot sublease by Atlantic Philanthropies to the New York Blood Center and a $9 million office condo purchase by the International Planned Parenthood Federation.
Ms. Sunshine took some cues from her mother, Louise, the legendary marketer of luxury residential properties. But watching her physician father also inspired the daughter to give back to the community. Now with her firm already in the black, she donates 10 percent to 50 percent of the profits to charity--to the tune of $150,000 in donations so far this year.
You can hear the relief in Tara Stacom's voice when she talks about One World Trade Center these days.
The Cushman & Wakefield vice chairman with a portfolio of 11 million square feet has taken on the monumental task of leasing the 104-story, 2.9 million-square-foot tower with the eyes of the world upon it. At first it seemed impossible.
"Everything was being done seven stories underground. When I went out to prospects, I had no credibility," Ms. Stacom told Real Estate Weekly in September. "That is no longer the case."
With the tower finally emerging from the soil, 2011 promises to be one of the most important years in her formidable career. So far publisher Condé Nast, a couple of city agencies and the Vantone Industrial Co. have all signed letters of intent to lease space, but needless to say, Ms. Stacom has a lot of space to fill.
Ms. Stacom and her sister, Darcy, who is a broker at CB Richard Ellis, were both pushed into the business by their mother before they had even graduated from high school. Since joining Cushman, in 1981, she has been named top broker for her firm, in 2004, and leased 20 Times Square, above the Port Authority Bus Terminal.
But One World Trade constitutes her biggest challenge yet. "It's my baby," Ms. Stacom said in a recent interview with The Commercial Observer. "Well, it's a lot of people's baby, but it rises and changes on a weekly basis."
The move by Cushman & Wakefield's leading investment-sales team to Jones Lang LaSalle in May was also a leap of faith.
Capital markets were frozen, and some speculated the brokers were simply restless due to a lack of work in a stagnant market. But veterans Richard Baxter, Yoron Cohen, Scott Latham and Jonathan Caplan said no, they were actually expanding their portfolio in anticipation of the recovery.
There are signs the team's move to JLL--where they now oversee a broader portfolio that includes investment sales, loan sales, recapitalizations, restructuring and financing--may have been timed perfectly to the thaw. All executive VPs, they've worked on the sale of a building owned by rehab clinic Daytop Village to Allied Partners, as well as a $140 million purchase by Carlos Slim of 417 Fifth Avenue. They're also the exclusive representatives for KBS Realty Advisors in the REIT's sale of 434 Broadway.
"We're also starting to see some tightening in the leasing market in certain pockets, and net rental rates are actually going up as people start to pull back on concessions," Mr. Caplan told this paper in October. "So it's really starting to turn into a better story."
Christel Engel was a painter in Soho when a potential real estate deal fell into her lap.
The young artist heard through a friend about a plan to convert some Rivington Street spaces into artists' studios. The project never happened, but Ms. Engel's knack for sales caught the eye of a small brokerage in the area. She made 11 deals in her first year. "It was a very brisk market," she said.
That led her to a career at GVA Williams (now Colliers International), where she's worked for more than two decades, collaborating closely with the founder's son, Jerry Cohen. Her portfolio has grown to more than 1.5 million square feet, including midtown properties like 590 Fifth Avenue, 136 Madison Avenue and 530-536 Broadway in Soho. One of her main clients is Thor Equities.
Ms. Engel is also always on the lookout for buildings that have undergone total redos and are looking to upgrade their tenant base. Right now she's working on the former Tommy Hilfiger building at 25 West 39th Street, built by Andrew Carnegie in 1903.
Thor also did a major gut reno of 129 West 29th Street, which has led to a flurry of leasing. "The building is asking $36 a square foot," she said, "and we've been getting very, very good numbers."
Ms. Engel, 47, a native of Germany, says she'll never be interested in the gleaming mega-towers that stroke the egos of many brokers. Instead, she falls in love with a building with good bones--such as 321 West 44th Street (Commercial Observer publisher Jared Kushner owns the building; The Commercial Observer is published from there). John Lennon had a recording studio in the penthouse, Ms. Engel recounts in hushed tones. "Did you know he recorded his last song here, and then he went home and was shot?"
For the deeply private Doug Harmon, the city's most public deals hold a magnetic attraction.
The senior Eastdil Secured investment adviser has worked on transactions such as Deutsche Bank's sale of the former Macklowe office empire, the recent sale of the Roosevelt Hotel and the marketing of the Philip Johnson-designed, Bernie Madoff--inhabited Lipstick Building.
But Mr. Harmon's dance around the spotlight is destined to become much more difficult in the next year, as he'll find himself at the center of two of 2011's most closely watched sales.
Mr. Harmon is charged with marketing 111 Eighth Avenue, which the paradigmatically public Google has begun seriously ogling. If the media giant decides to buy the 2.9 million-square-foot Chelsea building, where it rents already, and which has a rumored $2 billion price tag, the purchase could dwarf any single transaction in the U.S. in recent history.
Mr. Harmon is also the invisible hand searching for a buyer for the Chelsea Hotel. Finding someone to purchase the magnificent building with a remarkable but troubled history will be no small feat--especially at the rumored $100 million asking price.
Naturally, Mr. Harmon declined to be interviewed for this story.