Aug 01, 2013

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Kleiers on Front Page of Wall Street Journal Today. Big Feature on Celebrity Brokers.


Michele Kleier, a broker in New York who has co-starred on HGTV's "Selling New York" with her daughters, Sabrina Kleier-Morgenstern and Samantha Kleier-Forbes since 2010, say they were initially "horrified" when approached to appear on a reality show, fearing they'd lose clients and embarrass themselves on TV. "We have children in private schools. We have clients concerned about privacy," says Ms. Kleier-Morgenstern.

Eventually, though, the trio decided it might be fun and good for business, and they trusted the producers. Seven seasons later, they say they've gotten used to getting recognized around town and answering fan mail. "We have a big tween audience," says Ms. Kleier-Forbes. One downside: The show's shooting schedule often doesn't allow time for a high-end listing to sell before an episode goes into editing, so audiences don't always see them making the sale. Still, the Kleiers say the exposure has increased the number of inquiries from potential buyers moving to the city. Ms. Kleier says their biggest deal last year was representing a buyer on a Manhattan home that sold for just under $25 million.

As with most programs of this kind, the reality presented on these real-estate shows has often undergone some tweaking. Scenes on some shows may be reshot if they aren't captured on camera the first time around. Deals and negotiations that drag on for weeks, and mostly take place via email and phone, are often left out. "As you can imagine, most of it happens via email, which is not good TV content," says Kathleen Finch, senior vice president and general manager for HGTV. Occasionally, particularly camera-shy sellers have a representative handle their part of negotiation on camera. Some New York City co-op boards won't allow film crews to shoot there, omitting a big part of the Manhattan real estate market from certain shows.

Celebrity agents and network executives point out that the shows strive to show real deals and listings, which is why shooting often spans longer than the typical two-to-three month reality show schedule. Producers on "Million Dollar Listing," which has a nine-month shooting schedule, vet all deals portrayed on the show through public records. Bravo says producers shoot as many parts of a real estate transaction as possible, regardless of entertainment value, and that all deals presented on the show are real.

The public's appetite for reality real estate doesn't appear to be slackening. Bravo now has five real-estate-themed shows, up from three in 2011. "There's a voyeuristic aspect to it," says Shari Levine, Bravo Media's senior vice president of current programming and production. "Real estate is big money, it's exciting, dramatic and it's highly relatable." "Million Dollar Listing LA" averaged 1.28 million viewers per episode in its fifth season, up 10% from the previous season. Ms. Levine says production managers look for successful agents who are "big, bold, unapologetic," and willing to open up their personal lives to viewers.

Producers at HGTV, a network dedicated to home design and real-estate shows like the recent hit "Power Broker," regularly post ads for open casting calls in cities around the country to find telegenic agents. "They have to have what I like to call the 'surf factor,' " says Ms. Finch. "If you're sitting on your couch channel surfing, does this person make you stop?" The network tends to prefer agents who haven't had past acting or on-camera experience, but are self-assured and speak authoritatively about real estate and home design. "We can teach them how to be on camera," she says. "We can't teach them how to be real."

After seven interviews and screen tests, Josh Altman, a 34-year-old Beverly Hills-based broker, was offered a part on "Million Dollar Listing LA." Much of last season's drama centered on Mr. Altman dating the assistant of his co-star, a Malibu-based broker he spars with frequently with on the show. "Nobody wants to see the guy who just sells houses every week," says Mr. Altman. "They want to see that drama between the Realtors." Last year, he represented the buyer of a $20.1 million Los Angeles estate of Hollywood producer.

Mr. Serhant admits that his TV persona, often depicted through his on-camera dates, has some downsides, including awkward conversations with his parents. A recent episode featured him taking off his shirt and jumping into an indoor pool at a competing agent's open house. In another, "I was buck-naked in the shower," says the former soap-opera actor and hand model. "It took my dad a week to get over it."

Another challenge for brokers: dealing with newfound fame while making themselves, their listings and their contact information highly visible to potential clients. Mr. Altman, who lists his cellphone number on his website, says he has fielded about 10 prank calls a day, including callers who pretend to be potential clients and "people who just want to hang out with me and look at mansions." Madison Hildebrand, who has starred in "Million Dollar Listing LA" for six seasons, says a receptionist now answers all his calls.

Some calls pay off. Todd Kenig, the former CEO of Ricky's, a chain of beauty and costume stores, had his home on the market for nearly six months. A fan of "Million Dollar Listing," he decided to hire Mr. Serhant, whom he had seen on the show, to take over the sale of his Gothic revival style home, on the market for $3.9 million. The home is currently in contract to sell for close to its asking price. "On TV he can be a little obnoxious," says Mr. Kenig. "But [in person] he's very pleasant and very easygoing."

When Kyle Richards, an actress and an aunt of Paris Hilton, was cast on "The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills," her husband, luxury broker Mauricio Umansky, who also makes appearances on the show, became a reality star by association. Paparazzi often take his picture as he sits down to business meals with potential buyers and sellers. Some clients, he says, are surprised he actually works as a real-estate broker and isn't just playing one on the show, which averages 2.84 million viewers per episode. "A lot of times people are shocked that I'm actually the one who comes out and does the showings," he says. "But this is how I pay for my kids' universities, not from 'The Housewives.' "

Mr. Umansky says his greater visibility helped him launch his own firm, the Agency, which currently has 75 agents and offices in Beverly Hills, Marina del Rey and Las Vegas. Mr. Altman says about 20% of his business today is a result of the show; so far this year he's sold $142 million in real estate. Last fall, the Kleiers renamed their firm, previously called Gumley Haft Kleier, as Kleier Residential, to capitalize on their increased visibility.

Mr. Hildebrand says his receptionist keeps signed headshots of him at the front desk for fans who stop by, and he's recently launched a line of scented candles, sold in a few high-end L.A. boutiques and on his website. "It's another branding and marketing tool," he says. He currently has about $100 million worth of listings, and last year handled the sale of Tori Spelling's Malibu home. "For me, these two careers go hand in hand."

Mr. Serhant says the show has helped propel him from an agent selling midrange condominiums when he started in the business five years ago to selling over $200 million in real estate so far this year. "All exposure is good exposure, I think."


Feb 21, 2013

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The Kleiers Discuss their Book with The Wall Street Journal


One real-estate agent busted an illegal adoption ring. Another agent caught her co-worker's killer. And a third uncovered a con artist posing as a wealthy countess.

For a number of current and former brokers, real estate offers the perfect plotlines for murder, mystery and romance novels. They're drawn to writing for the same reasons they like real estate: flexible hours and the potential to sign a million-dollar deal.

A "ghastly" experience in real life inspired former real-estate agent Madge Walls about 17 years ago. Ms. Walls got involved in a deal with a for-sale-by-owner home in Maui, Hawaii, where the owner's roommate tried to "sabotage the sale in every possible way," Ms. Walls says. On one occasion, the roommate even threatened to kill Ms. Walls and her clients. On the day of closing, the roommate removed all the appliances, tore up the landscaping and uprooted a tree with her truck.

"I remember closing that file and thought, 'You've always wanted to write a novel. Now here's your plot,' " says Ms. Walls, who now lives in Wilsonville, Ore. Within a few weeks, she began writing her debut novel, "Paying the Price," featuring Maui agent Laura McDaniel, a 40-something divorcée. Since then, she says, she has sold roughly 4,000 copies and this month released the sequel, "Buyers Are Liars," as an e-book.

With 55 books to her name, best-selling romance author Kat Martin says she was attracted to the idea of high payoffs when she decided to make the leap from real estate to writing.

"I felt I was making as much as I'm going to make in real estate, but there's big money in writing if I could pull it off," says Ms. Martin, author of "Season of Strangers" starring real-estate agent Julie Ferris. The effort has paid off. Ms. Martin has homes in Missoula, Mont., and Ventura, Calif., with her husband, Larry Jay Martin, also a writer and former real-estate agent.

Nina Wright, author of six mystery novels featuring real-estate agent and sleuth Whiskey Mattimoe, says she often embellishes absurd situations to suit her series. In real life, Ms. Wright, who lives in Oakland County, Mich., found out that one of her tenants was running an underground day-care service. In the fourth book, "Whiskey and Water," agent Mattimoe discovers that her tenant is operating an illegal adoption ring.

"There are so many things that can go wrong in real estate," says Ms. Wright. "I've bought and sold a lot of properties, but I haven't seen a single transaction where there aren't colossal screw-ups."

Bente Gallagher, author of a mystery series featuring real-estate agent Savannah Martin, says entering empty foreclosure houses alone as an agent prompted her imagination to run wild. "Anything could be in there," says Ms. Gallagher, who lives in Nashville and writes under the pen name Jenna Bennett for her Savannah Martin books. "There are dead mice and dead birds. It isn't too much of a stretch to imagine a dead human."

In the first book in the series, "A Cutthroat Business," Savannah Martin tries to figure out who killed her co-worker Brenda Puckett —a plotline inspired by Ms. Gallagher's finding a kitchen cleaver on the floor of a recently foreclosed house.

The mother-and-daughters real-estate trio Michele Kleier, Sabrina Kleier-Morgenstern and Samantha Kleier-Forbes of Manhattan-based Kleier Residential fictionalized their real-estate careers for their 2011 novel "Hot Property," featuring Elizabeth Chase and her daughters Kate and Isabel of Chase Residential.

The Kleiers, stars of HGTV's "Selling New York," drew largely on their own experiences in crafting their characters. Allison Silverman-Cole —one of Kate Chase's problematic clients, who has extreme allergies to dust, paint, even avocados—is based on an actual client. To assuage her allergy fears, "she made me call every broker before we saw an apartment," Ms. Kleier-Forbes says.

A fictionalized version of a client who asked for sexual favors in return for buying an apartment and a con artist who pretended to be a wealthy countess also made it into the book, she adds. The novel, though fiction, sports known names in New York real estate, including Jared Seligman of Prudential Douglas Elliman, Barbara Fox of Fox Residential Group and Mary Beth Flynn of Brown Harris Stevens. "We had an insider's voice. A lot of people wanted their real names in there," Ms. Kleier says.

Some agents write, but not all are willing to leave real estate completely. The Kleiers say they don't plan on penning another novel as long as they're tied up with real estate.

Author Vicki Doudera of Camden, Maine, considers herself a dual agent. "I am a writer and real estate is my profession. A lot of writers are introverts, but I really enjoy meeting new people and negotiating real estate. I love the whole yin and yang of it," says Ms. Doudera, a real-estate agent with Camden Real Estate Co. and author of the Darby Farr mystery series.

Many of her characters are inspired by her practice, like a man who kept a pet turtle in a kiddie pool in his basement for 30 years or an elderly woman who suspected a house deal was part of a conspiracy theory. "My real-estate world is always informing my fiction world," she adds.


Oct 01, 2010

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Michele Kleier Talks About High Ticket Rentals


NEW YORK—On New Year's Eve, Chris Del Gatto moved into a large two-bedroom at one of the city's poshest addresses, on Fifth Avenue just north of the Plaza Hotel. He's putting the finishing touches on a some $200,000 renovation, a sum which included the hiring of designer Matthew Yee to select new furniture, rugs and décor to compliment his growing art collection.

It's a lot of money to redo a rental.

Dark and intense, impeccably dressed in a Jay Kos suit and a green Ferragamo tie, Mr. Del Gatto, 40, said he would have spent more on the redo if he owned the apartment, but he still wanted to make the place his own. He refuses to buy for now. "I'm not in a rush. It's a strategic thing. I have a lot of friends who could buy anything they wanted but they're waiting," he said, adding that many residents in his building stay for long periods, 10 years or more. Mr. Del Gatto declined to disclose his rent, but management company Urbana Properties says apartments that size rent for $12,000 to $14,000 a month.

Michele Kleier, president and chairman of Gumley Haft Kleier, says she's seen a lot of wealthy fence-sitters these past few years. "They always think the market is dropping," she says, adding that it isn't unusual for such people to invest a lot of money renovating rental units. She has one client who has been paying about $30,000 a month in rent since 1998—it's only in the last month that he has started to seriously look for something to buy.

It's a comfortable fence that Mr. Del Gatto is sitting on. The rooms are large with high ceilings, big windows and sweeping views of Central Park. Chocolate brown and ivory paint on the walls set off furniture with an Art Deco feel, with blue and silver silk covered dining chairs with a square cut out of their backs and Deco-style silver side tables in the living room. A jewelry reseller who convinced people there was no stigma in selling their old jewelry, Mr. Del Gatto says he came to love Art Deco through the old jewelry he buys. "I think Art Deco is the apex of jewelry design," he said.

Mr. Del Gatto keeps a bedroom for his kids—a son, 10, and daughter, 8, who visit once a week. It has a turquoise rug, and light-blue wallpaper designed by the artist Rob Wynne with lavender flies; twin beds have their initials embroidered on the pillows. The kitchen, wedged between the dining room and the hall that leads to the bedrooms, is small but immaculate, with white appliances and a refrigerator stocked with vegetables and fruit juice.

Reflecting Mr. Del Gatto's vocation, there are jewel-like touches throughout: A dangling gold-flecked brass and Murano glass chandelier above a round table in the entryway looks like glass necklaces hanging from gold chains; a Marilyn Minter photograph features a gold-adorned eyelash; an intricately detailed Art Deco bedroom set in the master bedroom that belonged to his late father has ringed pulls that look like gold earring hoops. The overall effect is "sensitive masculine," says designer Mr. Yee.

Appearances are important to Mr. Del Gatto's business model. At his company's offices in cities like New York, Hong Kong and Palm Beach, clients head to plushly appointed private rooms to sell their jewels to buyers—a different experience from the cash-for-gold pawnshop-type experience or the high-commission public auctions that traditionally dominated the secondhand jewelry market. "Chris just makes you feel really warm and comfortable," says model Veronica Webb, who has sold jewelry, including diamond bracelets and a big diamond pendant, to Mr. Del Gatto's firm three times to raise money for art and travel.

Mr. Del Gatto didn't grow up on Fifth Avenue. Born and raised on the Lower East Side, he skipped college and became a licensed gemologist at 17, eventually becoming a partner in a diamond manufacturing firm. Realizing there was no luxury brand to which the public could sell their diamonds and jewelry, he started buying and selling estate jewelry, attending auctions and getting to know dealers from around the world. He launched the company, Circa, named after the term used when describing origin, in 2001.

Mr. Del Gatto started sponsoring polo matches five years ago. Then he became a player himself. With no horse riding experience, he jumped into the sport in 2004 and now plays on and owns the Circa Team, which is on the Hamptons-Argentina-Palm Beach circuit.

Despite his investment, Mr. Del Gatto doesn't spend much time awake at home. He even keeps his watch collection, all purchased used, at work (there are 11 now, including Rolexes, Patek Philippes and Breguets). On weekends, Mr. Del Gatto decamps to his other rental, a four-bedroom house in the Hamptons, right near the rented stables for his nine horses.

Manhattan Gains Amid Housing Stall 

Aug 25, 2010

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Manhattan Gains Amid Housing Stalls


Despite rising gloom about home sales across the country, sales of apartments in Manhattan appear to have strengthened this summer, with median prices up, inventory down and an increase in the number of apartment closings.

The figures suggest that the Manhattan market, buoyed by a resumption of hiring and a healthy Wall Street bonus season ahead, has so far escaped much of the distress across the country. The National Association of Realtors reported Tuesday that existing home sales nationwide plummeted by 27% in July, following the expiration of federal housing tax credits.

The tax credits, worth as much as $8,000, had much less of an impact in the Manhattan market because the credits made up a much smaller percentage of sale prices than in lower-priced markets. July's median home sale price in Manhattan was $900,000, compared with $182,600 nationwide.

Still, there is some worry among some brokers here that economic uncertainty may stall luxury sales in the fall, as buyers become more reluctant to sign contracts. Some also fear a rush to sell by owners worried about likely increases in capital gains tax rates next year could push down prices.

Dolly Lenz, a top-selling broker at Prudential Douglas Elliman, said that buyers have begun holding back. "There is a lack of confidence and a lack of direction," she said. "You can feel the mood and it is not a good mood. There is no rush to buy and people are gambling that prices are going down."

In other parts of the city, and across the region, sales have more reflected the national trend. Volume fell after a rush of deals in the spring to take advantage of the federal tax credits, according to Jonathan Miller, an appraiser and president of Miller Samuel Inc.

In Manhattan, a review of city records compiled by The Wall Street Journal shows that median prices so far this quarter are up more than 14% above the previous quarter and 16% above the year-earlier quarter, when Manhattan prices hit bottom, during the downturn.

The increase in reported prices was concentrated in co-ops while the condo market was flat. Brokers point out that it often takes longer for co-op sales to go from contract to a closing than condo deals because buyers need to be approved by co-op boards.

Sharon Baum, a Corcoran broker, said that despite the summer heat there has been a lot of activity, including a spate of bidding wars on well-priced property.

A few weeks ago, she said, she put a one-bedroom apartment on Park Avenue South on the market for just under $1 million and had 14 offers within a week. An open house was attended by 136 prospective buyers. It went for 10% over the asking price, she said.

"This is August, when you would think nothing is doing, but when apartments are priced right at all price points they will sell in a week," Ms. Baum said.

Across the country, inventory of unsold apartments has been rising, but in New York, brokers say it has been tightening. Properties that had lingered on the market for many months during the housing downturn are getting sold, and not yet replaced with new inventory. Sales of new condominiums picked up this year, lessening fears about a glut of unsold condominiums driving down prices.

So far this quarter the number of closed sales is running about 5% above the same period last quarter, according to a review of city records.

Brokers say that unlike last year, sellers were not dumping apartments on the market under duress. Back then, some investors suffering huge losses and victims of Ponzi schemes rushed to put apartments on the market, driving prices lower.

A study by the Vanderbilt Appraisal Co. said that at the current sales pace it would take 9.9 months to sell the current Manhattan apartment inventory. A year ago it would have taken 20 months. The study found that the market was in equilibrium for all properties priced $3 million and below, but the absorption rate was considerably slower for the most expensive apartments.

Brokers say some of these trophy listings are lingering because they are priced well above the current market. Several cited Brooke Astor's 14-room apartment, which has been on the market since mid-2008, and remains unsold despite a price cut to $24 million from $46 million.

During the third quarter, there were some significant closings. Carlos Slim, the Mexican billionaire, has topped the list so far, paying $44 million for a townhouse at 1009 Fifth Avenue.

Next was Conan O'Brien's sale of a seven-bedroom duplex high up in the Majestic, a co-op at 115 Central Park West, followed by a downtown townhouse at 2 N. Moore St. with a 47-foot heated lap pool that sold for $24 million. Steve Wynn, the Las Vegas casino developer, paid $23.5 million for a penthouse at the Plaza Hotel.

Some brokers remain concerned about the rest of the year, because of the uncertain economy. Kirk Henckels, the director of Stribling Private Brokerage, said that most of the significant sales recorded this quarter "reflect the market prior to the decline in consumer confidence." He said he was more concerned about the fourth quarter, but said he believed that prices were already near a bottom.

But the fascination with Manhattan real estate hasn't abated. "Selling New York," an HGTV reality-TV show featuring the drama of brokers selling some of Manhattan's most expensive apartments, was renewed for two additional 13-week cycles.

Broker Michele Kleier, president of Gumley Haft Kleier and a principal character on the show, said she remained upbeat on the market, and had already scheduled a series of showings for September.

"I am not hearing from clients that they are losing their jobs," she said. "We are not having the kind of nervousness we had last fall.


Hot Property Book

The stars of HGTV's “Selling New York” let fans step inside the high-profile world of Manhattan real estate in a wild and one-of-a-kind novel of stormy egos, sumptuous homes, and staggering fame and fortune. Written by Michele, Samantha & Sabrina Kleier.