For Some Single Clients, Brokers Find the Perfect Match 

Jan 01, 2006

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YOUR real estate broker can find you the right home, the right buyer, the right mortgage broker, the right contractor and the right architect. But how about Mr. or Ms. Right?

Ali Kleeblatt would say yes. Her real estate agent, David Dubin of the Corcoran Group, introduced Ms. Kleeblatt, a 30-year-old psychologist, to her future fiancé, Brad Hoenig, in the spring of 2004.

And as things were heating up between the couple, Mr. Dubin also found Mr. Hoenig, who was his client, a 1,500-square-foot two-bedroom duplex at the top of the Paladin on the Upper East Side.

Mr. Hoenig, 31, an investment banker, closed on the apartment for $1.325 million in June, and the couple were engaged three months later.

"Its one-stop shopping," Ms. Kleeblatt said, surrounded by stunning northern, western and southern exposures in the couple's new dining room, which was graced by a framed line drawing of the late rocker Kurt Cobain done by Mr. Hoenig. "David knows us so well," she said. "He said Brad would fit in with my family, and it's so true."

Found in many cultures, traditional matchmakers were people who had encyclopedic knowledge of the eligible young people in a community along with their family backgrounds and social standings. Today's real estate agents and brokers, with huge rosters of single clients and intimate knowledge of their finances and lifestyles, would seem equally suited to take up that role.

And some of them are doing just that. Agents and brokers say they want to help out ambitious unattached professionals who have little time to seek out romance. Others say they handle real estate transactions for a large number of divorced or divorcing clients, who need to find a new home for their belongings and sometimes a new partner.

Mr. Dubin, who has set up many other couples besides real estate clients, said matchmaking just fits into the course of his day. Married 33 years himself, he said it gives him a good feeling, and it can help business.

"I enjoy doing it, and I do it frequently," he said. "I think people will remember me and appreciate what I've done for them, and if they do get into the real estate arena, they will give me their business."

In fact, Mr. Dubin also set up Ms. Kleeblatt's older brother, Ian Kleeblatt, a Manhattan real estate attorney, with his wife, Michele, and anticipates one day selling their apartment.

"They got married about two years ago," Mr. Dubin said. "They own an apartment, and when they sell it, it's mine to sell."

Mr. Dubin is so good at matchmaking that, like a true marriage broker, he has even been promised a commission of sorts by Ms. Kleeblatt's mother.

"All along, Ali's mother has said, 'David, if this works out, I'm sending you and your wife to Hawaii,' " Mr. Dubin said. "Well, it's working out, and she's getting very nervous now."

While marriage is the ultimate goal for matchmakers, most real estate brokers say that is not necessarily their intention. Sabrina Kleier Morgenstern, a vice president at Gumley Haft Kleier, and her sister, Samantha Kleier Forbes, also a vice president at the firm, are frequent matchmakers. Though they have marital aspirations for two couples they recently introduced, they say marriage is not the criterion for success.

"We consider anything over three dates a successful fix-up, though ultimately our goal is to find our clients a home and then someone to live there with them," Ms. Morgenstern said.

They might be on their way with one couple. Michael Wilens, 34, a lawyer, went to contract two months ago on a town house in the East 50's, and his broker, Ms. Forbes, felt that his investment in property demonstrated he was primed to make an investment in love. While a well-to-do bachelor seeking a loft downtown may not want to settle down, one seeking a town house with space for a family to grow may be contemplating change, Ms. Forbes said.

"He was always sort of a dater, but the day he signed the contract, I said to him, 'Now that you've found the house, I think you're ready for a wife.' He said fine, and I said, 'I have the perfect girl for you.' "

Ms. Forbes introduced Mr. Wilens to a client seeking a prewar classic six apartment with two bedrooms, and the two have been dating ever since. Ms. Forbes said she knew there might be something there, because both clients were seeking a bath with a window. "That's unusual in New York City," she said.

Mr. Wilens said he shares common interests and a similar family background with the woman he is now dating, who declined to be interviewed. He credits Ms. Forbes with a match skillfully made.

"She saw the way I approached looking for a piece of real estate," Mr. Wilens said. "I think when you see that, you start to understand people."

Even when the matches fall short, some clients of real estate brokers say they are grateful for the service. The first woman Ms. Morgenstern presented to a 26-year-old client, Jamie Schweid, fell through romantically. Mr. Schweid has begun his second round of dating with another of Ms. Morgenstern's clients. Even if this match doesn't work, he said, he appreciates the efforts of his agent.

"If you trust a broker to look at your financials to do a board package, which is a very intrusive process, they can set you up with a girl," said Mr. Schweid, who is a vice president for a ground beef manufacturer.

Some agents and brokers have even held gatherings to bring unmarried clients together, while at the same time promoting their business. Vickey Barron, an agent with Prudential Douglas Elliman, held such an event last spring at a new development, 260 Park Avenue South, and three pairings resulted.

"I sell a lot of property to single professionals, and I really get to know my customers, and I can't help but think, he's great, she's great," Ms. Barron said. "So I thought, we should just put them in a room together."

Ms. Barron has a history of matchmaking. Before she started selling real estate, she said, she traveled across the country putting together teams of doctors and other health care professionals to travel to the islands of Guam and Saipan. When she sent over single doctors, she said, she would recommend that they look up other professionals she knew in the islands. "There were a couple of weddings, and they had kids," Ms. Barron said. "It felt so good in the end."

The gathering at 260 Park Avenue South was such a success that Ms. Barron intends to hold another one this year in an expanded form. She is asking each client to bring two single friends.

"Look at it this way," she said. "If you're dating someone from this event, they've been somewhat screened. If they've bought a co-op in New York City, you know they have good credit. They're not wanted by the law. It's unlike a Web site you go to, where who knows what you're getting?"

Marc Lawrence, a senior associate at Corcoran, also held an event last year for clients without spouses, primarily as a marketing tool, but also for social purposes. Besides clients, he invited some of his own colleagues.

"They were co-workers that I trusted because they hopefully weren't going to steal my clients - unless they were going to take them for personal reasons," Mr. Lawrence said. "Then I'd lose them, but I think they call that a mitzvah."

Jill Meilus, a vice president at Corcoran, who has also dabbled in matchmaking, said she believes open houses could be the perfect forum for singles to meet. "It's like matchmaking on those Web sites, where you punch in your income, or what income you're seeking," she said. "You go to open houses in the neighborhood where the guy you'd want would want to live, and then you strike up a conversation with him."

Some savvy singles are well aware that they can use their brokers as dating tools. Paulette Meslay, who owns Accent International Realty in Brooklyn, said she has male friends who have shown interest in her single female clients. In one instance, there was an unattached lawyer who was frequently at her office. "He noticed the people coming to look for an apartment and said, 'Oh, you meet a lot of nice girls,' " Ms. Meslay said. "So he wanted to hang around a bit, but it didn't work out for him. He went back to matching on the computer."

And then there are the instances where those interested in real estate are also interested in the agents and brokers.

Mr. Lawrence, the Corcoran broker, said he has had unattached male friends who appear to scan brokerage Web sites for agent profiles. "They'd look on the Corcoran and Elliman Web sites, and they would contact me and want to see certain apartments," he said. "I wasn't sure if their intent was to see the apartment or to meet the broker."

Ultimately, all of this can lead to agents dating clients or even marrying them, said Pamela Parrish, a Corcoran agent. "I had a friend who married one of her clients, and he was a real estate attorney," she said. "But they were only married about a year. It wasn't such a happy ending."

Ms. Parrish said that recently after signing a lease for a rental client, the listing broker called her and asked if she thought the rental client would be at all interested. "I encouraged him to go for it," she said.

Ms. Morgenstern and Ms. Forbes once set up a broker at their firm with a particularly likable male client in his mid-20's, who was looking to buy as opposed to rent. "We felt that he was ready to make a commitment," Ms. Forbes said.

But the young man was hesitant about going on a blind date, so the sisters had to get creative. Instead of accompanying him to open houses one Sunday, they sent the other broker instead. "We said we had a bridal shower to attend, but we had this terrific girl from our office we were going to send in our place," Ms. Forbes said. "They ended up dating about eight months."

While most brokers who do matchmaking say it's good for business, now and then it can also backfire. Ms. Morgenstern had a client eager to find a New York space, and a New York woman. As he went into contract on a two-bedroom apartment, Ms. Morgenstern introduced him to one of her friends.

Within two weeks, however, he decided not to buy the apartment, and Ms. Morgenstern lost her commission. "They got hot and heavy immediately," Ms. Morgenstern said. "He no longer needed the New York apartment, because he had her apartment to stay in. But I was happy for him."

The risk of losing a commission or two aside, brokers who do matchmaking say it makes sense in the long run.

"I've sort of become this full-service provider," Ms. Meilus said. "It's like: 'Jill, you know the perfect mortgage broker, painter, lawyer, architect. Where's the perfect boyfriend?' "


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