10 real estate pros who made their mark in 2013

Often controversial, these figures managed to transform a year in real estate
By Katherine Clarke

In some ways, 2013 was a watershed year for the New York City real estate industry, between the half dozen or so office towers that sold for more than $1 billion and the residential skyscrapers that scraped the heights of apartment asking prices. But what about the people who shaped a year of change in New York City real estate?

Take, for example, Nicholas Schorsh of Amercial Realty Capital and developer R. Donohue Peebles, both of whom got busy in Manhattan for the first time. Or the founders of Urban Compass and CompStak, who both hope their brand of technology can transform the industry. Or the Chinese property magnate who set a record in Midtown. Sometimes controversial, these figures undoubtedly eked out a name for themselves in 2013. Read on for the full list.

Peter Von Der Ahe and Joe Koicim, Marcus & Millichap

They owe their success, in part, to their joining Marcus & Millichap’s institutional property advisors platform, a network of advisors around the country who deal with institutional clients, as well as their relationships with several multi-family investors — among them Stone Street Properties, Silverstone Properties, Silvershore Properties and Benchmark Real Estate Group — who were particularly active this year.Multi-family property brokers Peter Von Der Ahe and Joe Koicim of Marcus & Millichap had a benchmark year in 2013, doubling the dollar volume of their deals over 2012. They made headlines for brokering several high-profile transactions, like TIAA-CREF’s sale of the Exo, a 14-story, 115-unit rental building in Astoria, for $47.2 million, and the Naftali Group’s $37 million purchase of a rental building at 245 West 25th Street.

“This was a record-setting year for us, no doubt,” Koicim told The Real Deal, noting that while his team was already doing some larger deals with institutional clients, the new platform only enhanced its reach among institutional investors.

The duo has built a reputation for selling properties for a quick profit. For example, they arranged the sale of a multi-family building at 143-145 West 4th Street for $19.2 million; Silverstone had bought it for $11.3 million one year prior.

“We’ve made a name for ourselves by finding that out-of-the-box buyer and getting them to pay more than anybody else,” Koicim said.

Bill de Blasio, Mayor-elect

De Blasio won the race for the city’s top political office in November with 73 percent of the vote, beating out former Metropolitan Transportation Authority chairman Joe Lhota.Perhaps no figure has dominated more headlines in the real estate press this year, or been more divisive, than former public advocate and current Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio.

The politician, who was a City Council member in Brooklyn before becoming public advocate in 2010, had not attracted much attention from the real estate community prior to his race for mayor. One exception may have been his “NYC’s Worst Landlords” list, which singled out residential owners with the  most unresolved building-code violations.

But during his run, hardly a panel discussion or real estate-related event passed without someone commenting on what a de Blasio administration would mean for New York City real estate.

“Whenever there is a change in administration, there’s understandable trepidation,” Seth Pinsky, executive vice president at RXR Realty and the former president of the city Economic Development Corporation under Mayor Michael Bloomberg, told The Real Deal last month. “But there are also opportunities that come with change.”

Luis D. Ortiz, star of “Million Dollar Listing New York”

That decision set off a whirlwind for the Puerto Rican native, who went from complete obscurity to a fixture on the scene, attending a slew of industry bashes and hosting a May season premiere party on the rooftop of the former Elizabeth Arden building at 689 Fifth Avenue. Attendees included execs from the Trump Organization and Keller Williams as well as Ortiz’ parents and his twin brother, Daniel.The producers of Bravo’s “Million Dollar Listing New York” tapped Luis D. Ortiz, then a broker at Keller Williams NYC, to replace Douglas Elliman broker Michael Lorber for the reality show’s second season.

Man-about-town Ortiz then made headlines in August when KWNYC fired him; he landed at Elliman. His former brokerage said it was uncomfortable with his association with the oft sensationalized television show. Later, he made headlines for a Department of State investigation into his allegedly doctoring listing photos.

“For the world, I’ve become synonymous with real estate, which is something hard to buy,” Ortiz told The Real Deal, summing up his year. “I receive a lot of attention, even when I’m out [of] the country. But the good thing is that all of it is very bright and positive. People smile when they see me. That makes me very happy.”

Michael Mandel and Vadim Belobravka, founders of CompStak

Since January, CompStak has expanded its New York City-based members by 500 percent and attracted new customers like Wells Fargo, Empire State Realty Trust, Beacon Capital and Sitt Asset Management, Mandel told The Real Deal. Its New York City team is now five times the size it was last year, with 25 employees, he said. And the company raised $4.45 million in series A funding in April from a group including Canaan Partners, 500 Startups, Founder Collective and Expansion VC.You may not know of Michael Mandel and Vadim Belobravka, but there’s a good chance you’ve heard of their creation: CompStak, the online database of office leasing comps. While Mandel, a former Grubb & Ellis broker, and programmer Belobravka may have launched the site in January 2012, it wasn’t until the past year that it gained major traction in the New York City market (thanks in part to their willingness to provide The Real Deal and other media outlets with data).

“New employees include great people with experience from places like Google, LiveStream and Morgan Stanley,” Mandel said.

The site, which claims to have data on nearly all of the Manhattan commercial office deals completed in the past year, is now a well-recognized resource for leasing brokers, sources said.

Nicholas Schorsch, chairman and CEO of American Realty Capital

Schorsch, 52, set up his Manhattan operations in 2007. He previously headed real estate investment trust American Financial Realty.American Realty Capital’s New York Recovery REIT unit went on a buying binge last year, doubling its New York City portfolio with assets like 1 Worldwide Plaza, for which it signed a $1.3 billion contract. The man at the helm? CEO and Chairman Nicholas Schorsch.

American Realty’s 2013 deals also included the acquisition of 1440 Broadway for $529 million, the purchase of the leasehold for the Viceroy Hotel in Midtown for nearly $150 million, a $90 million deal for a commercial condo at 50 Varick Street in Tribeca and a $220 million transaction for an office building at 333 West 34th Street. The REIT’s total New York City portfolio is now valued at around $2.1 billion.

“The markets are beginning to recover but the buying opportunities were very strong for us this year,” Schorsch told The Real Deal yesterday. “There were more and better opportunities in 2013 because of a lot of pent-up supply and demand in Manhattan. We were definitely in the right place at the right time.”

Jared Kushner, Kushner Companies

But Kushner’s profile hit a new level this year, thanks to a slew of mega-deals done by his real estate firm, Kushner Companies.Jared Kushner, the son of developer Charles Kushner and owner of the New York Observer newspaper, has long been a recognizable name in the city, perhaps even more so since he wed real estate scion Ivanka Trump in 2009.

In the largest Brooklyn acquisition of 2013, Kushner and Aby Rosen’s RFR Holdings snapped up a portfolio of Dumbo properties from the Jehovah’s Witnesses for $375 million this summer. The 1.25 million-square-foot portfolio includes a 505-room hotel five industrial buildings that lie in Brooklyn’s “Tech Triangle.”

Kushner also accumulated a portfolio of more than 500 rental units on the Lower East Side and in the East Village in the last 18 months, including a package of 17 walk-up apartment buildings he bought from Westbrook Partners for $130 million in February.

Kushner’s acquisition spree shows little sign of letting up. In December, he racked up another significant acquisition, buying a 46-unit rental building at 50 North 1st Street in Williamsburg for $33.8 million.

In one notable sale, Kushner sold 200 Lafayette Street, an office building he acquired for $50 million in 2011, to General Growth Properties for just over $150 million in cash.

Kushner was not immediately available for comment.

Ori Allon and Robert Reffkin, Urban Compass

Ori Allon and Robert Reffkin, the founders of much-hyped Manhattan startup Urban Compass, became persons of intrigue for the real estate press and the brokerage community at large when their company launched just seven months ago. Suddenly, every brokerage chief in the city had an opinion on whether the two men, whose company initially combined a StreetEasy-style listings website with a team of salaried “neighborhood specialists” who functioned much like rental brokers, would be able succeed in the New York market.

Allon certainly appeared to have the technology chops. The serial entrepreneur created Julpan, an online tool for analyzing social information, which he sold to Twitter for an undisclosed amount in 2011, and the web search algorithm Orion, which Google bought in 2006, also for an undisclosed price. Meanwhile, Reffkin had the financial background. Before starting Urban Compass, he worked at Goldman Sachs as chief of staff to the president and COO following five years working in the firm’s private equity arm.

The conversation surrounding the duo’s approach has only increased throughout the year and reached fever pitch earlier this month when the start-up shifted its commission model to make a move into the sales market. Close to 50 percent of all Urban Compass agents are now independent contractors working on commission, while others remain salaried employees. While some thought the move towards a commission-based business was a sign that the company was flailing, others thought it was a smart move to attract talent.

“At Urban Compass, we are just as thrilled today as when we launched back in May with Mayor Bloomberg in our offices,” Reffkin told The Real Deal in a statement. “We’ve received a great deal of tech and real estate media attention but that hasn’t distracted us from our core objective, which is to give consumers a better way to find a home.”

The company’s key 2013 milestones according to Reffkin: “Raising $33 million with a valuation of $150 million, building best-in-class proprietary tools for agents, expanding the business to sales, and hiring key players in the tech and real estate industries to join our family.”

Don Peebles, the Peebles Corporation

Peebles, head of one of the nation’s largest African American-owned development firms, picked up a landmarked 400,000-square-foot building at 346 Broadway — also known as 108 Leonard Street — in Tribeca for $160 million in partnership with the Elad Group in December. He plans to transform it into condominiums and a hotel, with sales set to launch late next year.Don Peebles, CEO of national real estate company the Peebles Corporation, made waves this year when he snapped up a site from the municipal government to build his first New York City project.

“The deal broke a number of barriers including the largest real estate deal with a minority-led firm in the history of New York City, the largest single building sale in the history of the New York City Economic Development Corporation and the largest single building sale in Tribeca’s history,” said a spokesperson for Peebles in a statement to The Real Deal.

In addition, Peebles is in the final stages of a public-private bidding process to build a condo tower at 2040 Frederick Douglas Boulevard in Central Harlem.

Peebles previously told The Real Deal that the public-private model, which involves partnering with city- or state-run agencies to develop new properties on government-owned land, plays to the company’s strengths and allows it to compete for land in a crowded marketplace.

Jason Meister, Avison Young

Meister represented two bidders for the building, investors Joseph Sitt of Thor Equities and Rubin Schron, both of whom wanted to snap up the tower before manager Malkin Holdings could wrap it up in a publicly traded real estate investment trust this year.Jason Meister was a prominent young broker with commercial brokerage Avison Young, attracting a smattering of press for his deals. But several $2 billion-plus offers for the Empire State Building propelled him onto the pages of every major New York City newspaper in 2013.

While neither bidder dissuaded Malkin Holdings from their plan, the bidding process — and the attention it garnered — associated Meister with mega Manhattan deal-making. Indeed, thanks in part to his efforts, the shareholders who opposed the initial public offering (several of whom were represented by his father, Stephen Meister, in court) had an alternative to the IPO to trumpet in the press. And even after the IPO took place, Meister appeared on Fox Business, comparing the process to the federal government’s fumbling on Obamacare.

He declined to comment for this story.

Zhang Xin, Soho China

In May, the mogul and her husband Pan Shiyi acquired a 40 percent stake in the General Motors Building at 767 Fifth Avenue for a mammoth $1.4 billion from Boston Properties. The deal valued the office property at a total $3.4 billion, making it the priciest office tower in the country.Zhang Xin, the tycoon who heads major Chinese developer Soho China, first entered the New York City market in 2012 when she purchased a 49 percent share in Park Avenue Plaza for $600 million. But 2013 saw Zhang Xin take her personal holdings in New York City to new levels.

The property magnate followed up that acquisition with something for her personal use: a restored 19th Century townhouse at 45 East 74th Street, purchased for $26 million from Italian real estate developer and movie producer Valerio Morabito.

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