Boom Nation: Real Estate Assassin of New York

ByMartin Bashir

Feb. 10, 2006 — -- In New York City, where real estate prices rise like the sun (daily), there are a huge number of middlemen and middlewomen who make a living by renting and selling everything from minuscule studio apartments to three-story, six-bedroom penthouses.

It's estimated that Manhattan alone boasts 12,000 to 15,000 real estate brokers and agents. But few working the turf are quite like Michael Shvo -- "the real estate assassin."

We met him at the sight of his latest financial killing -- 20 Pine Street, in downtown Manhattan. The 35-story building, formerly owned and occupied by Chase Bank, is in the throes of refurbishment as 410 separate apartments replace offices and corridors.

After achieving the highest number of residential sales in New York -- 350 properties collectively worth over $1 billion in 2003 -- Shvo has moved on from simple brokering. He's now playing the role of "creative director" for entire buildings. Developers purchase a property and then call Shvo on one of his cellphones.

Shvo has conceived of the entire project at 20 Pine Street. He's engaged Georgio Armani's interior design company, Armani Casa, to give communal areas the minimalist resonance that is the designer's singular style. Armani Casa will also design and fit your apartment if you so choose.

Shvo has also created a unique marketing environment on the ground floor, to persuade potential purchasers to buy property. Brokers and agents from all over Manhattan have toured the marketing hall like a museum exhibit that must be seen to be believed.

Instead of viewing a plastic scale model of the proposed building and poring over floorplans, as happens most often with new developments, Shvo's team take potential buyers along a virtual tour.

A huge room, half the size of a football field and just as wide, contains separate partitions featuring video footage and computer-generated images that evoke the atmosphere of the finished building. At the end of the "catwalk" is a literal kitchen and bathroom, both finished with state of the art fixtures and fittings -- all surrounded by black Brazilian bark. It's probably the single most expensive marketing office in the world. And it's working.

Within two days of opening, Shvo had sold 30 percent of the entire building. To Shvo, this is nothing new -- just the latest manifestation of his extraordinary talent. At least, that's what he says.

After compulsory military training in his native Israel and then working at a small brokering business on the Israeli stock exchange, he decided to head for New York. He arrived in Manhattan from Tel Aviv with a suitcase, a suit and $3,000 in cash in 1996. Within 10 years he was the most successful real estate broker in New York City.

But his success appears to have come at the expense of popularity, and there are no shortage of critics who claim that his sales record has been achieved by unethical conduct and a disregard for the rules of the game.

In 2004, Shvo suffered a couple of blows to his reputation. First, the Real Estate Board of New York -- the organization that regulates the training and conduct of real estate brokers in the city -- criticized him for breaching the rules and forced him to attend a ethics training course. It was alleged that he had secretly talked with a developer without the knowledge of a broker who had been exclusively retained to market a property in the city. This was against the rules.

Shvo admits to the conversation with the developer but says he didn't receive a penny and did no more than give some advice. But he did attend the ethics course.

And then, in April 2004, Shvo departed the scene of his greatest triumph -- the real estate agency Douglas Elliman, where he had achieved record sales.

The story of his departure from Douglas Elliman is mired in confusion. Some sources within the company are reported as saying that he was fired and that, notwithstanding his success, not a single member of a 2,500-strong staff shed a tear when he left. But Shvo says that he left because he had nothing more to achieve and wanted to develop his career beyond brokering and toward the creative side of marketing entire buildings.

This week was one of his busiest yet, and with $5 billion in the pipeline for additional new developments this year, there'll be many more hectic moments for Shvo.

His private life is also fairly busy. His girlfriend, a French-Brazilian designer, Laura Poretzky, is also aiming for the stars. The last show at this year's New York Fashion Week was Poretzky's.

And this week they'll face the disruption of moving home. Shvo says that he's sold "a couple" of his own properties and bought a large apartment in the shimmering Time Warner building that looks down on Columbus Circle at the southwest corner of Central Park.

He's coy about the price he paid, but there's little doubt that it was a good deal. Once again, Shvo is gung-ho on the real estate landscape of New York.

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