Exec. Vice President
Park Avenue Office
By LAURA KUSISTO
Victoria Vinokur sells luxury apartments in New York City, but lately her services for her clients can include everything from picking out paint colors to calling a plumber about a clogged toilet.
Ms. Vinokur, a broker at Halstead Property, is one of a growing number of high-end apartment brokers who have taken on an unusual side business: providing day-to-day apartment management for overseas clients who buy apartments as investments and rent them out.
While owners of large apartment complexes often outsource day-to-day management to outside companies, few such companies are in the business of catering to individual apartment owners.
Thus, brokers who usually spend most of their time trying to find property buyers or sellers for their clients are stepping into the role of managing apartments for them.
""I take care of everything, from soup to nuts," Ms. Vinokur said, citing duties such as performing background checks on potential renters, collecting rent, paying utilities bills and making sure repairs are done.
In some cases these brokers collect a fee for the additional services. But the big prize is landing an exclusive multimillion-dollar listing when the client decides to sell the apartment.
Ms. Vinokur, who has managed apartments for clients from Italy, Turkey, Russia and England, declined to discuss her fees, but says her primary motive is setting herself apart from other brokers and generating more listings.
"In the long term it's my relationship with my clients. They know they can trust me and that's very important to me," she said.
One of her clients, Alberto Longo, a wine producer who owns several properties from the Financial District to the Upper West Side, said the added services helped set Ms. Vinokur apart.
"I am in Italy most of the time and Victoria offered to help me with this in one of our first conversations about properties here," Mr. Longo wrote in an e-mail. "I needed somebody who knew how things work and I had to trust this person 300%."
Daniela Sassoun, a broker at Corcoran Group, who manages four or five apartments a year for out-of-town investors, can get involved to the point of paying property taxes and deciding on year-end gratuities for building staff members. "I like giving out Christmas tips because it makes people happy," she said.
Indeed, establishing that kind of close relationship can be invaluable in landing future listing, especially with clients who might be in town only a few times a year.
"What stops them from not using you again and going to someone else?" said Rex Gonsalves of Halstead. "Clients from overseas can easily be swayed by 10 different agents. They will go to me because I've handled their tenant for four years."
Many brokers admit they've got time to throw in a few extra services because they aren't as busy as they were a few years ago showing apartments and closing deals.
"I've been a broker for eight or nine years. For the first six years, it was great," said Jay Molishever of Citi Habitats, who manages apartments for several Israeli clients. "It's still great, but for the past two or three years, I have been looking for a new paradigm or looking for a new opportunity."
He said he considered starting a formal management business, but ultimately decided it was too complicated. Still, he sees a void.
"I tried to identify a management company that would do individual apartments, but I couldn't," he said.
Alex Karalanian, a broker at Citi Habitats, recently sold a one-bedroom apartment in Midtown to a French couple, who bought it as an investment.
He recently listed the apartment for $3,200 a month and he will receive a standard commission from the listing. But his duties have gone well beyond that, including giving tips on what furniture to order and helping set up the apartment.
"They are considering buying several more properties with me, so I am trying to be really 'full service' for them," he said.
His client, Linda Goldmann, who lives in Paris with her husband, concurred. "We are very happy with our broker [and] will definitely do more business with him and have highly recommended him to our friends at home," she wrote in an email.
Nonetheless, he concedes that it could become a challenge to balance his duties if more clients start asking for similar services.
"If it got busier, I would probably put them in touch with a bigger management company, but I'm doing this for now," he said.
Thursday, December 15, 2011