“It was a big deal to have a local map at that time” Timothy Davis says of his earliest days as a real estate broker on Long Island's East End, when its back-road shortcuts were still a local secret. What is now arguably the most exposed summer community on the planet was terra incognita to the then-junior college student, even though he’d grown up in nearby Mastic Beach and his fiancée hailed from Hampton Bays. "I didn't know the territory a bit” Davis admits.
He's come a short distance, but a long way.
A broker in Corcoran's Southampton office, Davis has just had the best year any broker has ever had in the Hamptons. In his 33rd season in real estate, he not only made $430 million worth of deals but attached his name to four of the East End's nine biggest transactions of 2013. Those were the sales of Wooldon Manor, a 14.5-acre great estate in that town's Gin Lane, for $75 million; 408 First Neck Lane on Lake Agawam, for $28 million; and 1260 and 1900 Meadow Lane, the former homes of Snapple's late founder Arnold Greenberg, sold for $25 million, and the late financier Ted Forstmann, sold for $24 million.
That set of deals was more than enough to win Davis the first-ever Big Deal Broker honor at the inaugural Privet Hedge Awards dinner held in May at Southampton's Sebonack Golf Club. (The awards were treated by Manhattan Media, which publishes AVENUE, AVENUE on the Beach and Dan's Papers.
Davis could conceivably qualify for the same prize next year.
Wooldon Manor is already back on the market, with an asking price of $98 million.
Not long ago, that price figure, if achieved, would have been a record-setter. But just before the launch of the current summer season, the Further Lane estate of the late investment advisor Christopher Browne was quietly sold to a controversial hedge-fund runner for a jaw-dropping $147 million, the most expensive sale of a private residence in American history. That particular purchase, by JANA Partners founder Barry Rosenstein, was significant for another reason: Like the third and fourth biggest sales of 2013, it was reportedly completed without the payment of a brokerage commission. And in journalistic calculations, three instances is a certified trend.
When I asked Lester Weindling, the real estate investor who sold 29 Spaeth Lane in East Hampton for $32.5 million in August, who'd listed his house, he said, "No, no no.” There was no broker. "There was no listing at all,” he said. Then he admitted using something called "a courtesy broker" for what he described to me as "a deal done among equals.” He added that that's "what a deal ought to be.”'
Though Rosenstein makes a good part of his living collecting big fees from investors in his hedge fund, he apparently agrees. No commission was paid on his record-setting purchase, either, says someone else who is in a position to know. But, as with Weindling's sale, and despite published reports to the contrary, a broker was involved.
Rosenstein surely owes that broker big-time, but this columnist – having researched the pugnacious hedgie while writing a book about his Manhattan residence, 15 Central Park West – feels obliged to add that the Hamptons brokerage community might be better off without the business of a man who named one of his funds Piranha and once bragged about making a corporate opponent retch in a negotiation.
Hamptons real estate was a gentler endeavor than it is today when Tim Davis started his career, Davis worked with his mother-in-law in Shinnecock Hills for three years, then joined Southampton's Agawam Realty, becoming its top broker and office manager and expanding the realty's reach to East Hampton. After Davis and his wife had a child, he accepted a longstanding offer from the Hamptons brokerage giant, Allan M. Schneider, to join his company. A year and a half later, Davis says, "Allan dies,” and nine months after that, Davis and five colleagues bought the company from Schneider's estate. They then ran the business for 15 years, as it grew to 12 offices and 350 brokers. Meanwhile, one partner died, one retired and one was fired, culminating in the company's sale to Corcoran in 2006.
When he first started in real estate, Davis says, "It was a time of high inflation and high interest rates. People would rush to lock in [a mortgage] at 17 percent:' There were few exclusives; listings were "handwritten with stapled Polaroids"; and "a beach house cost $1 million.” He recalls selling two acres on Meadow Lane for $350,000. Those were the days.
Things had begun changing by the late '80s, [but] Hamptons home prices were rising; "We still had open space; land was slowly being developed,” Davis remembers. Then came the market crash of 1987, followed by a few difficult years. But by the early '90s, the real estate market was on the upswing again. At age 32, Davis, the youngest partner at Schneider, scored his first two big deals. He sold Westerly, a 25-room brick Georgian estate in Southampton, for a record $8 million-"a huge deal back then;' Davis says - to Ronald Perelman's legal advisor Howard Gittis. (It was later bought by fashion maven Tory Burch for $38.5 million.) Davis also sold the same house on the ocean at 1260 Meadow Lane that he sold again this year; back then, it cost $5 million.
The realtor ultimately managed Corcoran's Southampton office for four years, but stepped aside after the 2010 season to return to full-time brokerage work. In 2012, he was Corcoran's second-best East End earner, and at year's end he wrote down a New Year's resolution that stated, "I want to be # 1.”
His wish came true last year. Including his record-setters, he was involved in six oceanfront home sales; six deals where the purchase price exceeded $20 million; and "various others for $10 or $15 million. And it all added up,” he says, hastening to add that, "I don't want to be obnoxious. A lot of people work very hard, but it happened to be a year [for me] when it all came together.”
Indeed, the last year came together well for many. Consider this list of the biggest pre- Rosenstein sales in the Hamptons. Then, wish that at least one of those checks had been made payable to you:
8. 466 Gin Lane, Southampton, was sold for $21,632,455 by Michael and Margaret Naughton. Naughton deflected a request to say where he got that kind of money, describing himself as "kind of an unimportant guy." So how did he get to Gin Lane? "I got a good deal on it:' he said. The house last changed hands in 2003, for $11.375 million. The new owners are Neil and Gina Smith. He is a corporate consultant and business book author.
7. (A two-way tie):
39 Fairfield Pond Land, Sagaponack, sold for $24 million. Philip Johnson designed the modernist eight-bedroom house, on 3.6 acres, in 1945, for Eugene and Margaret Farney. Farney was the co-founder of America's first coin-operated self-service laundry.
1900 Meadow Lane, Southampton, sold for $24 million. It belonged to the estate of the late private equity mogul and noted playboy, Theodore Forstmann.
6. (A three-way tie):
322 Ocean Road, Bridgehampton, a parcel of undeveloped land, was sold for $25 million by Topping Investments LLC. The Toppings are long-time residents of Bridgehampton.
320 Murray Place, Southampton, fetched $25 million. Owned by heirs to the Kulukundis shipping fortune, it was occupied by Michael Kulukundis' widow Tara Tyson Kulukundis until her husband's family sought a court order to evict her.
1260 Meadow Lane, Southampton, sold for $25 million.
5. 408 First Neck Lane I Southampton, brought businessman Richard M. Burdge Sr. $28 million, less a commission.
4. 209 Dune Road, Water Mill, was sold for $31 million-with no broker-by Stuart and Marni Hersch. He is the president and CEO of Cantor' Fitzgerland's Cantor LifeMarkets, which operates at the crossroads of the finance and insurance industries.
3. 29 Spaeth Lane, East Hampton, brought $32.5 million to seller Lester Weindling.
2. 52 Further Lane, East Hampton, was the year's most publicized Hamptons sale, because Steven A. Cohen, who spent $62.5 million to buy it, ran SAC Capital, the embattled (and since downsized and renamed) hedge fund at the center of the noisiest insider trading investigation of recent times.
1. Wooldon Manor, 16 Gin Lane, Southampton, sold for $75 million. Vince Camuto, the shoe designer and founder of Nine West, had put the house on the market thinking he'd later sell four adjacent undeveloped parcels. But Scott Bommer, founder of SAB Capital, a hedge fund, wanted it all and agreed to buy it-and most of the furniture in the house, too-after a weekend-long negotiation. "But he'd always wanted East Hampton ocean-front:' says someone close to Bommer. So he almost immediately bought three properties on prestigious Lily Pond Lane there for a reported $94 million and put the enlarged Southampton estate back on the market, asking $98 million. Even in the Hamptons, one realtor allows, that was a "rather shocking" turnaround. But it was just another day in the life of a big-deal broker.