The Dutiful Niece
Jotham Sederstrom March 8, 2010, 2:29 p.m.
It was at the Soho building that now houses Dos Caminos—that high-concept Mexican cantina to the stars—that Marcus & Millichap associate vice president Adelaide Polsinelli discovered her career path.
Ms. Polsinelli’s uncle had owned the five-story building until his death, in 1983, and had rented the ground floor to the owner of a greasy spoon. When he died, however, Ms. Polsinelli learned about an odd stipulation that allowed the cafe owner the right of first refusal. What’s more, the asking price—twice his annual rent, or about $60,000—was considered low in what was fast becoming a trendy enclave of edgy artists and gritty musicians.
Seeing an opportunity, the cafe owner flipped his position to a third party for three times what Ms. Polsinelli’s aunt would have earned from the sale. Needless to say, the flip took Ms. Polsinelli and her aunt by surprise.
“She got screwed royally, and she was a widow, and this was all she had to live on,” said Ms. Polsinelli in an interview last week at her Madison Avenue offices. “We looked at each other and said, ‘Wow, how did this happen?’ But it happened because we didn’t know what we were doing, and it was then I thought, ‘There must be so many people who own real estate that don’t know what they’re doing.'”
Fueled in part by a sense of moral outrage, she embarked upon a career that has allowed her the opportunity to help both inexperienced property owners and well-established moguls who are faced with complex real estate problems. To be sure, Ms. Polsinelli, who estimates she has sold upward of 700 buildings in her 30-year career, said that with the market in flux, much of her business has come not from property sales but from advising her diverse array of clients.
“‘What do I do’ was the biggest question of 2009,” said Ms. Polsinelli, who joined Marcus & Millichap in 2008. “I’ve sat with owners spanning their entire portfolios—30 or 40 buildings—to try to find which ones were in trouble, which ones were stabilized and which ones they could sell to get out of trouble with the others. So it was basically reviewing portfolios, finding strategies, negotiating with lenders and selling loans. It was a different kind of year.”
None of which is to say that she hasn’t had her hands filled with property sales. In the past six months alone, Ms. Polsinelli-who juggles residential and commercial deals-sold a package of UCC loans on behalf of a lender, inked a deal in Alabama for the sale of a shopping mall, sold a garden apartment complex in Philadelphia and is currently stitching up the sale of a two-story taxpayer at 407 Park Avenue that houses clothier Stefano Ricci.
“It’s got location, it’s beautiful and it’s got development rights,” she said of the Park Avenue property. “You can build 30,000 square feet on top of it at some point in time. Not today, but you know what? You have a future, you have a present and you have stability with this building.”
MS. POLSINELLI WAS born and raised in what was then a thriving community of Italian immigrants in Greenwich Village. She spoke Italian primarily until her second-grade year at Our Lady of Pompeii, a Catholic school near her family home on Macdougal Street.
It was the insulation of a life spent in seven-story walk-ups, she realized later, that drew her to real estate and to the glamorous doormen and elevator buildings she was granted access to as a young broker for Century 21, where she started working a year after the incident with her aunt’s property. “Mostly I was curious,” recalled Ms. Polsinelli. “How does everyone live? What do all these big apartments look like, and so I did very well because I was genuine about the apartments I was showing. ‘This is beautiful!’ I’d say, and the buyer would say, ‘Yeah, it is.'”
A consistent string of modest apartment deals convinced Ms. Polsinelli to turn her talents to commercial real estate, a challenge that immersed the recent N.Y.U. graduate in an endless spiral of 12-hour work shifts at what was then Bach Realty. Her focus paid off in 1986, when she successfully brokered the sale of 444 Park Avenue South, an 80,524-square-foot office building blocks from Madison Square Park.
“I had no idea what I was doing, but I somehow sold an office building,” she says now of her first commercial deal.
Ms. Polsinelli said that lately her professional life has blurred with her personal life. As a resident of Two Fifth Avenue just north of Washington Square Park (and mere blocks from her childhood home), the mother of three young boys has acted as the president of her co-op board. With zealous dedication, she regularly meets not just with her own board but with the boards of other co-op buildings in the neighborhood in an effort to learn about the latest issues.
Meanwhile, in a deal expected to be finalized this week, Ms. Polsinelli is brokering an agreement that would relocate a financially troubled Catholic school into the building that houses her children’s East Village elementary school. Because the deal has not been signed, she declined to discuss details of the transaction.
“So now our school stays open and their school survives,” Ms. Polsinelli said. “I’ve saved two Catholic schools. Both would have closed.”
But it’s at that red-brick building in Soho where the professional and personal continue to intersect. Indeed, 10 years after her aunt’s building was flipped, Ms. Polsinelli crossed paths with the third-party buyer, who expressed how badly he felt about the transaction. When the owner decided to resell the building in 1995, he hired Ms. Polsinelli to act as his broker. The partnership, she said, lasts to this day.
“If you’re in real estate, you’ve got to live it,” she said. “If you don’t live it, you won’t grow and you won’t learn and you won’t have longevity.”