Azita Aghravi, the Champion of the Half-Stake
Jotham Sederstrom March 15, 2011, 10:14 a.m.
Azita Aghravi finalized the sale of a West Village walk-up last Thursday. At 18,500 square feet, the residential building on Bank Street was neither the largest she has sold in her 22-year career, nor the most expensive.
What made the deal so remarkable, in fact, was its trend-worthiness, Ms. Aghravi said, a senior director and principal at Eastern Consolidated. She worked on behalf of an owner with only a 50 percent stake in the building, making the sale one among a handful of recent deals in which investors are increasingly buying and selling into joint real estate ventures in the city.
Call it the return of the half-stake.
“If I would’ve gotten a call two years ago for a 50 percent partnership, and I called these people, they’d have said, ‘Leave me alone,'” said Ms. Aghravi. “Now, because of the scarcity of deals that are good and available, people are willing to bend over and do a lot of deals that they weren’t doing before.”
With the Bank Street property, about which Ms. Aghravi agreed to speak in generalities, an elderly woman and a private investor had shared a 50-50 ownership stake for years. But with the real estate market still reeling at a time when refinancing remains scarce, the private investor, a Greek citizen with plans to leave the U.S., called on Ms. Aghravi three years ago to find a suitable buyer. The asset never went on the market, but it recently drew interest from a noted investor who the broker described as a longtime family friend. The deal was inked last week.
Meanwhile, Ms. Aghravi said that she expected to close on a 35-story office building at 116 John Street by next month. In that case, the owner of the building chose to sell half of the stake, handing off management duties to a new investment partner. The 350,000-square-foot deal is being closed with fellow Eastern broker Stuart Gross.
“They are much harder than a regular sale because you have to marry two people together,” said Ms. Aghravi, who was recognized as Eastern broker of the year in both 2004 and 2007. “You have to know the character of both to be able to see that this all works. If not, you’re wasting all of your time negotiating this business.”
In the world of more traditional investment sales, meanwhile, the broker said she is in the process of marketing a pair of properties. One, a 57,000-square-foot apartment building at 364 West 18th Street, went on the market three months ago for $34 million. Another, a parcel of land owned by investor Ziel Feldman across from Bryant Park at 20 West 40th Street, went on the market earlier this month.
“The amount of activity is amazing, on each deal that we have,” Ms. Aghravi said. “I’m not saying the deals sold any faster. They’re all still taking their time, because although there are a lot of buyers, there are a lot of people who do some major due diligence. I mean, not everyone is jumping–it’s not 2007.”
MS. AGHRAVI WAS born and raised in Tehran, but immigrated to New York City during her second year of college. A student of literature and economics, she fled Iran in 1978 just as the demonstrations against the Shah reached a boiling point that she now describes as similar to what the world recently saw across Egypt and Tunisia.
By the time Ayatollah Khomeini had risen to power the following year, the young scholar had nestled into a home on the Upper East Side and restarted her schooling. This time around, she focused her studies on the field of psychology.
“I came as a college student first, and then after the revolution, or around that time, my family came,” she said.
It was only after graduating that Ms. Aghravi settled into real estate. With help from her uncle, who was already heavily entrenched in brokerage, she secured a position at the now-defunct RKM Enterprises, where she worked under its president, Robert Marceca. During her years at the firm, the green broker climbed from a receptionist job to the manager of assets in Manhattan, quickly proving herself as an ingénue.
Soon after her stint at RKM, the broker secured a job at Oracle, where she toiled in management before moving once again, this time to Metropolis. During those years, Manhattan was in the midst of condo-conversion mania, she said. The agent immersed herself in those real estate deals, most of them smaller buildings in the city.
“It was a lot of smaller buildings, less than 12 stories-maybe six stories,” Ms. Aghravi said of her transactions during the 1980s. “It was just a whole different time then. There were tax shelters then. You still could write off everything–absolutely everything.”
It was in 1989 that Ms. Aghravi moved to Eastern Consolidated, after impressing Daun Paris, president and co-founder of the firm, in her interview. Since then, the agent has inked deals valued individually at more than $30 million, like the sale of a six-story office building at 155 Spring Street and a nine-story residential building farther north, at 235 East 71 Street.
“I love it here,” said an exuberant Ms. Aghravi, who, in 1994 alone, boasted $106 million in building sales. “I had my 20th anniversary a few years ago and I didn’t even realize it. This place really is like a second family for me.”
Fluent in English, Hebrew, Spanish, French and Persian, she is an active member of the city’s Iranian-Jewish community, tallying hours for charities and nonprofits including the Sephardic Society of Manhattan and the Women’s International Zionist Organization, among others.
“I’m very involved in the community, our own synagogue and philanthropy for the community,” said Ms. Aghravi, who has three children and now lives at Sutton Place. “I’m busy all the time.”