An Interview With NGKF’s David Noonan


For the first in a series of interviews, columnist David Greene, the president of brokerage services at MHP Real Estate Services, conducted an interview at the Yale Club with David Noonan, a senior managing director at Newmark Grubb Knight Frank who heads NGKF Capital Markets in the tristate area.

David Greene: Where did you grow up?

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David Noonan: I grew up in Evanston, Illinois, a suburb just north of Chicago.

How did you choose Dartmouth?

(With a smile on his face) I was wait-listed at Princeton. Dartmouth was the next choice. I studied English and eventually decided that I wanted to be an attorney. I went to law school at NYU and got the positions that I needed to be a successful litigator. I interned at the U.S. Attorney’s Office when Giuliani ran it, and when I graduated I clerked for a federal judge in New Orleans. Then I did a few years in private practice and found out I didn’t want to be a litigator or, for that matter, an attorney.

So here you are, a newly minted attorney, how did you get from attorney to real estate?

Not easily. It’s a shock to go from sitting in an office with a professional degree, a salary and a secretary to sitting in a bullpen cold-calling, although I guess I still had the degree, just nobody cared.

Who were some of the people that influenced you the most?

Jimmy Kuhn met me on a pitch when were both new at Newmark, and rescued me from the downtown office. It took us a while to figure out what we could do together but we eventually started selling buildings. One of the early big deals we did was the sale of 500 Fifth Avenue, which we did with Mike Fascitelli and a team from Goldman Sachs, and I learned a lot on that deal. But mostly I am self-taught or learned from clients or the people on the other side of the deal. One of my early favorites was Lowell Harwood.

Back in 2007 the two of us made a deal for two buildings on West 38th Street between 5th and 6th Avenues at about $15M. One of the two buildings just traded again for $29.6M. Are you surprised by the change in values over the past 6 or 7 years?

I am not surprised. The market moves in cycles. Our job is to provide the seller with the highest price at the time. There are people who want to look back and second-guess. That’s not usually productive.

You and I have seen a market where there are 20 capable buyers for every building that is available, do you feel that we have seen this market before or is it different now?

I think that demand is deeper and more international than ever, but New York has always been a competitive market, and I have seen fierce competition between two buyers and fierce competition between twenty.

How do you distinguish yourself from other successful sales brokers in our business? I’ve always had the impression that you like to be a bit under the radar though REBNY has presented you with two separate awards. The most ingenious sales transaction of 2007, and then you won again for the most ingenious sales transaction of 2010.

Maybe I am under-the-radar because I am more interested in doing good work than constant self-promotion, if I am allowed to say that in a piece that is all about self-promotion. The awards are nice because you are being recognized by a panel of your peers in the industry, but I find other brokers are excited about the awards and the vast majority of clients and potential clients could care less. Eastdil seems to be managing without any awards from REBNY.

Those of us who follow trends in the market are certainly aware of the Hudson Yards and of course what has recently become a busy market downtown, what do you think is the next hot location?

It is already hot, but I think Brooklyn will just keep getting better.

If you could give a buyer one tip that would help them succeed in a tight race for a building, what would that be?

Be utterly charming to the seller, ignore most of your lawyer’s comments, and sign a hard contract in 15 minutes or less. And don’t forget to overpay. That’s more than one tip—sorry.