REBNY 2015 Honoree Barbara Fox
Sara Pepitone Jan. 14, 2015, 12:36 p.m.
A political science undergrad who “sort of” had an eye toward law school, Barbara Fox started her career in New York City at Doubleday & Company. She survived about three months in publishing before making her way into her true and lasting professional home—residential real estate—at one of the historically worst times in the market.
“The ’70s were a terrible time for real estate in New York City. There were serious financial and economic problems,” Ms. Fox said. Ms. Fox knocked around the real estate world taking jobs with Alice Mason and Stribling, but within a decade the lessons she learned from that initial foray into publishing—patience, adjusting, relationships—led to Ms. Fox starting a 60-person residential division at The Cross & Brown Company, a brokerage and property manager.
In 1988, she was a founding member of the Real Estate Board of New York’s Residential Committee. “I watched that grow like crazy,” she told Commercial Observer. “I can’t believe we never did it before then.”
The following year Ms. Fox established her eponymous group specializing in upscale residential properties on the Upper East and Upper West Sides. “When I started my own firm it was also a terrible time,” she said. “I started my firm understanding that, which gave me time to dig roots and grow, and blossom.”
Still at the helm of what has for years been one of the City’s top boutique shops, Ms. Fox laughs at her botanical references. Gardening is one of her pleasures, an activity at her weekend home in Connecticut. Weekdays she’s on the Upper East Side with her husband, five dogs and two cats. Animals also play a pretty significant role in her extracurricular life: She’s started two rescues, including WOOF!, which finds homes for hundreds of dogs and cats otherwise facing euthanization.
Whether it’s pets or people, Ms. Fox says she’s never gotten tired of the business. She’s an active member of REBNY, chairing the committee that runs the Residential Deal of the Year Charity Gala, sitting on the Residential Board of Directors and participating in various projects and events. She’s a member of the Board of Advisors of the New York Residential Specialist designation, and formerly served on REBNY’s Board of Governors.
For her ongoing service to the community, Ms. Fox is the recipient of this year’s REBNY Kenneth R. Gerrety Humanitarian Award, an honor she considers to be her career capstone, topping the Henry Forster Memorial Award she received in 1997 for her outstanding record. That’s a lifetime achievement award but Ms. Fox said she is as far now from retirement as she was then.
“I don’t know what I’d do if I didn’t work,” she said. “There’s a great sense of pride when I navigate a difficult deal.” Most aren’t difficult, but each one is different—easy, hard, large, small—part of what makes the work interesting. “I never really looked at them in terms of dollars, though I have done deals in excess of $25 million. It’s really the people and relationships. I know I did my job well when they look back at me and say, ‘We love our apartment.’ ”
More than 30 years in she continues to update the way she does business, sometimes daily, as market conditions change. “You have to adjust, roll with it.”
And the business changes, too. “It’s more remote: people working from home and handhelds. There’s not the need for a humungous office anymore.” In December, she moved her firm to a 15 percent smaller space, with shared desks and upgraded systems, in a Beaux Arts building on East 60th Street, with windows at every turn, like the one in view of the Barney’s shoe department facing Ms. Fox’s desk.
“Any change gives you a lift,” she said. “I love wading through the changes, readjusting.”
Plus, she added, “I never get tired of looking at apartments.” — Sara Pepitone