Presented By: Lee & Associates
Lee & Associates’ Explosive Path From Brokerage to Full-Service CRE Firm
The New York office of commercial real estate brokers Lee & Associates strives to provide more than just brokerage services. For several years now, the company has been growing their in-house capabilities in research, financial analytics, marketing, and property and project management while also strengthening their brokerage core.
This June, the company had just under 50 brokers. After an extensive recruiting drive that saw some of the best CRE veterans in New York come aboard, the company now boasts over 75 brokers, beefing up their strength in office, retail, residential and investment property brokerage.
The result is a firm that is truly and comprehensively full service, providing any aspect of CRE servicing their clients could desire. And Lee NYC isn’t yet finished as the firm plans to round out its platform with a capital markets team that sources equity and debt.
The company in its current form came together in 2011 when Joel Herskowitz, former president & CEO of Grubb & Ellis New York and now Lee’s COO, joined forces with Peter Braus, Lee’s managing principal, and James Wacht, the company’s president, who were the principals of Sierra Realty.
Since then, the three have established Lee NYC as a force in New York commercial real estate, igniting prime projects as brokers and developers, and building a firm that can provide a deep well of expertise to clients in all areas of commercial real estate.
“The most difficult part of our business is getting clients to look at you not just as a broker or property manager, but as your trusted real estate advisor,” said Wacht.
“My feeling is, once you establish that level of trust with your client, you should be able to handle all their real estate needs. So, what we’ve tried to create here is a very diverse platform that offers all sorts of real estate services to customers.”
“Besides the brokerage, we have a pretty strong property management department that handles office and rental apartment buildings,” says Herskowitz.
“We’re very proud of the level of service we provide to owners and tenants,” added Braus. “We’ve brought in brokers that have tremendous relationships with landlords, and we’ve developed the property management business from those relationships. We’re capable of overseeing construction projects, which has been very beneficial, not just for the buildings we own and manage, but for tenants who need work done and may not quite understand what’s involved.”
The company’s deep understanding of New York’s commercial real estate scene also comes from being developers themselves. In partnership with Cogswell Realty and GLUCK +, Lee & Associates is currently developing a 45-unit condominium project at 150 Rivington Street, and, in partnership with Taconic Investment Partners, a large mixed-use residential and commercial development in Inwood. The firm has also given its brokers the opportunity to invest in over 40 real estate deals over the last six years, including industrial properties in the Midwest, office buildings in Oakland, several condo projects in New York City and residential properties in California, to name just a few.
Lee NYC benefits greatly from being part of the Lee & Associates national platform, specifically in terms of the credibility the name provides in pitching business and the opportunity for referral business. While Lee & Associates is well-positioned to serve any commercial real estate need, it all emanantes from a strong brokerage core.
When global corporate and financial PR powerhouse Sard Verbinnen & Company, which was spread out across four floors, sought a more consolidated space in New York, they turned to Lee & Associates, which found them a 65,000-square-foot space over two stories at 909 Third Avenue in October.
David Harris, the firm’s managing director/chief financial officer, says his company had been in their previous space for over 25 years, and realized it was time for a change to meet their growing needs.
Lee & Associates broker Alan Friedman worked diligently to find them the space they needed.
“Alan invested a solid five years in securing us this deal,” said Harris.
“He worked tirelessly to learn who we are and how we worked; to understand what our needs were. He kept leading us toward spaces that fit the bill. We must have toured 50 spaces and then we narrowed it down — focusing on proximity to Grand Central, etc.”
That sort of diligence, tenacity, and knack for understanding a client’s true needs are exactly what Lee & Associates looks for when recruiting brokers, and also the qualities you’ll find in the company’s veterans.
New York restaurateur Alan Philips has done deals with Lee & Associates for years, and relies on them to help secure the right spaces for his eateries.
“I’ve had a long relationship with Peter,” he says of Braus, who found locations for Philips’ establishments including Lilli and Loo, Pastrami Queen and the Pick A Bagel on West End Avenue, among others.
“Peter has a really accurate pulse of the market. He’s a New York guy. He’s not just a broker pitching a deal. He probably knows every street and every corner in New York, so he knows everything that’s going on. Plus, he looks at his clients with the understanding that he doesn’t just want to do one deal with them. He wants to develop a rapport and a long-term working relationship. There have been locations that I thought were good, where he said, ‘Alan, don’t do it. It’s a low-end block, it’s not the quality you need. For the price they’re asking, you could do better somewhere else.’ ”
Tom FitzSimmons, CFO of Payfone, has done numerous deals with Lee & Associates, and is currently working on two more including an expansion of his company’s New York office, dealing over the years with two of the company’s executive managing directors & principals, Justin Myers and Dennis Someck.
FitzSimmons sums up what it is about Lee & Associates that makes them the firm to work with, whatever your CRE needs.
“These guys are not about churning deals. They’re about getting the right deals for their clients,” he said.
“I get two to three calls a week from real estate people, and I have always found Dennis and Justin to be different, in the sense that they listen. Ninety percent of the people who call in here stop listening after I announce my name, and they just launch into their pitch. I can explain to them that I have representation, or that I don’t need any space. It doesn’t matter. I can explain that I’m all stocked up on crazy and they can go sell crazy someplace else, and they still try to sell me crazy. Lee & Associates has never tried to sell me crazy.”