Get Richie: The Cooper-Horowitz Principal Isn’t Your Typical Broker

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In a city filled with formidable real estate families, one brokerage has more than earned its spot on the map.

SEE ALSO: Natixis Provides $220M CMBS Refi for Amazon-Occupied Seattle Property

Cooper-Horowitz was founded in 1964 by Howard Cooper and Barry Horowitz as a debt opportunity-focused mortgage brokerage, with offices at 342 Madison Avenue. The two had previously held positions at Sonnenblick-Goldman. Barry’s son Richard Horowitz (“Richie” to everyone who knows him) joined the firm in May 1986 (and 30 years later, Richie’s son Justin Horowitz, 28, would also come on board).

The firm is small (only 35 brokers in total) but mighty, and tackles deals from coast to coast; from a $72 million construction loan for Menin Development’s new boutique hotel in Delray Beach, Fla., to a $138 million development loan for Happy Living Development’s mixed-use project at 300 West 122nd Street, and a $220 million CMBS financing for an Amazon-occupied Seattle office property.

And at the heart of it is Richie Horowitz. The 56-year-old may be the son of one of the firm’s founders — and have his name on the door — but he’s very much in the trenches when it comes to arranging debt across asset classes and geographic locations. 

Roughly five years ago he and his brothers — David, Robert and Jeff — took control of the company’s ownership with the goal of continuing and evolving what its founders first created more than 50 years ago.

Second only to his wife Lauren and sons Justin and Jason (Jason is a development manager for GBT Realty in Nashville), Horowitz’s clients are his raison d’être.

So, good luck directing his attention away from them.

“You play golf with him and he’s always on the phone!” Herb Kolben a senior vice president at ULLICO, said with a laugh. “I tell him, ‘Richie! Hang up the phone, you’ve gotta tee off!’ ”

But Horowitz’s dedication to his clients is nothing new.

“Even on vacation he was always working,” Justin Horowitz recalls. “When I was a kid, he came up for camp visiting day and was pitching in a baseball game. He was pitching with his left hand and had his phone in his right hand working on deals.”

When Commercial Observer met with Horowitz, 56, one morning in late July, the office was a buzz of activity. Deal closings wait for no man, after all, and — true to form — Horowitz politely paused the interview several times to take client calls while this reporter agreed to cover her ears.

“We wish we had more product because there’s more capital out there than there are deals,” he said. “It’s a great time to be a borrower and a good time to be in our business.”

Exemplifying the pursuit of yield and opportunity outside of the Big Apple, Horowitz was hard at work on a debt assignment for a Mountain View, Calif., property on behalf of a New York-based borrower at the time of the interview.

“People trust me. I’m very sensitive to that, even though a lot of things are out of my control,” he said. “If I don’t deliver what’s advertised that goes against my grain. I don’t think I’m perceived as an overly aggressive broker. I’m more subdued, but people know me for who I am. My heart is in the right place and I’m going to work like crazy to get the deal done for someone. We’re not going to win them all, but we do win a lot.”

Horowitz was born in Rye Brook, Westchester. He attended Boston University, then studied landscape architecture at the Rhode Island School of Design and decided to wet his feet working for a Boston developer before joining the family business in New York.

“This was before cell phones,” he said with a laugh. “I traveled to properties in Tulsa, Dallas and Kansas City. The head of acquisitions would tie up a deal, then send me there for three days to check out the market, check out the comps, bring back a due diligence packet and report on whether it was okay to buy or not.”

Two years later, at only 22 years old, he joined Cooper-Horowitz as a debt broker. 

“I was given a desk and a phone and started cold calling owners from Dodge [Data and Analytics] construction reports,” he said. “I was thrown into the ocean without a life preserver. But that’s how it all started.”

His first debt deal — within six months of joining the firm — was for 74 Broad Street on behalf of owner Emmanuel Gruss. The $2.62 million loan was provided by American Savings Bank.

“We were paid 1 percent of the loan amount and I think my first commission was $6,500. I felt terrific,” he recalled.

Times have changed a lot since the 80s, as has the capital stack. “I’d never heard of a mezzanine or preferred equity investment when I was 22, but over the years these new financing vehicles plus CMBS have made us all very lucky people in our business,” Horowitz said. 

That said, “I don’t think [the capital stack is] as complex as people think it is; it just requires taking a course at NYU in real estate finance,” he said. “And you can’t do what we do on the debt side of the business without working for the ownership side or getting experience at a sales or investment firm first.”

“From the very beginning he was always very level-headed,” said Robert Weisz, president and CEO of RPW Group, who has known Horowitz since the early days. “Over the years he’s developed such a deep knowledge and control of the industry that when he looks at a deal, he can tell you on the spot what the final outcome will be because he’s done it so many times and he’s never failed. Three months later, it’s exactly as he described it would be.”

Further, “He always goes over and above the call of duty and stays on the deal forever,” Weisz said. “You know Richie is going to be watching over it for the entire deal’s life. We have had situations where we were looking to do additional development and there were restrictions and Richie helped us to make it happen.”

The level-headed approach is an art Horowitz has steadily perfected over the years. “There can be times in our business when things get very tense,” he said. “I’ve learned something called the sacred pause: to step back and put into context what’s happening in a deal before you overreact — because the overreaction sometimes can cause serious damage. Everyone has high emotions in this business; you get someone at four-and-a-quarter interest rate, they want four-and-an-eighth. You may not be able to get that, and it ends up in a screaming match — but not me, as I don’t scream at anybody.”

That approach has delivered some exceptionally good deals.

“He really knows how to stand in the middle of a deal and not necessarily negotiate terms but be a conduit of information for both sides,” Casey Klein, a principal of Crescent Heights, said. “We’ve had many intense negotiations with Richie over the years or his representative lenders. But he has done a great job of masking the emotions and making a deal. On large deals, things get very intense and you’re negotiating a lot of structural points that are adamant from a borrower’s perspective, and financial points, whether it’s rate or whatever. And I think Richie does a great job of being the intermediary and keeping everyone’s emotions at the right level.”

Klein first met Horowitz when Klein was starting out at Crescent Heights and only 21 years old. “He never once looked down on me,” Klein said. “I was still learning at the time … but he was just as kind as he is to me today.”

The two firms have closed several financings together over the years, including a double whammy of $734 million in CMBS financing for two of Crescent Heights’ luxury residential properties in April; Ten Thousand in L.A. and NEMA San Francisco.

“I think there are very few deal makers or mortgage intermediaries that have had the prolific success, volume of business and depth of relationships that Richie has had,” Klein said.

Last year, Horowitz arranged a $210 million loan to refinance RPW’s 43-story landmarked office property at 275 Madison Avenue with ULLICO. The lender would also provide a $30 million refinancing for two of RPW’s Westchester office properties in March.

“He has [borrower] clients that he brings back to us who, realistically, could go around him, but they don’t because he’ll go to the nth degree for those clients and negotiate hard for them,” Kolben said.

From Weisz’s perspective, “the lenders really enjoy working with him because they know when they receive a package from him, it has already been vetted and he won’t ask for something that doesn’t make sense,” he said.

One such lender is Natixis managing director Michael Magner, who’s been transacting with Horowitz for 14 years.

“My first impression [of Richie] was that he wasn’t a typical broker. He’s got a very calm demeanor and doesn’t come across as someone who is trying to sell you on a deal. But what he does give you is that confidence that he’s in control of the deal.” Magner said.

In addition to the two Crescent Heights refinances closed in April, Horowitz recently negotiated $229 million in Natixis debt for TriStar Capital and RFR’s acquisition of the Urban Union office property at 501 Fairview Avenue North in Seattle, Wash., as well as a $266 million loan for the borrowers’ acquisition of Centre 425 — a 16-story office property in Bellevue, Wash. — and a $220 million loan for 400 Ninth Avenue North in Seattle’s South Lake Union neighborhood. All three properties are 100 percent leased to Amazon.

“I’ve done transactions with Richie all over: Queens, Manhattan, Miami, Las Vegas,” TriStar’s David Edelstein said. “He’s capable of working in any market in the country, and he’s more than capable of dealing with any type of asset. When Richie is on a deal, it’s going to close.”

Despite the mammoth size of some of the deals he closes, Horowitz also works on deals that range from as small as $1 million to as large as $750 million. “I’ve always worked nationally and followed my clients,” he said. “I think that’s one reason I’ve been so successful; I won’t turn away business.”

That said, “I like the deals that are larger and require structure; whether that’s an acquisition-bridge loan, a transitional financing where I have to get higher leverage or there’s an A- and B-note,” he said. “On the larger deals you’re dealing with a higher level of sophistication with the borrower and they’re more challenging. It’s fun.”

Magner went on to describe Horowitz as a “very atypical character” in the brokerage world in that he’s not hustling for business: “His phone rings because people are interested to work with him and that says a lot about him and his capabilities. A lot of brokers are transaction-driven but Richie is very relationship-driven. He comes across as a genuine friend first, then it’s business second. And when you have that, your trust is built exponentially.”

Further, transparency is key.

“A lot of the times he’ll say to me, ‘Michael, let’s just get the borrower on the phone and you and I will talk with them directly.’ A lot of brokers like to keep their cards very close to their vest, but for Richie it serves him very well because it gives the client a lot of confidence; not only do they know that Richie has control of the deal, but control of the banker, and the banker trusts Richie, which gives them the confidence to move forward,” Magner said.

Mark Clifford, a director at Washington Capital Management, has worked on several deals over the year with Horowitz including land transactions in Seattle and San Francisco. “His developer client base is probably one of the best in the business, so when he brings a transaction it’s got exceptional sponsorship and you don’t have to worry about the sponsor; you can focus on the merits of the transaction instead,” Clifford said.

Those CO spoke with describe Justin Horowitz as being “cut from the same cloth” as his father, or a “chip off the old block.”

According to Justin, his father’s advice was to “always be humble and honest and transparent. Always focus on the deals and your clients, and don’t forget about your family.”

“He was always working, but he was always home at night to read my brother and I bedtime stories,” Justin continued. “But there was nobody working harder than him, and to this day nothing has changed.”

As such, he sees no retirement in sight for his dad. “It’s definitely not happening anytime soon. The next step is him being here when I have children here,” he said and laughed. “He still loves it and breathes it and enjoys doing it. He really enjoys the excitement of the deal.”