Dolly’s World : Real Estate with Dolly Lenz

With over $1 Billion and 100 listings for sale, Dolly Lenz is larger than life. She is at the top of her game, and by no means slowing down. With Projects in New York, The Hamptons, Palm Beach, Miami, and soon to launch Las Vegas, she is taking her business to the next level

By Julie Earle-Levine
Photography by Pascal Perich


 Her regular television appearances and expertise on real estate markets have prompted a tremendous thirst for her talent.

Dolly Lenz, a superbly street smart native New Yorker wears the crown in New York real estate circles. Her instinct for a good deal, and especially avoiding a bad one, is legendary. It’s no wonder she’s the number one broker in America, a coveted title among real estate’s elite.

How does she achieve such unwavering success? Pure passion and street smart cunning.

When the bidding process was launched recently for 400 Fifth Avenue, an almost billion dollar development site that will change the New York skyline forever (it is right next to the Empire State Building) Lenz decided to go after it.

“Every big name in the New York real estate scene wanted to buy that property and had requested the bidding package. We decided to be very aggressive,” said Dolly Lenz. Lenz pulled out all the stops, going directly to the sellers and made a deal on Friday night, in 95 degree heat in the middle of the boondocks in New Jersey. “None of the biggest names thought to do this,” Lenz brags. Lenz secured the deal and will be heading up the development and sales team for the soon- to-be five star hotel, retail and condominium complex.

Those close to Lenz describe her as charming and fierce. No surprise considering that New York is the toughest real estate market in the world. New York is full of sharks. Dolly is the shrewdest shark. “I prefer charming, but sometimes fierce is necessary,” said Lenz.

For those fortunate enough to be her clients, Lenz can pull out of a bad deal with no regrets. Her regular television appearances and expertise on real estate markets have prompted a tremendous thirst for her talent. Lenz gets three million hits a month on her website, and some fans even track her down on the home phone.

Lenz takes it all in her stride. She has been the top-selling real estate broker in America for three consecutive years, with more than $500 million in sales in the past 12 months alone, and will earn over $7 million this year in commissions. If you start counting the buildings and apartments she has sold during her 20-year-plus career, it’s an even larger figure. “I think it’s somewhere around $6 billion ,” says Lenz, who is Vice Chairman at Prudential Douglas Elliman, New York’s largest real estate company.

If Lenz had a Rolodex (she has three Blackberries instead, often two in hand the other in her Hermés handbag) it would contain the names of Saudi royalty, wealthy British investors and household name American executives. Her clients are celebrities, leaders in politics and entertainment and finance, and are dotted all over the world.

The numbers came naturally to Lenz, a former accountant. Lenz liked real estate and started investing in it early, buying and renting out apartments in Manhattan. She used other brokers to do the transactions, but she soon realized she was doing most of the work, and she was passionate about it. She became a broker at 25, at her husband’s suggestion.

“I just worked constantly and had great clients. I was very fortunate to have Barbra Streisand early on.” Lenz jokes that she looked for an apartment for Streisand for almost 19 years. “I learned the whole market.” She went on to buy and sell several properties because of Streisand, including selling her apartment on Central Park West to fellow diva, Mariah Carey, but the deal was ultimately blocked by the building’s resident committee.

Lenz can afford to rely on her name, rather than solicit business. “Once you’ve been doing this for 20 years, 100 percent of your business is, or should be referrals. I also get things by reputation. Someone will read about a building or apartment I sold and ask me if I’ll sell their property.” Her success is mostly about hard work and dedication.

Lenz’s average work day is dizzying. She wakes at 6.30am and runs ten miles around Central Park. “Hopefully, I’m not getting a phone call then,” says the ever vigilant Lenz. She is in at the office by 10am, but doesn’t ‘turn off’ until 1.30am, and does this seven days a week, even answering her Blackberry in her sleep. Lenz jokes that she closed three sales while she was in labor with her first child and the nurses asked her to turn off her phone. She said no, as she often does, to deals she has no interest in. Lenz has tallied up the number of deals she has turned down, and realizes she can afford to. Her downtime in summer is the Hamptons, but work never really stops, especially when you are playing in one of the world’s richest playgrounds. “I was in The Hamptons recently for a weekend, and sold a $22 million house to a notable personality.”

Real Estate magnate Donald Trump, was one of Lenz’s early supporters. Along with General Electric, he backed several very successful road shows that Lenz took to Hong Kong in the 1990s, selling apartments in a Trump building. “Asia’s new rich were buying four or five New York apartments at a time for investment.” Once, she flew to Asia, just to pick up a contract and check, and flew right back. She ultimately sold 64 apartments in the Trump International Hotel and more than 30 in the Tower.

Even though she is hot-footing it around Manhattan each day, touring properties and getting to client lunches and dinners at the Four Seasons, Nobu or Cipriani, Lenz is groomed to perfection. She dons black designer suits and killer heels. It helps to explain how she manages to stay slim in spite of often attending two or three dinners a night, all for work. “I don’t have dinner with my husband often, but it just works.” Lenz manages to be a dedicated wife and mother. Her husband and two children tolerate moving houses often – more than 35 times in the past 20 years!

Lenz’s most recent projects have been condo developments and conversions but she sells everything from $1m plus condos to mansions in the Hamptons, estates in London and luxurious beach properties in Barbados. Her clients tend to follow and seek her advice wherever they invest all over the world.

Among her most recent high profile deals, the son of Kazakhstan president Nursultan Nazarbayev wanted a pied-a-terre on Wall Street. He snapped up two apartments at the Cipriani residences, a condo building at 55 Wall Street, where Lenz is the exclusive broker. Lenz whirled him through the building when he was in town for UN meetings.

She has also worked with newly single hot shot Ron Perlman, the Revlon chairman, Bruce Willis, Harvey Weinstein, Sidney Poitier, Dick Wolf, Lyn Revson, Howard Stern, Rush Limbaugh and Tommy Mottola. Recently many of her clients have been young hedge fund guys in their thirties and forties.

“Hedge funds and financial professionals are spending all the money on Park Avenue, Fifth Avenue and downtown. These are like cute kids – they could be older versions of my kids (she has two aged 16 and 17), who are just gobbling up everything.” Buyers twenty years ago were mostly lawyers, doctors and professionals. “Now we’re seeing 27-year-old buyers in broken jeans, with two day old beards and sunglasses. Now that is the person you are most likely to invite in.”

She believes the Cipriani Residences is the best deal she has ever done. “It’s my most interesting, because it is complicated and layered. It’s not just vanilla mansions, or buildings.” The residences will offer round-the-clock butler service, a screening room, private library, gym, spa and barbershop as well as its own Cipriani restaurant. The building, features 106 furnished apartments ranging from studios at $800,000 to three bedrooms and penthouses for $3 million.

The building is over two-thirds sold, and a tour with Lenz of the apartments explains why – they are beautifully designed, and sleekly furnished, the ultimate downtown address. “It is the marriage of the most gracious host and restaurateur Giuseppe Cipriani, matched up with the ultimate perfectionist developer in Steve Witkoff. Everyone wants these,” says Lenz, who dines often at Downtown Cipriani in Soho, where an elegant, wealthy and international crowd socialize. Lenz talks million dollar figures over the restaurant’s delicious ravioli and often, a contract is signed right there. On a recent night, she was at her regular table and knew at least half the restaurant’s clientele.

So how does Lenz feel about the current market? She’s bullish, especially when it comes to super-luxury properties. “It is just froth right now, no bubble, but it could change. I think there is a good balance of supply and demand , but if there was a huge oversupply, well that would affect only the cookie-cutter apartments, like in the last bubble in 1990 when there were thousands of new apartments on the market.”

Lenz believes that New York is possibly the most exciting city in the world, and demand for housing here is based on genuine need, and not irrational speculation that the term ‘bubble’ implies. Lenz focuses only on the top end of the market. That’s $1 million dollars and up on Wall Street, and $10 million and up on Park Avenue. “We are not seeing lower prices at this level, prices are high and could climb. Everyone is betting that these properties are still climbing.” Real estate bankers have changed the entire marketplace in real estate. “Innovative companies like Credit Suisse, with their creative financing and pursuit of deals from a totally different vantage point has made the market much more liquid, and as a result, much higher and less volatile.”

Lenz is keeping a close eye on other markets, and also loves Miami. She will be marketing The Savoy, a new development directly on the ocean complete with luxury furnishings for the hotel and condos by Fendi Casa, and a 10,000 square foot spa. “It will be just like the Italian Riveria,” says Lenz.

“Oceanfront properties on Miami’s Gold Coast are irreplaceable and will never lose value.”

She likes Miami for its international flavor and proximity to New York.” It’s perfect for a lifestyle that takes in both cities.”

Savoy developer Gary Cohen said it would be the most high-end product in Miami, beyond even The Setai. “We were going to hire a local firm, but the product is going to be sold to New Yorkers and Europeans so who better to sell it than the best real estate broker in the US, Dolly Lenz” Prices will start at $800,000 to $1.5 million and penthouses will be up to $10 million. “There is already someone interested in buying a 5,000 square foot penthouse,” Cohen says. Sales start in December.

Part of Lenz’s huge success is listening to what her buyers want. “Every deal is complicated and it takes every skill you’ve ever had just to get it closed.” Sometimes it also takes old fashioned charm, a girlish smile and her undivided attention, focusing on exactly what that buyer is looking for, and what his wife wants too. “I work closely with many wives to help them turn around their husbands on a real estate purchase.”

So what else does Lenz have on her books right now? 813 Park Avenue, the former home of P.Diddy, now developed into three super luxury pre-war homes, each about 6,000 square feet complete with multiple fire places and terraces. Prices start at $12 million each.

“Money is no object for the select group of prospective buyers. “There is so much money in Manhattan, unfathomable wealth. I’ve stopped counting the mega millionaires.”