Thursday, July 12, 2012

Real estate agent Danny Davis makes deals on wheels By Jason Sheftell


October 12, 2007
Danny Davis on the phone while riding his trademark Trek 9300 mountain bike.

If you see a guy on a mountain bike riding down the West Side Highway, eating a sandwich and simultaneously having four conversations on his cell phone, chances are its Citi Habitats' top real estate agent, Danny Davis, on his way to see a prospective buyer.

Once the top rental agent in all of New York City earning in the seven figures annually, Davis helped ease Citi Habitats' transition from top rental company to an emerging leader in residential sales.

"I used to tell people to rent, not buy," says Davis, 39, in between meetings at his Sullivan St. office. "I used to say it's best to wait the market conditions out and rent a nice apartment. Now, I'm like, ‘You have to buy. It's the only way to go. You need equity. Renting is just throwing money away.'"

Funny, charismatic, aggressive but never in your face, Davis is a legend among other New York City brokers. For the past nine years, he's been the No. 1 producer in the entire company. An agent since graduating Columbia University in 1991, Davis has a relentless personality, traveling to more than 60 countries, living in a cave in India, going to over 75 Grateful Dead shows, and courting his Dutch wife-to-be on a boat off an island in Bolivia's Lake Titicaca.

He's almost a modern-day discoverer, with unique lofts, townhouses and apartments as his buried treasure. Very confident, but not arrogant, Davis contends to know the city and its neighborhoods better than anyone.

You can thank his trademark mountain bike for that. Davis rides a beat-up Trek 9300. He's gone through 11 bikes in his 16 years on the job. On Valentine's Day four years ago, he smacked head-first into an ambulance van. After two hours in the emergency room, Davis was showing apartments with his head still bandaged and bleeding.

"I've ridden this bike all over and I know pretty much every building in Manhattan," laughs Davis, a native Philadelphian who talks with the definitive air of a native New Yorker. "I remember running around Tribeca going to Blues Traveler concerts when there was nothing there. Today I live there with my wife and kids. But that's New York. Always changing."

Like the rental market. Vacancy rates have hovered around 1% in Manhattan for the past two years. Simultaneously, an increase in real estate agents and the high number of rental and sales apartments available have combined to make this market more competitive than any other. Not to mention the average rental price of a Chelsea one-bedroom has risen to $2,818.

"I have to be first into a newly available apartment whether it's a rental or sale," says Davis. "My job as a broker is to get my client into a space where they're happy. But there are a lot of new young brokers who are smart and high-tech savvy. That may be a problem for the old curmudgeon broker, but I like the competition."

Last year Davis rented an apartment to a client for $50,000 a month. That's a commission of almost $90,000. (For rentals, agents receive a standard fee of 15% of the annual rent.) Davis doesn't just cater to the high end. If it's rentable or sellable, Davis will show it. What he won't do is waste your time or his.

Davis recently received a letter from the CEO of NRT, the international real estate conglomerate that owns Citi Habitats, placing him in the top 1.7% out of a field of 60,000 agents worldwide. Last year, Davis totaled over $75 million in total rental and sales.

"I'm a dealmaker, not an apartment shower," says a constantly busy Davis, with whom it took almost five months to get an interview. "I listen to my clients. I can tell almost immediately what they want. I'll show them three apartments and chances are they'll find two very livable." With that, he's fast to say goodbye, on his way to meet a landlord renting a $5,000 condo in the East Village.

Gary Malin runs Citi Habitats. As the COO, he oversees 16 offices and 900-plus agents and employees. With over 6,000 rental listings online, the company is far and away the leader in New York City rentals. Agents like Danny Davis, who rented apartments before moving to sales, mirror the company's growth.

"Back in 1998, we wanted to move into a rental and sales company," says Malin, who came on board to help run the company started by a University of Michigan college friend Andrew Heiberger, (who later sold Citi Habitats to Corcoran for an estimated $49.6 million in 2004 and now develops residential property in the New York area). "If today's renters are tomorrow's buyers, then aren't today's rental agents tomorrow's sales agents? It just makes sense for us to move in this direction. Our training infrastructure is made for it."

Creating a thousand Danny Davises couldn't hurt any real estate company. Upon joining Citi Habitats, employees go through a comprehensive two-week training program learning the ins and outs of the rental market. Once completed, they work with office managers and top agents renting apartments. Within two years, sometimes sooner, these agents take an in-house sales course preparing them for the next step in becoming a top sales agent handling both rentals and sales.

"Rentals are a fast-paced race," says Malin. "Sales are about building client relationships. You have to understand inventory and market variables for both. Our training allows people to build knowledge and move successfully from a rental agent to a top sales agent."

It's worked so far. At last check, Citi Habitats was doing 45% to 55% sales. In the past five years, however, their sales volume has quadrupled.

If there's a knock on Citi Habitats, it's that they don't have a firm foot in the outer boroughs. Malin aims to change that with an influx of new rental agents who have a stronghold in those Brooklyn and Queens neighborhoods becoming a hotbed of rental activity.

"Our young agents who live there now understand those neighborhoods and have friends who want to live there," he says. "Even without a physical presence of offices in these areas, our agents are showing properties in the outer markets every day. We'll gravitate where the deals are. The boroughs are our next frontier."

Now the only question remains is how fast Davis can hightail it from Tribeca to Bushwick. Like lightning, we imagine, if there's a deal to be made.

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