“First and final,” says Darren Sukenik, as he explains to me the several different projects he has been a part of, while touring a gorgeous and massive duplex space for sale at one of his properties, 150 Charles St. As one of the top real estate brokers for Douglas Elliman downtown, Darren has been a major part in almost every new luxury residence building in the area. From 150 Charles St. to 10 Madison Square West (developed by Steve Witkoff), and 111 Murray St. (developed by Witkoff and the Fisher Brothers), these properties, as discussed in our Q&A, ring true to Darren’s catchphrase, “first and final.”
It is also fitting to point out that, given the title of the column, “The Real New York,” Darren is a quintessential New Yorker, born and raised, and knows the downtown area, especially the West Village, like no other. After being in the business for a number of years and with Douglas Elliman for 16 years, Darren is an old school broker who gets results based on his knowledge, experience and ability to relate to his clients on a personal level.
What would you say sets you apart from other brokers?
Darren Sukenik: Steve Witkoff [developer at 150 Charles St. and 10 Madison Square West] and I really started this formula where the street is reporting to the developer. It used to be that the developer just built the building, fingers crossed someone would buy in it…and that’s just not the way we do it anymore, especially at Elliman. But Steve and I, when Steve located this property [150 Charles St.], he engaged in me first, and I reported what the market was looking for, and he literally built exactly what the market was looking for. Fits, finishes, windows, kitchen, like everything.
Do you do that specifically, or do all Elliman agents [advise developers on what the market is looking for]?
D: There are a core of us within the company now that, sort of do that, but it was never like that before, whether it was Corcoran or Brown Harris, they always had a sales team on a new building that might or might not have been a big broker, or might or might not have known the neighborhood; they were just like a sales team that were hired for the building. We, and I hate to speak about myself in this way, “super broker” is a term that is whatever, but I’m a big broker downtown, and never before did they take a big broker and put them on a project, just because it was never done before, and it was me and Raphael De Niro [broker at Douglas Elliman]. So after that, Elliman realized there was huge value in that, because no one else was doing it, then Susan de Franca [President and CEO- DE Development Marketing] joined us from Related, and then we kind of spearheaded that whole movement, so there are a handful of the original brokers that did kind of spearhead this with them that stayed to continue the concept.
Did you do that with 111 Murray St.?
D: Yes, I did 10 Madison Square West, and then I went on to 111 Murray, and now I’m going to be doing it at Park Lane as well.
With these buildings, 150 Charles St., 111 Murray, 10 Madison Square West, how do you see these residential buildings impacting the neighborhoods they are in for the future?
D: In this particular case, with what 150 Charles did, is that it took a really, it took an exclamation point and put it at the end of the sentence. This is, and very much a legacy property in that it’s the first and final; it’s the first of its kind that’s so amenitized in the West Village. Usually, you could never live like this in the West Village, that’s why it appealed to a lot of Park Avenue and 5th Avenue because they could live the way they had been doing uptown, downtown. This was the first, and the last way that you could live like this in the West Village, because there’s no other footprint that could support something like this, so first and final here.
Same thing at Madison Square West. When we bought the toy building, it was a lovely park, you know Shake Shack started changing it, 1 Madison kind of changed it, but we became the anchor on the west side, and all of that park frontage and that kind of an A-plus building never existed on the park, so it really made the park a “park view,” it was never really a park view; it was a nice park, but it wasn’t a park. But now, everything is built full completely around it, the Edition Hotel is on the other side, so what we did, again, was first and final. The first big luxury building that could possibly be park front, and it’s the last, because there’s no other way you could possibly build on the park now, same thing with 111 Murray St.
We had a 30,000-square-foot footprint, we chose to work with 10,000 square feet, with 64 stories in the air, and we’re completely protected views. And because of where we are in the triangle of TriBeCa, you get this incredible skyliner view of the city because it fans, nobody can ever do that again. It’s first and final, because it really is, and that’s what this audience wants; they don’t want something that somebody else can have. They want to have the best, and they want to make sure that no one can have what they have. That is how they want to live.
Very specifically, here [in the West Village], I know the market and I know what the clients want. I’ve always lived here, and I don’t profess to know Park Avenue, 5th Avenue, I could care less about the Upper East Side, not for me. But here, I know what color cars they’re driving, I know what kind of bag she’s wearing, I know where the kids go to school, I know where they have lunch; I know everything about this neighborhood.
I am their buyer, I know everything about their buyer because I live with them, we hang out with them in the kiddie park, like we are them. And before this building [150 Charles St.], there was never that direct connection between the street and the developer, and that’s what I’ve done. Instead of building a building and hoping that people would come, we’ve built a building for the market.
What would you say the most challenging part about your job is?
D: Having enough hours in a day, it’s really hard for me personally and professionally because my lives blur. This is what I do, and I could be out east having ice cream with my fiancee, and I could turn around and one of my developers could be standing there, so I’ll have to talk to him. So just finding enough time in a day, that’s the most challenging thing. I’m just very entrenched in, and I love what I do, but I’m engaged all the time. So it’s very hard to disengage.
Now you’ve lived in this area for awhile, is there something that just keeps you here?
D: Yeah, it’s interesting. I’ve been in this area since I’ve been born basically. My dad used to own a lot of the buildings along the West Side Highway, and I remember he used to have this big white Caddy, and I remember when we used to come and he used to visit, my mother used to push my head down in the backseat so I wouldn’t see what was going on because it was shady. And I grew up on Long Island, like 20 minutes from the city, but we were always here, and I went to NYU, so I went to NYU at 16, so I’ve just always been here, and I never left. So I just don’t know where I would go, really. But I’ve just always been here, I had a brief stint on 1st Avenue and 1st Street when I was in school, but I came back to the West Village, always. It’s the only place that has soul; it really has this feeling that you can’t replicate anywhere else, northwest TriBeCa especially is the same, and that’s why I think it appeals to so many Europeans is because it has this vibe that’s really a respite from the madness, while still being almost in it.
And especially now, a lot of people don’t have to live in the Upper East Side to get to Midtown to commute because Goldman Sachs is down here, Citigroup is down here, Conde Nast is down here, all of these big companies, NewsCorp is down here, so everything, especially now that Hudson Yards is going to be anchored to the north, and we have Brookfield and all of that to the south, you really have the stretch that I call the “Platinum Mile” that we never really have to leave.
I was reading on your bio that you have your own interior design firm (called ‘TWENTIETHCENTURY’), how did you get started with that?
D: I do, my background before real estate, I was in the fashion industry and I manufactured two lines of womenswear, and sort of at that time and after that time, I had an interior design firm. I have this sort of innate understanding of real estate, I used to buy and sell houses, like right after college I used to just get in there and redo them, and it’s always something I liked doing. And I bring that with me wherever I go.
So the interior design is offered to your clients as an extra service to them?
D: Yes, and it is offered to my sellers and to the developers because if I look at a floor plan and I’m like, ‘Where are they putting a sofa?’ Like, you don’t have the room for an 8-person dining table, and they have to seat eight people, or there’s no room for it, because I know how this audience lives, and I really know how to read a floor plan and how to design a house, that helps also. Obviously, they have their own architects and designers, but sometimes they miss stuff. And I vet for closets, and vet for all the things that I know.
Is there something you would say distinguishes good design from great design when it comes to buildings?
D: Yes, intuitive design. Something that once they move into the home, they can’t even believe that they have it. Like an extra storage room, like a real formal laundry room that they’re able to use and enjoy. Extra closet space, ceiling height, things that they don’t know that they would necessarily ask for, but things that really improve their quality of life.
Do you think there are any common mistakes that buyers and sellers make when trying to purchase or sell a home?
D: Some apartments show better empty, some apartments show better without pets and other things too. But I don’t think there’s a specific thing that they do wrong.
What would you say are some of the benefits of having a broker?
D: It depends on the broker, because brokers could add a lot of value. I have a bunch of clients that I know are looking, like I’m an old school broker. I could easily take the place of StreetEasy, people think they can go on StreetEasy and find an apartment. They can’t really, because they don’t know the background of the building, the numbers are a little skewed, the numbers might be a little dated, and looking for an apartment, I know every single building, I know every single floor plan in every single building in this neighborhood [West Village], and I also know people that aren’t necessarily looking to buy something today, but they would. I’m really an old school matchmaker, so I know.
How do you manage to keep organized with everything that you do? Are there any tools or apps you specifically use?
D: I’m embarrassed to say no. My nephew’s a few years younger than me so he keeps that under control, but it’s just old school…like sports, how some people just know every player, every stat, etc. And I also know what people don’t want. So, I’m never going to show someone an apartment that faces a brick wall and say ‘It’s fabulous!’ Often, people think they do know what they want, but they don’t. Nobody knows what they want, and that’s what I teach people that usually work with me; ‘Well they said they didn’t want so and so,’ I’m like, ‘No, no, they just don’t know that they do want so and so.’ So sometimes it’s more important, I think, and this is what I try to teach the people that work with me, it’s really more important to find out what they don’t want, rather than what they do want. Because what they do want often doesn’t exist, or it might not really be what they want. I know viscerally what somebody’s going to react to, and it might not be what they think they want, but I know what they want because I can emotionally and design-wise engage with who they are and who they want to be, and what they’re looking for but can’t express. I know because I’m in the business, but they don’t.
-by Jackie Hart