May 19, 2024

The 30-Minute Interview: The 30-Minute Interview: Pamela Liebman

Ms. Liebman joined Corcoran in 1985, became a partner in 1990 and in 2000 was elevated to the firm’s helm.

Interview conducted and condensed by


Q. So what’s new at Corcoran?

A. We’re about to launch our brand-new You’re the first person I’ve talked to about it.

Buyers are so much smarter today: they’re well armed with the many listing aggregation sites where people can search for homes. Brokers used to hold all the information.

But we are not a data company, so what we built is a “find” — not a search — site. Let’s say a woman is searching for a man on a dating site. Every guy says the same thing: they’re in great shape, have a wonderful head of hair and are financially well off. But wouldn’t it be nice to have a best friend who knows all these guys who can say, “Oh yeah, he’s financially well off because he lives with his mother and that great head of hair is a toupee.” Every apartment is going to be described as something great. What you really need is someone who’s going to navigate this for you.

Q. Exactly how will this new site differ from the old one?

A. The new site is going to be much easier to use on all mobile devices, but it also is going to have a lot more connections with social media. It’s not just about showing you the pretty pictures of the apartment or house. It’s about, what is the lifestyle experience of living there? We’ll have agents commenting on what’s happening in a neighborhood, what those neighborhoods are known for. We will continue to recommend restaurants, cultural activities. We try to bring this whole process to life. It’s not just about the apartment. So we don’t want to just send you 100 listings — and if it’s the West Village, four listings.

If you had searched for a three-bedroom on the Upper West Side, next time you come back to the site it’s going to remember you and say, ‘Hi, here’s what we think you might like.’ So it’s going to be more intuitive.

Q. Will the site include listings from other brokerages?

A. Nope.

Q. How would you describe business right now?

A. We are very busy. It’s a tough market again because we are severely lacking in inventory — we’re at a seven-year low — which is causing frustration on the part of buyers. They can’t find what they want and it’s leading to bidding wars or buyers being unsatisfied.

This lack of inventory, of course, is mostly on the higher end of the market. There are certain apartments that are not suffering: if you want a postwar one-bedroom in certain parts of New York City, we can show you lots of apartments. But if you want a larger four-bedroom on the Upper West Side, it’s going to be a struggle.

Q. Is this scarcity because of the influx of wealthy foreign buyers?

A. Well, the foreign investors are certainly having a big impact on the condominium market. But yes. What’s happening this year is we’ve seen buyers come from areas that weren’t as represented in the past, particularly from the Middle East. And, of course, everybody’s talking about the Chinese and their buying power.

Q. What percentage of your buyers are foreigners?

A. It’s not an exact science, but we look at our buildings that we are representing, and typically it’s about 30 percent. In some buildings, where it’s catering mostly to investors, the percentage can go well above 75 percent.

In 2007-8 we had a real big influx of foreign buyers and a lot of people coming in to flip apartments, but the characterization of the buyer today is different. It’s more of a buy and hold.

One57, interestingly, is half and half. Brazil, Venezuela, a lot of Latin America. [A week after this interview was conducted, a crane partly collapsed atop One57 as Hurricane Sandy approached the region.]

Q. Let’s talk more about One57, the “it building” for billionaires.

A. My favorite building! It’s not just for billionaires. There are a lot of apartments that have been sold to multimillionaires.

One57, since its launch, it’s become the hot building. Gary Barnett listened to what the sophisticated high-end buyer wanted and then he delivered it. Views of Central Park are probably No. 1, and they want large-scale rooms with high ceilings, exclusivity, fantastic amenities. They want to feel as though they’re living the way they deserve to live.

It’s a little over 60 percent sold — at an average price of $6,500 per square foot. And I just got word that we signed another contract on the way over.

Q. To whom?

A. That’s probably the most popular question I am asked. It’s an American buyer. It’s for about 4,400 square feet and it was just under $30 million. I can’t say any more.

Q. Do you see apartments being sold over the $100 million mark in New York?

A. There’s currently nothing on the market that’s worthy of it.

Q. What about more new developments for the middle class?

A. People want to maximize their returns when they build. The acquisition costs have become so high that it’s simply not financially viable to build a building that doesn’t sell for a very high dollar per foot.

Unfortunately, Manhattan is not an inexpensive place to live, and we struggle with that in a lot of the markets that we are in, like Palm Beach, the Hamptons and now Brooklyn, too. The average price this month of Corcoran Group sales was over $1.6 million. At the same time last year it was just under $1.4 million.

Q. You yourself live in New Jersey.

A. Somerset County. I also have a home in Miami. I do not have a pied-à-terre in New York. My family doesn’t want to make it too easy for me not to come home.

Q. You’ve had a pretty meteoric rise at Corcoran.

A. The funniest part of my story is that when I first interviewed with Barbara Corcoran she said to me, “You know, Pam, I really like you, but you don’t seem like the type that’s going to stick around very long.” So here I am some 27 years later.

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