The very best view of New York Metropolis would possibly simply be in a near-windowless convention room on the twelfth flooring of a Midtown Manhattan workplace constructing.
Splayed throughout 10 folding tables, a map pieced along with paper, tape and sticky notes particulars each block and parcel — 27,649 properties — in Manhattan beneath 96th Road on the East Facet and a hundred and tenth Road on the West Facet.
The map is the work of Bob Knakal, who created it by strolling each avenue and road throughout the desolate early months of the pandemic.
Up to date frequently, the heaps are color-coded with highlighters and sticky notes to point out that are on the market (inexperienced sticky notes), have been lately offered (purple sticky notes), are owned by the town (pink highlights) or are below development (inexperienced highlights). Orange highlights means lots is underutilized — and there’s a doable deal to be made.
For 4 a long time, Mr. Knakal has used his obsession with knowledge and inventive advertising and marketing methods to realize rarefied standing within the cutthroat world of New York Metropolis actual property. He’s broadly thought of by industry professionals to be the highest industrial gross sales dealer by variety of transactions within the largest industrial market within the nation.
“It’s not likely the actual property enterprise, it’s the info enterprise,” mentioned Mr. Knakal, 61, throughout a current tour of what he calls the Map Room, the place his cartographic creation lives.
Since 1984, when he first began in Manhattan, Mr. Knakal has offered 2,329 properties — workplaces, city properties, garages, house buildings and warehouses — totaling $22 billion. His largest transaction was the practically $700 million sale in 2016 of a number of properties in Brooklyn owned by the Jehovah’s Witnesses, together with the Watchtower Constructing in Brooklyn Heights.
More and more, he has been concerned in main offers shaping New York’s skyline, together with the 2014 sale of a car parking zone on Manhattan’s West Facet for $238 million that’s now the Spiral workplace tower, one of many tallest buildings within the metropolis.
The gross sales haven’t solely generated important wealth for Mr. Knakal, however have additionally given him entry to elected officers.
The town, and particularly Manhattan, has turn out to be increasingly more unaffordable for odd individuals, a message Mr. Knakal has emphasised to lawmakers.
He says he cares about reasonably priced housing as a result of creating extra of it’s important to the town’s future, although he additionally acknowledges that extra offers for properties and growth may benefit himself.
Over a non-public lunch in Midtown, he urged Gov. Kathy Hochul to do extra to encourage the conversions of workplace buildings into housing. He additionally lately bent the ear of Mayor Eric Adams.
The town, he instructed the mayor, owns quite a few properties which are underutilized and might be redeveloped. He particularly referred to as out public housing developments, which he says might be preserved whereas setting up new reasonably priced and personal housing close by on the identical heaps.
“You take a look at these large tracts of land that public housing sits on the place a thousand individuals reside that produces zero taxes,” he mentioned. “There may be alternative to have 10,000 individuals reside on that land, have a part of it’s tax-generating and create tens of 1000’s of jobs with out displacing anyone.”
Some progressive lawmakers and lecturers blame the affordability disaster on builders and brokers like Mr. Knakal, whose aim is to safe the best bid for property house owners. They argue that ever-increasing gross sales costs encourage traders to develop initiatives that may generate bigger income, usually leading to extra luxurious condominiums.
“A job of the dealer is to encompass your self with individuals in energy to get your self higher offers, so the nearer you get to the circle of energy and cash, the higher offers you may dealer and cash you may make,” mentioned Miguel Robles-Duran, an affiliate professor of urbanism on the New Faculty’s Parsons Faculty of Design.
State Senator Jabari Brisport, a democratic socialist from Brooklyn, mentioned that Mr. Knakal mustn’t have a say within the creation of reasonably priced housing.
“He’s an instance of all the things that’s incorrect with our housing disaster proper now, which is that we’ve got allowed housing to be handled as an funding, as a monetary commodity, as an alternative of a assured proper,” Mr. Brisport mentioned.
“It is a one who has gotten very rich off the backs of New Yorkers searching for a spot to reside,” Mr. Brisport mentioned, including that Mr. Knakal has used his earnings “to purchase political favors from the wealthy and highly effective.”
Mr. Knakal mentioned in response that insurance policies carried out by New York lawmakers lately have considerably stalled the development of recent residences and worsened the housing disaster. They’ve additionally made builders really feel below assault, main them to begin investing elsewhere, like within the South.
“There’s a very huge philosophical distinction when you consider housing is an entitlement than when you assume housing is a enterprise,” Mr. Knakal mentioned. “That’s means past the scope of an actual property dealer to determine, however I don’t assume anybody can argue towards that when you added extra provide, rents can be extra reasonably priced for individuals.”
Mr. Knakal begins each Monday with a authorized pad that includes a handwritten checklist of a number of dozen property house owners to name. It’s a mixture of present shoppers making an attempt to promote, property house owners who aren’t but prepared and previous shoppers; some are cold-calls.
He makes the calls himself, and follows up with emails till he will get the house owners on the telephone.
In a metropolis swarming with brokers, the calls hold his identify high of thoughts, Mr. Knakal mentioned. He stresses to potential shoppers his lengthy historical past of solely representing sellers, saying that it exhibits his loyalty.
“Rent me, I’ve received your again, I’m in your nook as a result of I’ve seen all of it, achieved all of it, and I can shield you,” Mr. Knakal mentioned, describing his pitch. “That’s one thing that other people can not say as a result of they don’t have that very same observe document.”
That decided technique is how he landed the actual property mogul Harry B. Macklowe.
Mr. Knakal cold-called Mr. Macklowe for greater than two years a couple of one-story retail constructing earlier than he lastly received Mr. Macklowe to reply, ringing him late one night time in hopes of circumventing his assistant.
It was the beginning of a long-running enterprise relationship that has up to now resulted in additional than $350 million in gross sales, together with that first property, on East sixtieth Road. Mr. Macklowe finally employed him to promote it — practically 20 years after their first telephone name — in 2005 for $11.75 million. The constructing was redeveloped into 42 affordable-housing items.
At his workplaces, Mr. Knakal is surrounded by numbers on printed spreadsheets, in hard-bound books detailing his offers, and on his laptop. He tracks virtually all the things and rattles off statistics like he’s studying the again of a baseball card.
In truth, his outsized enterprise card resembles a baseball card, with a photograph of him holding a baseball glove on the entrance and his annual gross sales numbers on the again.
He even tracks his personal efficiency.
In what proportion of calls to former shoppers does he hear about one other property proprietor who may be available in the market to promote? 9 %.
What proportion of potential shoppers rent him after a pitch assembly? About 26 %.
What proportion of potential shoppers who’ve visited the Map Room for the pitch assembly rent him? A hundred percent.
Through the years, he mentioned, his gross sales figures have mirrored the peaks and valleys of the economic system. Property gross sales have declined lately, however not as a lot as they did throughout the financial savings and mortgage disaster of the early Nineties.
Within the first yr of the pandemic, Mr. Knakal offered simply seven properties, his lowest in three a long time. Whereas gross sales improved in 2022, they’ve declined since then, pushed by a steep and regular drop-off in main offers over $10 million throughout the town.
Rising rates of interest have contributed to a decline in constructing values, he mentioned, spooking house owners into holding onto properties.
Mr. Knakal mentioned most house owners promoting as we speak don’t have any selection, pushed to promote due to divorce, disputes or dying.
“When you might have the circumstance the place one thing exerts downward strain on worth, individuals don’t promote,” he mentioned. “The fourth quarter numbers are going to be horrible.”
In the course of the week, Mr. Knakal splits his time between his workplace on the Madison Avenue headquarters of JLL, the actual property agency the place he works, and one other constructing in Midtown the place he leased house only for his map.
Mr. Knakal steadily provides excursions of the Map Room and infrequently refers back to the map when builders name, typically utilizing a magnifying glass to zero in on a neighborhood.
On a current morning, he guided two executives from Rockefeller Group, an actual property agency, who have been searching for a housing alternative in Manhattan.
They scanned the map for potential websites. There may be nothing on the market on the Higher West Facet, Mr. Knakal remarked. Reaching over Central Park with a telescopic pointer, he indicated the dearth of inexperienced sticky notes in that neighborhood.
Pulling the pointer again towards himself, he directed the builders to a number of accessible properties on the Higher East Facet and in Decrease Manhattan. None have been the best match for the time being — both too small or too costly, they instructed him.
One of many builders, Meg Brod, a senior managing director at Rockefeller Group, mentioned that different industrial brokers might say what was on the market within the metropolis. However none might match Mr. Knakal’s perception and information about tendencies, neighborhoods and alternatives.
“You need to work with a dealer who’s on the bleeding fringe of what’s coming to the market,” Ms. Brod mentioned. “We need to be one of many first to listen to about it.”
Round 6 p.m., Mr. Knakal often attends an occasion or get-together, a part of his aim of attending 261 networking features annually, one for each workday. He not often declines a suggestion to talk at conferences or seem on a podcast, regardless of how small the viewers.
Up to now yr, he has embraced one other type of networking. He employed a social media supervisor to show him easy methods to submit on LinkedIn and X, and has rapidly gained a large following by sharing tales about previous offers and poking enjoyable at himself.
He has no plans to decelerate or retire anytime quickly. “I don’t run out of power,” he mentioned.