Making bank: This broker's clients aren't afraid to pay 'frothy rents' for prime locations | Crain's New York Business

2022-06-29 19:00:38 By : Mr. jackyson pang

Want to learn more about what makes New York City brokers tick? Subscribe to our daily real estate newsletter for alerts on new columns. Cynthia Wasserberger, a financier turned power broker, is one of the city’s go-to dealmakers for private-equity firms and hedge funds looking for sleek office space. 

After graduating from college, Wasserberger worked at Cantor Fitzgerald to help big banks get low-performing real estate loans off their books. But she soon developed an interest for the more tangible side of real estate—the buildings and clients themselves. She then decided to take night classes at New York University to get a master’s degree in real estate finance. 

Her first role after that was at Colliers, where she was hired to be an analyst. Wasserberger was told by her supervisors that she shouldn’t ever expect to become a broker becaused she had no experience with clients. But that didn’t stop her from making the leap into a new field. 

“In the back of my mind I knew that if I worked hard I would be visible, ” she said. Within a year, she moved out of the analyst pool and started going to meetings and pitches with senior brokers. 

Since then, Wasserberger has represented financial firms, such as Grosvenor Capital Management, Canyon Partners and Metalmark Capital, with billions of dollars in assets.

It’s not always about going in and winning business—I also bring in great resources. 

We track the real estate activity in the hedge fund and private-equity industry and every year I write a white paper that has become the standard for tracking the high-end deals done in the market that year. 

We’ve been doing this report since 2008. Having that unparalleled knowledge of the market is like musical chairs. One of the biggest risks in the market is opportunity risk—missing what opportunities might be under the radar, and we don’t let that happen. 

The more mature the companies are, the more they want something that is reflective of their image. 

A lot of times these are not the big, institutional tenants. They’re a little more price insensitive so it's definitely an industry that certain buildings are built around. If you look at 1 Vanderbilt or the Seagram Building, there is a certain cachet of tenants that want to be in an exclusive club and rent is not the primary driver. 

I would say it tends to be a very discerning clientele. Oftentimes they want something unique and at the top of the house. It’s the best space in a building, views, outdoor space or high ceilings. From time to time it’ll be more about how they design the space and what they put into it in terms of the aesthetic. 

For a lot of firms it's been a battle to get people back in the office and to maintain a culture and cohesiveness. The office space has been a platform to accomplish that. 

In 2017 we were tasked with looking for new headquarters for Discovery Communications [owners of the Discovery Channel and Animal Planet]. They had several leases expiring in Manhattan and had recently acquired the Food Network. 

We zeroed on a few modern glass-and-steel buildings, but as we were coming to the end of the assignment, we found an off-market opportunity at 230 Park Ave. South that was vacant.

It was a late 1890s building in Flatiron, and it ended up being the client's favorite. It’s one of the few single-tenant-occupied buildings in the city. 

In 2021 there were more leases signed for rents above $100 per square foot in Manhattan than in any other year prior. Even though we were going out of Covid, these people just wanted the best, and weren't afraid to pay frothy rents. 

It seemed like it could have gone the other way, with people putting their head in the sand, but that was not the case. What we tried to do during [the early stages of] Covid was create flexible situations. Most of the deals we did have termination rights. They have flexibility to size up or down in space.

State Street Bank in 1996 and I’m pleased to say I still do work for them.

I lucked out in the mid-1990s before hedge funds became a household name. I was able to serve a niche, and over the years I've been able to develop a real expertise. 

I work with clients several times over decades—it’s very self-affirming.

A lot of times the work I do is when the company is nascent, and over the years they go on to become much bigger, much more successful. It’s very rewarding to see firms go from being smaller to growing and finding their footing.

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