By Konrad Putzier
Melissa Warren had the odds stacked against her from the beginning.
The New Jersey-native entered the Brooklyn real estate market with virtually no knowledge of the local geography.
Moreover, she had the tall order of succeeding as a woman in the notoriously male-dominated commercial brokerage industry.
That she has nonetheless managed to become one of Brooklyn’s leading brokers, with more than $500 million in closed deals, is impressive enough. It is even more so considering she has done it all before the age of 30.
Warren, who until recently went by her maiden name DiBella, is a partner at the Brooklyn-focused commercial brokerage, TerraCRG, which she co-founded in 2008 along with Ofer Cohen.
The firm has already grown to 20 employees, and Warren said she hopes it will be 30 by the end of the year. Last year alone, TerraCRG brokered around 70 property and finance deals totaling $300 million.
This impressive growth has as much to do with Cohen’s and Warren’s talent as with good timing.
Shortly after TerraCRG was founded, Brooklyn’s real estate market embarked on an unprecedented boom cycle. A borough once scoffed at by major real estate investors now enjoys the exclusive attention of two commercial brokerages. TerraCRG’s rival, CPEX, was also founded in 2008.
“While we were experiencing the recession, it was hard to predict what was to come,” Warren said, recalling her early days in Brooklyn. “But it was clear to me that Brooklyn was bound to take off. It was extremely under-valued and under-built. There was no new residential product and no-one was building at the time.”
Warren, who specializes in selling development sites, made use of the crisis by approaching landowners and suggesting they turn their vacant lots into money.
Nowadays she has a much easier time convincing people to sell.
Warren first entered the Brooklyn market in 2006 as an associate at Massey Knakal focusing on industrial properties in Sunset Park. It was her first job out of Wagner College.
“I knew absolutely nothing about industrial properties or Brooklyn at all, but I learned quickly,” she recalled.
One of the brokers she worked with was Ofer Cohen, then a senior broker at the firm. When Cohen decided to set out on his own and start a Brooklyn-only brokerage, he asked Warren to join him. “It was definitely a risky move, but for where I saw my future, I just knew this was something I had to do,” she said.
The move certainly paid off for DiBella. She widened her focus from industrial properties to development sites across the borough and has arranged several high-profile deals. She was part of the time that sold the former Nassau Brewery at 608-614 Franklin Avenue in Crown Heights for $17.5 million last summer.
Apart from brokering sales, Warren also co-manages the firm along with Cohen.
Currently she is working on TerraCRG’s new office. Last summer, the firm bought a two-story garage in Prospect Heights at 636 Dean Street and is currently converting it into a 6,600 s/f office. Its design will be open-space, but Warren insisted on what she jokingly calls a “telephone booth”: a quiet room to make phone calls.
Callers are still sometimes confused by Warren’s new surname.
“All of a sudden, I had clients calling and saying ‘is Melissa DiBella no longer there?’”, she said. After marrying her husband, footwear executive Joe Warren, last June, she took his name. “I just think some traditions should be saved,” she explained.
The couple lives in Cedar Grove, New Jersey, not far from her native Manalapan.
Warren admits it is tough to give up a name she has worked hard to build. But considering how quickly DiBella became a household name in Brooklyn real estate, it shouldn’t take too long for Warren to get the same ring.
Later this month, Warren will be among a host of leading ladies from the real estate business to take part in Real Estate Weekly’s Fourth annual Women’s Forum.
She will joined top developers and brokers on a panel entitled The “New” New York: The Future of Our Changing Neighborhoods.
To find out more about the Women’sForum taking place on February 25, go to www.rewomensforum.com