By Orlando Lee Rodriguez
Convention states that no one wakes up one day and says: “I want to be a real estate agent.” Unless your name is Peter Vanderpool.
For the co-founder of Cignature Realty, whose father was a real estate attorney, the dream of being in the business has existed since he was a kid growing up in Plainview, Long Island.
“I always knew I wanted to be involved,” Vanderpool said. “I just wasn’t sure in what capacity.”
That capacity came into view shortly after Vanderpool graduated from SUNY Buffalo in 2002. His father gave him the names of three brokerage firms to contact. But Vanderpool never contacted all three. The second one he called, hired him.
“The guy said: ‘Listen I know you’re young and you have no idea what you are doing, but make calls and eventually you’ll hit something’,” Vanderpool said.
Now for most brokers, that something on average comes months down the road, after weeks of skimpy lunches, hundreds of rejections and clients that have given you the run-around.
But for Vanderpool the stars aligned. Where others struggle for months, he did his first deal three weeks after starting at Capin and Associates.
“I was eager to really learn. I grew up around the business so I knew how [it] worked. When you’re eager, you are like a sponge,” he said. “I used to be in the office from 8:30 to 11, just developing a name. People have to know your name and people have to trust you.”
And trust is what Vanderpool says helped him build up a solid clientele resume after seven years at Capin. Not only did he gain the trust of his clients, but also of one co-worker in particular, Lazer Sternhell. Both formed a friendship that, after a few years, would lead to bigger and better things.
“We started making larger and larger deals,” Vanderpool said. “Finally it was like we need to go off. Everybody thought we were crazy.” After seven years with Capin, Vanderpool and Sternhell both had enough contacts and knowledge of the business to make the transition from associates to independents.
“We knew exactly what we were doing,” Vanderpool recalled. “It wasn’t like leaving the nest, it was taking a big jump forward. When we opened up, we had many contacts, as we kept doing larger deals people realized we were real players in the game.”
The duo decided to focus on familiar territory, rapidly gentrifying areas like Hamilton Heights, Washington Heights and Inwood, where the multi-family market consists of large elevator buildings with expansive apartments.
“We said to ourselves, ‘We don’t want to be anywhere else but Manhattan’ and that’s what we have been doing,” Vanderpool said. “We were also doing deals in the Bronx [but] we never really got into the Brooklyn market, we were busy with deals here. These deals take time.”
The time, Vanderpool said, is eaten up most of the day on the phone, making cold calls, follow-up calls, most of which don’t lead to a deal for a long time.
“It’s not easy, you have to babysit people for years,” he said.
Other deals require the due diligence of calling owners for years, just to get one shot at a deal.
“We did a deal very recently on St. Nicholas Avenue,” Vanderpool said. “The owner, an older gentleman, owned the building since 1956 and was basically retired. I’d been calling him for a long time.”
“Finally he tells me that he’s getting ready to sell the building and he’s about to do an internal deal for $3 million less than what the property is worth. He thought his friend was giving him a good price. We got him another $2.5 million. I made one phone call. We made the deal in two weeks,” he said.
Although the majority of Cignature deals have been done in in Uptown Manhattan, the firm has expanded slightly beyond the multi-family submarket. One of their largest deals to date was for a 14 story, 123,000 s/f office building in Midtown for $30 million.
That however does not mean that you will be seeing tons of ads from Cignature looking for “new and experienced” brokers.
“I know there are other firms that are looking to grow, with 100, 200 employees,” Vanderpool said. “They just want to ramp up. The problem is that it’s not easy managing people.
“What we are really focused on doing is building a strong core. We’re looking to have the brokers grow with us and really be a part of the team. I don’t want or need 50 to 100 employees. Me and my partner and another four or five guys [is fine],” he said.
Beyond that, Vanderpool said that he is looking for Cigature to gain the reputation of honesty, whether it is what the client wants to hear or not. The truth about a transaction’s potential is what he says he is committed to.
“I think people will say, they are good guys, they know how to get a deal done and they are straight shooters,” he said. “We tell people exactly what it is, I don’t want to give people pipe dreams. [We don’t] come to you and say ‘I can get you $30 million’ just to get a listing. We know the market. We tell the owner exactly what it’s worth. We’re here to tell them the real value of the property.”