Steven Baker started his real estate career by seeking out business close to home. He was living in an apartment on 34th Street on the west side of Manhattan.
“A lot of brokers were focused on high-rent districts, Fifth Avenue, SoHo, etcetera. And I decided that maybe it’s a good idea to control the neighborhood which I live in, and where there’s far fewer competitors,” Baker, now president of Winick Realty, told Real Estate Weekly.
“I wrote a letter to the owner of the northeast corner of Ninth Avenue and West 34th Street my first year, and lo and behold, he replied. Thirteen and a half years later, I’m still his broker.” There’s a lot more competition these days in the far west neighborhood now called Hudson Yards, but for Baker it’s still the neighborhood where he feels the most “fondness and general knowledge.”
After a few deals on that 34th street corner, he brought the Bread Factory Café into a new residential development by the Brodsky Organization on Ninth Ave and 43rd Street. “That deal gave me the confidence to start my career,” he said.
Then, in his second year as a broker, Baker worked on John Jay College’s lease for 60,000 s/f on Tenth Avenue. The only child of a photographer father and accountant mother, Baker is a New York native who spent his childhood in Staten Island and teenage years in Leonia, N.J. For college he studied marketing at Pace University.
After school, he went to work for a dental supply company, doing marketing, continuing education and, eventually, sales.
“It got to the point where I was working really long hours, and I just said it was time to tie my income to my work ethic. And [real estate] is one of the few businesses where the harder you work, the luckier you get,” he said.
Baker started his new career at Winick in 2000 at the age of 29. He has been a partner and sole president of the firm since January of 2011, but for the his first three years he worked two jobs, going before dawn to start up the computers at the dental supply firm and post the previous day’s sales, and then showing up at his desk at Winick by 7:30.
Hard work is a big deal for Baker, who said he was shy when he was younger but overcame this trait. “There is an element of luck, there is an element of timing, but it’s very hard to get there unless you’re working very hard,” he said. “That was my general thesis statement, that the harder I work — there may be people that have better relationships than me, there may be people that are smarter than I am, but no one was going to get a deal because they out-worked me.”
Baker characterizes himself as a “player-coach” who is still involved in showing spaces and day-to-day dealmaking while also taking a leadership and mentoring role.
“Helping grow the company is very exciting to me,” he said.
He is particularly excited about Winick’s work with Brookfield Properties on the new retail concourse at One New York Plaza, as well as the four retail spaces in Related Cos’ new development at 500 West 30th Street, in Baker’s old Far West Side stomping ground.
“We’re helping create something that’s really exciting right across the street from one of the most exciting projects in New York City — Hudson Yards,” he said.
Asked what the biggest mistake is that he sees younger brokers make, he came back again to the theme of hard work.
“I don’t know if it’s a mistake, but I see a lot of younger brokers that are not working hard enough,” he said. “I think a younger broker should always outwork the senior broker and not vice versa… I do see a shift in old school versus the new generation.”
Baker lives in Scarsdale with his wife Erica and their three children; a six-year-old, four-year-old and a baby of nine months.
When he’s not working, Baker says he likes to spend quality time with his kids, and he’s been introducing them to New York City’s many museums, from the NY Hall of Science in Queens to the American Museum of Natural History. The dinosaurs are a favorite.