For Fenwick Keats agent Debra Pinto, entering the fast-paced world of residential real estate, an industry that has no shortage of drama, was an easy transition – she came from the entertainment industry.
Pinto, who joined Fenwick Keats in April, has been in the industry for the better part of a decade. She specializes in helping buyers purchase co-ops and condos, and is especially knowledgeable about the Upper West Side, a neighborhood she lived in for 15 years and owned two different co-ops in.
“I know how to prepare buyers for that process, because it is a process that is unlike any market in the entire nation,” said Pinto.
On a recent brutally hot New York City weekend, Pinto and a buyer from Los Angeles pounded the pavement looking at properties, and the buyer quickly got a crash course in the realities of the NYC real estate market.
“He said ‘oh my gosh; I really understand it now,’” said Pinto. “It’s a very different experience buying here than anywhere else – there’s so many layers.”
And Pinto knows very well how unique NYC is – she grew up in Astoria, Queens, and went on to attend Queens College, as well as the New York School of Interior Design, and the University of California at Berkeley, and decided she wanted to be a television writer, producer and director.
“I followed my passion and was able to get a job in the entertainment business,” she said. Pinto worked at HBO in its early years in the 1980’s, and later owned her own production company, Airmasters Entertainment, working on TV shows, advertising and promotions, and image campaigns.
She spent 16 years in the industry, working with many of the top TV networks before deciding to be a stay-at-home mom for a while and raise her son, who is now 20 and a junior at Vanderbilt University.
“It was wonderful,” she said of her time in the entertainment industry. “It was a very exciting time to be launching a new network. I used to go on the set of a lot of theatrical features. I really enjoyed the business.”
The transition to real estate came after Pinto had taken a break from entertainment, and was living in California and doing some design work.
“I wanted to make a change you can have legs in, and in a lot of industries today you age out,” she said. “I thought, you know what, I was buying and selling my own homes, co-ops, and also knowing how to do renovations and working in design. I thought it would be a good marriage of my skill set.”
While working on productions in the TV industry, Pinto became skilled at being detail-oriented, building relationships with clients, and just getting the job done – all skills that would prove to be important assets in real estate.
“I could go into a wreck of a place and envision it when it’s done and put together,” she said. “I think I help my clients in seeing potential down the road.”
Pinto got her start at Wolfarth & Associates, cutting her teeth in the business studying under president and founder Rick Wolfarth, who she already knew – he had previously helped her buy and sell an apartment before she entered the real estate business.
“It was a great Upper West Side boutique firm,” said Pinto. “I learned from one of the best, I have a lot of respect and admiration for Rick. It was good schooling.”
Despite starting out in the biz just after the economic turndown that tanked the market in 2008-2009, Pinto had her first deal just a few months after.
After a solid several years at Wolfarth, Pinto felt it was time to go to a larger firm, and made the jump to Fenwick Keats.
“I didn’t want to go to a super big one and get lost in the sauce, so I thought it was the perfect next step for me – I had met a lot of principals there, I know some of the brokers, and it just seemed like a good place to work and that there would be good camaraderie.”
As a real estate agent and a native of NYC, Pinto has been fascinated at how much the city’s neighborhoods have changed over the years – from the Upper East Side to far-out areas of Brooklyn.
“I remember when I was a producer and we had editing facilities in West Chelsea, on 25th between 10th and 11th,” recalled Pinto. “I would leave on a summer night and be walking down the street and cars would beep at me – people thought I was a prostitute.”
Fast forward to current day, where homes in Chelsea command some of the highest prices in the city.
“Growing up, you would hear the word Bushwick, Bed-Stuy, and Crown Heights, and you’d fear for your life,” said Pinto. “And now it’s groovy and happening.”
One of Pinto’s specialties comes from her background in design – helping clients declutter and depersonalize when trying to sell a home.
“When you’re selling and staging a home, you’re basically neutralizing a place – you’re decluttering, taking away personal mementos that are going to detract a possible buyer from buying the place,” she said. “If there’s too much you coming through as the seller, people sometimes can’t get beyond that.”
Pinto looks to continue doing what she’s best at within her business, and expand her volume.
“I want to keep helping people achieve their goals of buying a piece of New York City real estate, in the least painful way possible,” she said.
“I do like helping people and being a trusted advisor, and I like having my sellers be happy when they have gotten a sale price for their home, and are able to move on to the next step. I also like helping buyers get into their new home.”
In her spare time, Pinto is a board member of The Players Club, is an avid theater fan and self-described “TV addict,” and enjoys cooking, traveling and reading.