It's early on a Tuesday morning in June, and the temperature's rising fast as Tal Alexander struts into the New York City bistro Balthazar dressed in a charcoal linen Armani suit, his white shirt unbuttoned halfway down his chest. Tal removes his sunglasses, stops at several tables to press the flesh, and joins me for a pre-viewing breakfast. "I'm showing some major homes today," the 27-year-old real-estate broker says. "A penthouse. A townhouse. A little over $40 million in property." That's hardly new territory for Tal and his brother and business partner, 26-year-old Oren—last August they sold the most expensive house in the history of their hometown, Miami, to a buyer they "found in Moscow," Tal says. "He initially showed interest in trophy properties in New York. It was only after we went for a weekend of fun in Miami that we were able to present him with the opportunity to purchase 3 Indian Creek." That 30,000-square-foot, 10-bedroom property on a private island in Biscayne Bay was developed by Tal and Oren's father, Shlomi Alexander. The brothers worked both sides of the deal, closing it for $47 million. "You've gotta go out there and take it," Tal explains. "We've been to Russia twice in the last year. We want to go four more times. You have to be in Saint-Tropez in July. Aspen in the winter. Hong Kong for Art Basel, Cannes for the film festival, Monaco for the Grand Prix."
Such globe-trotting tours are increasingly common for upper-echelon brokers, both the cause and the effect of a skyrocketing market for eight-figure properties. "We've uncovered a new pool of buyers," says Horacio LeDón, a development-marketing executive at Douglas Elliman, where Tal and Oren lead a seven-person team, "who will buy what they want, for whatever they want, just as long as it checks all the boxes." That can mean anything from a New York City penthouse with hallways the length of a city block to a Miami Beach condo with Jean-Georges Vongerichten room service to a Hollywood Hills estate with monogrammed gates and a CIA-grade security system. Ultra-luxe amenities run the gamut: exterior lighting conceived by NASA, lobby art that rivals museum collections, even starchitect-designed bidets. Beverly Hills broker Branden Williams, 38, says that he and his peers in the premium-real-estate game are "dealing with more millionaires, more hundred-millionaires, and more billionaires than ever before." And this new global superclass has begotten a new breed of broker cast in its image—alternately aristocratic and audacious, collegial yet cutthroat, and unapologetically status-driven.
Bottom, right: The record-setting mansion on Indian Creek Island, Miami.
"We're talking about guys who are above the economy, beyond care," says Michael Gross, the author of Unreal Estate: Money, Ambition, and the Lust for Land in Los Angeles and the upcoming House of Outrageous Fortune: 15 Central Park West, the World's Most Powerful Address. "Really, these people are riding on the bankbooks of the mega-rich, but that's where the money is. They earn rock-star salaries, look like rock stars, fly private jets, hobnob not necessarily with the greatest but with the richest. High-end real estate is the sexiest thing going. Maybe it's not coke and blow jobs, but it's certainly the finest cars, the best restaurants, and the most beautiful women."
If it sounds like something that attracts a certain type of hard-charger, it does. "You're getting more guys analogous to Hollywood agents," says Clayton Orrigo, a 30-year-old broker at Town in Manhattan, who fits his own description of this new strain—"young, well-dressed, educated, tech-savvy, and good-looking." Just one year into the game, Orrigo has used his deep network of contacts from previous employment stints in finance and tech to land coveted listings like a $28.9 million townhouse adjacent to Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village. "It's hard work," he says, "but it beats the shit out of sitting at a desk." He's hardly the only Wall Street refugee cashing in: Noble Black, a 37-year-old securities attorney turned Corcoran agent, sold a 12,000-square-foot duplex penthouse on upper Fifth Avenue to David Geffen last November for $54 million—the highest price ever paid for a New York co-op. "Corporate America owned the 18 hours a day that I worked," Black says. "I own those hours now, and I couldn't be happier." The latest elite brokers include celebrity spawn like Raphael De Niro (son of Robert), who closed $180 million in sales last year, and also-ran actors such as Williams, who amassed bit parts on TV shows like Party of Five, Will & Grace, and Entourage before turning full-time to real estate. Williams and his partner and fiancée, Rayni Romito, sold nearly $250 million in properties last year, making them the top-grossing team in the Los Angeles area. "Every year," Williams says, "my business explodes."
The market for rarefied properties has soared because supplies are limited and demand is insane. In Manhattan, inventory across the board is at a 12-year low, while sales have risen to their highest levels since the 2008 crash. The action in the loftiest stratum is particularly heated. "It's everybody's dream to have a piece of New York," says Tal Alexander, "and in this market, they'll overpay." That's especially true of moguls, heirs, and newly rich Chinese, Russians, and South Americans. "If you're a Brazilian billionaire, moving money offshore into a Manhattan apartment is a good idea," says Stijn Van Nieuwerburgh, the director of the Center for Real Estate Finance Research at NYU Stern School of Business. "The market hasn't peaked yet. It's a stable currency. And these foreign investors aren't looking for a 5-to-7-percent return on their investment. It's a trophy asset, a luxury good."
Left: Restored 1839 townhouse with three outdoor spaces in New York's Greenwich Village. Listed at $28.9 million.