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Lunch at The Four Seasons with: Linda Stein

Published by The New York Sun on 2005-12-29

Linda Stein keeps rockin'.

"It's called having fun," the star broker at Prudential Douglas Elliman said yesterday. "I've had a lifetime of it."

That lifetime has included teaching fifth grade in Riverdale, after obtaining a master's degree in education from Teacher's College at Columbia University.

It has included hanging out in Paris for six months. After the birth of her daughters Mandy and Samantha, she joined the music business of her then husband Seymour Stein, who launched Madonna's music career at Sire Records.

Ms. Stein's lifetime of fun has also included managing rock n' roll bands such as The Ramones, the quartet she handled along with the legendary Danny Fields. She managed Steve Forbert, and The Deal. She traversed the world, ensuring that her singers showed up at concerts, and local impresarios fully paid her bands' share of the box office.

After long years of enforcing order and fiscal discipline in a notoriously rowdy business, the Manhattan-born Ms. Stein - one of two daughters of Ira and Mabel Adler, who ran a kosher catering enterprise - decided to segue into another industry. She turned to real estate.

Why real estate?

"Doesn't everyone think there's money to be made in real estate?" Ms. Stein said.

The money, at first, wasn't nearly what it was talked up to be.

Re-enter Madonna, this time in need of an apartment in Manhattan.

"She didn't want to spend more than a million dollars," Ms. Stein said. "So I found her an attractive apartment on Central Park West. She still lives there."

Whether it was through Madonna or others in the entertainment industry, word quickly spread that Linda Stein was the real-estate agent to the stars.
Stars and other celebrities sought her services. There was Sting, and his wife Trudy. There was Billy Joel. There was Steven Spielberg. There was Michael Douglas. There was Calvin Klein. Not long ago, there was Angelina Jolie.

There was also Damon Dash, the hip-hop mogul.

"Thanks to the accident of birth, I speak English," Ms. Stein said. "Thanks to my time in Paris, I speak French. And thanks to Damon Dash, I speak hip-hop."

And thanks to the buzz about her, she even got to be in the movies.

Well, sort of.

The real-estate agent who was depicting showing a fancy apartment to the financial hustler played by Charlie Sheen in the film, "Wall Street," was reportedly based on Ms. Stein's persona.

Showing fancy apartments is precisely what Ms. Stein does virtually every day of the year.

"I'm at it all the time," she said. "Any time that I feel tired, I look around - and there's Dottie Herman and Howard Lorber working relentlessly. So I buck up and get back into the fray. Dottie and Howard are wonderful examples for everyone in the real-estate business - whether you're a novice, or a veteran."

Her reference was to the co-chairpersons of Prudential Douglas Elliman Realty Company. Ms. Stein said that they coaxed her into joining their company.

"I made the decision six years ago, and I haven't ever regretted it," she said. "Working with a large company gives you the advantage of having an infrastructure."

The infrastructure is useful in getting technical work done on deals, but Ms. Stein relies on no one but herself to show apartments.

"If a potential client wants to see a property for the 42nd time - well, I'll personally show it for the 42nd time," Ms. Stein said. "I'm always focused on good service - and on the sale."

Typically, she sells 20 or 30 properties annually. Last year, the smallest deal that she closed was worth $2.5 million. The biggest deal was for $30 million.

She doesn't advertise such properties - indeed, Ms. Stein seldom advertises any of her exclusive listings.

Those listings include apartments in Manhattan and properties in East Hampton, Sagaponack and other places on Long Island whether celebrities prefer their second or third or fourth homes.

The listings also include foreign locations.

"I know Rome, I know Paris, I know London," Ms. Stein said. "And I prefer dealing only in properties that on good streets - like the Via Appian Antica [the Appian Way] in Rome. That road has been around for more than a thousand years, and will be around for thousands more. Fifth Avenue and Park Avenue are like that, too - Manhattan's Appian Way, streets that are eternal, streets where everybody wants to stay."

Not long ago, the singer Sting decided he wanted a property in Italy. So he called Ms. Stein.

"I nurture and maintain all my relationships," Ms. Stein said. "I want people to come back to me. Sting and Trudy came back to me. I want my clients to be part of my life."

One celebrity who became part of her life was Sir Elton John, the British singer. He's the godfather of Ms. Stein's younger daughter, Mandy, a documentary maker. A few days ago, Ms. Stein was among the select guests in Britain at Sir Elton's civil ceremony marking his personal partnership with David Furnish, a Canadian film producer who's been his companion for the last 11 years.

Jetting to Britain for a couple of days, then taking for yet another destination on business might exact its toll on anyone. But Ms. Stein seems spry and possessed of boundless energy.

This is especially noteworthy in view of the fact that she was twice diagnosed with breast cancer. When her illness was first detected, Ms. Stein volunteered for what was then an experiment involving dose-dense chemotherapy. The chemotherapy is administered every two weeks rather than the traditional three weeks, and is reportedly to accelerate the destruction of cancer cells.

When news of her illness traveled through New York's real-estate community, rivals started circulating rumors that the Linda Stein era had ended.

"The rock n' roll business is mild compared to the real-estate industry," Ms. Stein said. "If you think you've experienced the most vicious competition, think again. But hey, I'm still here. I'm still rockin'."

Pranay Gupte,
Senior Writer and Global-Affairs Columnist

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