The rumor mill began churning faster when a complaint was filed against Shvo last spring with REBNY, saying that Shvo met with Charles Yassky, developer of a nearly completed condo at 44 Laight Street, even though a Corcoran agent, Barrie Mandel, was the luxury building’s exclusive broker. This violated the basic real-estate principle that a competing broker shouldn’t have discussions with the developer of a building that has an exclusive broker unless said broker is there. Mandel reported him to REBNY, and he was ordered to take a 90-minute ethics course.
“Charlie Yassky is a good friend,” says Shvo. “We have lunch together.” He holds up his wrist to display an A. Lange & Söhne watch. “He actually gave me this watch as a birthday present. It’s a $30,000 watch.” Shvo summons Marcus, Daniel’s genial maître d’. “Sit down, Marcus,” he says. “Marcus introduced me to Charlie a year and a half ago, here at Daniel.” “That’s right,” says Marcus. “We started chatting, and he said he had a building downtown, and would I mind taking a look at it,” says Shvo. “I did, I gave him my opinion on it, and Corcoran had a nervous breakdown. It’s not like I tried to take their business.” Shvo shrugs. “I took their ethics course. That was the whole story.” (When Shvo gave a similarly breezy explanation to the papers at the time, Lockhart Steele wrote on Curbed, “How fucking great is this guy?”) The whispers about Shvo grew louder in October, when he announced that he was leaving Douglas Elliman to open the Shvo Group. “It was time to go,” says Shvo. “There had to be a change.”
Many well-placed sources contend that Shvo didn’t leave, he was fired. Not true, says Shvo. “I’ll be happy to show you the resignation letter I wrote to Dottie [Herman, president and chief executive of Elliman],” he says, his voice rising. “Dottie was very, very upset. She cried for three days when I left.” Herman also declined several offers to comment, but Howard Lorber, principal owner and chairman of Elliman, says, “When Michael Shvo left, there was not a wet eye in the company. There were 2,500 happy people when he was gone.” Many insiders, in fact, say that Shvo begged his bosses to let him stay on, which upset one of the company’s higher-ups so much that that person went to Herman and said, “Either he goes or I do.”
Shvo claims that he was simply stymied by Elliman’s small division of new development. “I wanted to do concepts and marketing,” he says. “And Elliman’s new division is just an add-on to the residential brokerage business. It’s not really substantial.”
“That’s absurd,” counters Lorber. “We’re one of the largest new-development marketing companies in New York. Right now, we have between $2 [billion] and $3 billion of new-development projects.”
“When I beat Dolly, when I was the No. 1 broker in New York in 2003, I was like, ‘Okay, so I’ve done this, now what?’ ” says Shvo. “The REBNY thing was in April or May. I left in October. People tried to tie it in, which I understand, because there are a lot of people that don’t like me.”
Corcoran’s Liebman has her own take on the situation: “Do you really think he wanted to start his own company and give up the power of the Douglas Elliman brand?” she asks. “It was a foregone conclusion that none of the big firms would hire him. I turned him down several years ago, and my favorite takeaway from that meeting was that after I told him we simply didn’t have enough space for him and his team, he told me not to worry, as long as I gave his people phones, he could work out of a closet. This man lives in his own reality.”
Still, when Shvo left Elliman, more than a dozen of his group followed him. “It didn’t even cross my mind to think about why I shouldn’t go,” says Tali Geva, now director of business development at Shvo. “I would do anything for Michael. I’d put him in front of me—it’s a little sad. Michael is going to be the most successful person. Here, it’s being a part of something huge. It’s young, it’s energetic.” She laughs. “Michael said to me that I make too much money. I told him I’d work for free.”
What is so compelling about this guy that inspires people to leave cushy jobs and follow him? “He has a very innocent look about him,” says Shari Markoff, Shvo’s managing director. “You look at him and just want to trust him, and you think that everything’s going to be okay. When he smiles at you and says, ‘Come on, let’s go to the top of Bryant Park Tower,’ he makes you believe that it’s all going to work out. And, miraculously, it does. I mean, you went there, and you’re down, and you’re alive. Right?”
As Shvo finishes his dessert at Daniel, one of his cell phones rings. It’s midnight. “Hey, how are you?” he asks. “So some doctor wants to rent your apartment—it’s a $30,000 offer. Some rich doctor. Maybe he does liposuction, what can I tell you.” He and the client are going back and forth about the apartment, which is in the Time Warner Center, when Shvo impulsively makes an offer to purchase it himself. “I’ll buy it for you back at the price you paid for it. I’m dead serious. I’ll get you out of there. Okay, what did you pay, five and a half million? And what did you have in there, six and a half million? Okay, let’s do the deal.” He snaps his phone shut in triumph.