The whole transaction took five minutes. I accuse him of setting up that particular scene. It’s all a little too perfect: the late-night call, the near-immediate offer, the conspicuous use of the word million. “Absolutely not,” he protests, his eyes wide. “It’s a great deal.” The place is now in contract for just over $6 million.
Shvo spends his considerable fortune on three things: clothing, restaurants, and, primarily, his aforementioned properties. “They’re not something I get emotionally attached to,” he says, “they’re something that gets traded.” When he has had a trying day, he will play the grand piano in his living room at the Millennium. He goes to his apartment mostly to sleep—his housekeeper keeps it clean, and he keeps his fridge stocked via FreshDirect. Although his youth and hard-charging demeanor would suggest that he has the same hobbies of your typical high-earning young buck (golf, cigars, strip clubs, Knicks games), he’s not interested. Instead of going to Bungalow 8 or Marquee, he has season tickets to the Met and Carnegie Hall, and is a classically trained pianist. He calls his parents in Tel Aviv several times a week. “He is so good to us,” says his mother, Hannah. “Last year he visited four or five times. He just comes for the weekend and then he says, ‘Okay, one more day.’ ” Though his parents aren’t religious, he regularly goes to synagogue and doesn’t work on Saturday in observance of the Sabbath.
At the moment, Shvo is dating a twentysomething fashion designer. Those around him say that he is a serial monogamist. “I’m a very loyal person,” he says. “It’s not like I date seventeen girls at the same time. If I like somebody, I’ll go out with them the next day. If we don’t like each other, then we don’t see each other again. It’s just not logical.” One ex describes him as “different in person from the guy that you see—he’s very caring, very sweet and sensitive.” This seems like a line, but it’s not. When he isn’t doing business, Shvo can be surprisingly shy, endearingly awkward even. He has met most of his girlfriends, unsurprisingly, through work. Interested parties, however, should be warned: You cannot replace the BlackBerry. You can only join the BlackBerry. “It’s very hard to be with somebody with the lifestyle I have,” Shvo concedes. With one former girlfriend, he impulsively jumped on a plane to Vegas for the weekend, but that was a rarity. “Things change, and I don’t have much time,” he says. “If a developer needs me to see a project at ten at night, they know I’ll be there.”
One night, Shvo’s limo drops him off in the Millennium lobby at 12:45 A.M., but he isn’t in for the evening, just stopping by to check on some things before returning to the office. As I watch him gather his things, I ask him if he wouldn’t rather be at a bar somewhere, doing shots with other moguls-in-training. Isn’t he a little lonesome? He waves his hand dismissively. “It’s not like I have a group of friends that I hang out with,” he says. “I have very few people that I consider friends. Very few. If I have friends, they’re work-related, because I have very little time.” But, I press, what if you made time? He looks aghast. “I don’t know what I would do with myself if I went home at seven o’clock,” he says. “People say ‘Get a life.’ I have a life.” He walks into the lobby, tapping on his BlackBerry.
The next morning, Shvo is at his usual breakfast haunt, the Peninsula Hotel. Already it has been a good day. He has just finalized the new print ad for the Shvo Group: Against a black background, white capital letters spell out S-H-V-O. Underneath, in small caps: LET’S SHVO. “Nobody else would have the balls to do that,” he says, dumping his fourth Equal into his third cup of tea and simultaneously paying the check with his American Express Centurion card. On the street in front of his limo, a middle-aged brunette approaches. They speak briefly, and she tells him to call her.
“That was an agent from the Sunshine Group,” he crows after she leaves. “Louise Sunshine can’t believe how much business we took away from her.” (Sunshine declined to comment.) He pauses. “There’s nothing I’ve done in my life that I’m ashamed of. I have definitely not screwed anybody. There are people who will say ‘He stepped on toes’ because they lost an exclusive or a property. All the people that are jealous should just go and do it themselves. I’m not doing anything that anybody else couldn’t do. I have an average IQ and a very strong will to work, and it’s like you’re a giant among midgets.”
Most agents play nice. Shvo seizes business like a bounty hunter, boldly grabbing clients or properties.
Still, his detractors plan to keep a close watch on him. Frederick Peters, president of Warburg Realty and co-chairman of REBNY, says, “The slap on the wrist that Michael received [for the Corcoran complaint], he received because it was a first offense. But once anyone has received that slap, we will certainly be keeping our eye out to make sure that it doesn’t turn into a pattern of behavior.”
And so the debate about Shvo continues. “As much as we may dislike working with him, we have to,” says one well-known broker. “In this business, we desperately need each other. But I hate to see all this attention paid to him because he’ll only reap the benefits. It’s like paying attention to Jack the Ripper.”
“He’s a rock star,” says Yuval Greenblatt, vice-president of Douglas Elliman. “Everybody wants to get to know him.”
“I have already heard several brokers say they won’t show the listings in the buildings he represents,” says Liebman. “And ultimately, if he doesn’t change his ways, this will be what hurts him the most. In order to have long-term success in this business, you have to be able to fully service the needs of your customers. And to do that, you need the total support and trust of your fellow brokers. He’s got an uphill battle.”
“I’ve said this to his face,” says Purcell. “He walks a very fine line. It’s not a bad thing: It’s part of his talent.” He pauses. “I’m anxious to see how he can grow a business.”
“Michael needs to change his image,” says Susan Renfrew. “And he needs to work with the brokerage community, and that means sharing his properties with them, inviting them to do business with him in an encouraging and pleasant manner.”
“He’s accomplished a hell of a lot,” says Laurance Kaiser, president of Key Ventures, an old-line Upper East Side brokerage. “Tell me about somebody else who has been in business three and a half years and is doing buildings and conversions and God knows what. And hey, publicity is the best thing in town. I think people might almost be tantalized by wanting to use Michael because of the controversy.”
But what of Shvo’s supposedly unethical behavior? Won’t it turn off prospective clients? Kaiser laughs. “They couldn’t care less,” he says. “Those days are long gone.”