Is this really James? You don't sound like yourself. You sound sexy." Barbara Corcoran, chairman of the city's second-largest residential-real-estate agency, has just grabbed one of her six phone lines. "How can I help you?" she says with a low chuckle. It's 5:15 p.m., and James Barron of the New York Times is the sixth reporter to call Corcoran today about the impending sale of John F. Kennedy Jr.'s TriBeCa loft. Sotheby's, the firm handling the listing, wasn't talking.
"Don't you know someone at Sotheby's?" Corcoran asks senior vice-president and sidekick Scott Durkin, who shares Corcoran's almost bare blond-wood desk. "I'll tell you what I do know," Corcoran tells Barron. "I know that David Letterman lives on the second floor of that very building, and he owns half the floor. And that this apartment is half the top floor, 2,600 square feet. The elevator opens only to that floor. It faces east and north."
"And south," Durkin chimes in.
"North Moore Street is the Fifth Avenue of TriBeCa!" Corcoran crows into the phone.
Barron thanks her for the sound bite. It doesn't matter that Corcoran isn't even handling this exclusive. In her interview that afternoon with Entertainment Tonight, Corcoran will again describe this space she's never actually been in and announce the loft's price. "I don't know where I got it. Maybe from the Post this morning," she says, laughing.
It's business as usual at the Corcoran Group's Madison Avenue offices. Hours after the Clintons announced they were house-hunting in Westchester, Corcoran had a checklist ready for the First Family that was faxed to every media outlet her group could think of. Everyone received a copy but the Clintons themselves, it seems. "It didn't even occur to us," says Corcoran. "And besides, they don't own a newspaper." Two hours later, Corcoran was planted at a desk in CNN's Penn Plaza studio, chatting with Judy Woodruff about Westchester house-hunting on WorldView.
"I'm a marketing person, not a real-estate person," says Corcoran, whose powerhouse brokerage doubles as a press-release snow machine, operating on the theory that if you let enough people in on every single thing you've been up to, networks and newspapers will whack a path to your door. And clients will follow.
"She's a brilliant marketer. But people in the business do talk about Barbara's midwesternness," says broker Sarasohn.
Corcoran has four public-relations handlers, two full-time, two on retainer, including an old-time Hollywood-style press guy paid $700 per item when he gets the Corcoran Group into the tabloids. But even she finds it hard to keep track of her firm's myriad stunts.
"What icon?" she said on an earlier visit, shooting a glance across the desk at Scott Durkin. A press release touting the new office "icon" had just hit the media's mailboxes, and Durkin reminded her about that twenty-inch-high glass box etched with flowers, fruits, and words like earth, power, space, home, and vision in what the release referred to as the firm's "sacred space" -- really the top of a file cabinet in the corner of the research director's office.
Spiritual kitsch isn't what you expect to find in the cutthroat trenches of today's real-estate market, but Corcoran figures it can't hurt. The Über-broker has also been known to call on the services of a professional smudger, referred by Barbara Walters's makeup artist, who waves bells and incense to cleanse a troublesome space of evil spirits. "American Indians used to do it in their tepees," Corcoran notes, fondly remembering an eleven-room Park Avenue spread three years ago that didn't sell until her smudger paid a house call. "The very next morning, a couple sitting on the bed in the master bedroom offered the full $3.2 million asking price," she says.
Corcoran's blue eyes widen in horror as she takes a call from a potential client. He wants her to personally handle his $10 million listing, but by the end of the conversation, Corcoran has gently charmed him into using one of her brokers instead.
It's a good thing, too: The founder and chief executive of the Corcoran Group has sold just three apartments in her life. And yet Barbara Corcoran is the most quoted, most visible Manhattan real-estate agent on the scene today. In her trademark camera-friendly red suit (she now owns twelve of them), Corcoran can be counted on for statistics on million-dollar homes, a mini-dissertation on the newest trends among the "jet set," and an explanation of why LoLIta -- Lower Little Italy -- is suddenly the "highly hip" neighborhood.
"I find a way to give them what they need. After all," says Corcoran, "the most important thing to a seller is that you be perceived as big."