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Giving foreign clients a piece of New York’s luxury real estate

Ariel Kaminer
Monday, 11 Nov 2013 | 4:38 PM ET
Gennady Perepada, an international real estate consultant, helps wealthy foreigners find luxury apartments and connections in New York.
Source: Gennady Perepada | Facebook
Gennady Perepada, an international real estate consultant, helps wealthy foreigners find luxury apartments and connections in New York.

It takes a certain kind of person to regard luxury real estate in New York as cheap, maybe even embarrassingly cheap when compared with other global capitals. If such people hail from the former Soviet Union, and want to add a Manhattan address to a portfolio that might already include homes in London or Dubai or St. Tropez, they might seek out a real estate agent who appreciates his unusual perspective. They might seek out Gennady Perepada.

"Believe me, it's absolutely normal people," Mr. Perepada said of his clientele, in Russian-accented English. "Absolutely nice and classy."

But what is normal about paying several thousand dollars per square foot for an apartment you might visit once or twice a year? And if someone's budget is that outsized, just imagine what his expectations are for the services his broker will render.

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Mr. Perepada—who prefers the term international real estate consultant—makes it his job not just to find his clients apartments but also to bend New York to their will, so that every wish is granted and every door is opened.

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Limousine doors and boutique doors and nightclub doors of course, but why stop there? "New hip? No problem," Mr. Perepada said. "Wife need plastic surgery? No problem." He is just getting started. "Deliver baby? I know all the doctors. Russian speak. Rabbi, mullah. Lenox Hill, your own floor—O.K., after Beyoncé that's hard," he conceded. But a private suite is, of course, no problem.

Clients like the ones that Mr. Perepada serves were once rare in the upper echelons of the city's real estate. The most expensive buildings were filled with blue-blood Americans, and as for wealthy foreigners, they put their money in securities or Swiss banks. But today, foreign capital is a crucial force in the luxury market.

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Mr. Perepada's clients are not after the addresses on Park or Fifth Avenue that previous generations coveted. For one thing, those buildings require a degree of financial disclosure that few Russian plutocrats would ever consider. Instead, they gravitate to condominiums that are new or still under construction. Many of those buildings actively seek out foreign investors. Some even send representatives to Moscow, among other destinations, to reach potential buyers where they live or play.

Edward Mermelstein, a lawyer who represents investors abroad (including many of Mr. Perepada's clients), has advised developers on how to reach their audience in exclusive Moscow lounges and bars. "Their attention is typically very short," he said. "If you catch them at the right moment by basically sitting looking at a floor plan, whether it's One57 or 432 Park—typically everyone knows each other in those rooms. They'll sit down for a cup of tea or coffee, and in those few moments you'll get enough attention to get a follow-up meeting."

Mr. Perepada does not represent the oligarchs who grab headlines with their nine-figure purchases. His clients are not quite billionaires, he says, just "regular millionaires." He knows what they like: high ceilings, at least 3,000 square feet, full service, great views and, most of all, ease of transaction. Their reverence for Central Park has attracted them to One57, the new tower on West 57th Street, though no keys have yet changed hands. But he has also broadened their interest to buildings like 75 Wall Street and 60 Riverside Boulevard.

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His iPhone is loaded with images of panoramic penthouse vistas, gracious interiors and Google Map street shots. By 4:30 a.m., he and the phone are typically in high gear, as he uses Skype and Wassup and FaceTime back and forth across time zones, in Ukrainian, Russian, Uzbek, Kazakh or even "a bissel Yiddish."

When he immigrated from Ukraine in 1990, Mr. Perepada took whatever job he could get. He worked at a flea market; he made deliveries; he drove a taxi. Along the way, he helped much of his family immigrate and settle in Sheepshead Bay, where he still lives. Ten years ago, he made his way into real estate, selling ordinary apartments. He liked the work but not the size of the commissions, so he set his sights higher.

He found the ultrarich to be surprisingly pleasant company. "How they say in English, communicate?" he asked. "I know psychology. I love philosophy. I can talk to them about anything."

He makes himself useful by overseeing not only their real estate purchases, but also all of the secondary needs that such purchases generate, like further construction, decorating, furniture and even clothes to hang in the closets. In the process, he becomes an expert in his clients' taste. What is their favorite type of bed linen? Their preferred silverware? Do they want Venetian stucco on the wall? No, wait, paint instead? O.K., now change it to wallpaper? No problem.

When they visit, he tries to anticipate their desires—not just making them a reservation at their favorite restaurant, but also remembering that they prefer the four-top by the window. He says the smell inside helicopter cabins can be "depressing." So he goes to the heliport and sprays air freshener before they arrive. "My wife sometimes tells me, 'Can you treat me one day like you treat your clients?'" he said.

He collects a commission on apartment sales, split with the seller's broker. As for the deluxe concierge services that go along with them, he declines to say how, or whether, he charges. Discussing financial transactions between friends is uncouth.

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Mr. Perapada takes his job very seriously. But once in a while, as he rattles off the kinds of details he attends to for his clients' satisfaction, he cracks himself up. "It's a joke!" he says, his eyes wide. A moment later he is back to dead earnest.

"This is absolutely—I tell you, absolutely normal people," he said. "Someone tells you different, they're lying."

—By Ariel Kaminer for The New York Times