Starting as a financial planner and part-time sales broker, Dorothy “Dottie” Herman today owns and directs a real estate empire that last year generated $200 million in revenues, and $6.5 billion in sales volume. With more than 56 offices stretching from Manhattan to Montauk, Prudential Douglas Elliman is recognized as one of the fastest growing full service residential real estate companies in the United States.
Herman traces her relentless ambition back to a childhood tragedy. When she was 10 years old, her father was driving the family home from a ski vacation in Vermont in a snowstorm. He skidded on the ice, and Herman and her mother were thrown out of the car. Her mother was killed.
Herman will speak at Real Estate Connect in New York City, Jan. 9-11.
After the accident, Herman took care of her two younger siblings and her father, who almost lost his hand in the crash. “He just wasn’t ever right,” she says. “What I understood at an early age is, life isn’t forever. In having no one to nurture me, I pretty much did it for myself. I was always an achiever. I was willing to do whatever it takes to be successful.”
The amazing success story behind Prudential Douglas Elliman began in the early 1990s, when Herman overcame the challenges of a sluggish real estate market to steadily grow her firm into the largest privately owned real estate company on Long Island, with 2002 revenues in excess of $2.6 billion. This dynamic growth was fueled, in part, by her decision in 1997 to expand into the highly competitive Hamptons’ East End, where she now has six successful offices, and later into the North Fork.
In 2001, Herman expanded her vision into Manhattan, opening an office in the Union Square area. Then, in March 2003, she and her partners acquired Douglas Elliman, a legendary 92-year-old New York real estate company with 850 sales associates and nine Manhattan offices, thereby creating the largest residential brokerage firm in the metropolitan New York marketplace, with 2,050 sales agents and offices stretching from Upper Manhattan to the tip of Long Island. Moreover, as part of that transaction, she also acquired Insignia Residential Group, Manhattan’s largest property manager with a portfolio of more than 800 buildings and 60,000 residential units located throughout New York City, New Jersey and Westchester County.
In 1911, Douglas Elliman founded the firm in a basement store at 421 Madison Ave., back when uptown was still considered “the country.” He lived at 485 Park Ave., apartment 1A, which was actually the second floor. Elliman is most famous for persuading the city’s elite to move from their dusty townhouses to luxury co-ops. His first major project was 998 Fifth Ave., a towering 12-story fortress built by McKim, Mead & White – complete with wine rooms and jewelry safes. In an influential coup, Elliman lured Elihu Root, a Nobel Prize–winning statesman, to rent there for $25,000 a year. Guggenheims and Astors soon followed. Now apartments in the building sell for more than $15 million to people like financier Steve Rattner of the Quadrangle Group and socialite Ann Slater.
Elliman died in 1972, and the company changed hands several times. In 1999, Insignia Financial Group, led by Andrew Farkas (son of the retired chairman of the Alexanders retail chain), paid $65 million for the firm, then sold it to Herman
Today, Herman’s growing real estate empire is a one-stop shop for the real estate consumer. In addition to sales brokerage and management, there’s also a title company, Liberty Land Title, and a growing mortgage finance firm, Preferred Empire Mortgage Co., which achieved $500 million in originated loan volume in 2002 and is currently ranked as one of New York’s and the country’s largest mortgage brokers.
Herman is as passionate about keeping physically fit as she is about keeping fiscally fit. “In Florida, I stay at The Breakers in Palm Beach, which has facilities on site. I try to work out at least three to four times a week; sometimes as much as six depending on my schedule. My favorite exercise is a spin class. I’ve also done Pilates classes on vacation in St. Martens.”
Herman is so fitness-conscious that she’s hired personal trainers in multiple locations. “One for my New York apartment, one for my home on Long Island and the third for the office in the Hamptons,” she says. She was featured working out in a recent edition of Chief Executive magazine.
Herman shares her various homes – Syosset, Southampton, and Manhattan – with her attorney husband, Jay, and their three dogs.
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