Entering the three-story townhouse in the West Village, real estate broker Deborah Korb instructed visitors to either remove their shoes or put booties on over them. The owners didn’t want anyone tracking in dirt from the street.
Though its first floor was already filled with moving boxes, the house still felt cozy and loved, with vibrant paisley wallpaper in the playroom, teal kitchen cabinets and proudly displayed children’s artwork. “They spend a lot of time in the kitchen,” noted Korb, an associate broker at Sotheby’s International Realty. The backyard felt like a refuge – quiet and still with lights suspended across the brick expanse.
The couple who owned the house asked $16.5 million for the property and were aiming to move into a new place soon.
Korb, a 30-year veteran broker with lots of celebrity clients from Julianne Moore to Peter Berg, has seen the market fluctuate repeatedly. After a phenomenal 2019, when she sold $54.1 million in real estate, the COVID-19 pandemic slammed the industry early last year.
Nothing happened for three and a half months, Korb recalled. A roughly $5 million condo sale in the Flatiron District was supposed to close in March, but the buyers backed out. After a good 2019, “I had money in the bank, but I didn’t earn anything until October 15th,” said Korb.
Korb, 66, earlier worked as a paralegal, a banker and a salesperson at the New Yorker selling travel advertising – her dream job at the time – until the company was purchased by Condé Nast and the work environment changed. Moving to different magazines, Korb struggled to find the right fit. “I knew I could sell things, but I didn’t make very much money,” she said. “I thought I might try my hand in selling real estate.”
Her sister, Susan Korb, 62, acts as Deborah’s assistant, though she lives in Pittsburgh. “Not at all surprised” when Debbie (as she’s universally known) entered the profession, Susan thought she would be great at it. “When you watch someone who can really dance, that’s Debbie when you see her sell a property,” said Susan.
Susan has experienced this firsthand. “I lived in New York for many years and have bought and sold apartments of my own and Debbie was always my broker,” said Susan. “She’s my best friend.”
Deborah Korb began her career in 1990 and soon had to take a second job selling neckties at Barney’s downtown. “I wasn’t used to having a job with no income until you sell something,” said Korb. She didn’t make any money selling real estate for her first 11 months, though the market was terrible.
But after the first deal closed, a converted schoolhouse condo at 29 King Street in Manhattan, things started to pick up. Colleagues with busy schedules began referring clients to her including, one day, actor Eric Stoltz. Korb said, “He was charming and fun, and I ended up selling him an apartment right under my apartment” in the Flatiron District. “He became a friend, as well as being a client.”
He mentioned her name to others in his sphere, leading to her frequent work with people in the entertainment industry.
“The actual reality of working with these people you’ve admired from afar is sometimes a reminder that we’re all just plain old people,” said Korb. “Nobody’s better than anybody else.”
Korb has worked with Julianne Moore, whom she found “a pleasure to run around with” and “beyond nice and just intelligent” and Liv Tyler, who was “warm and kind and has really good taste.” Griffin Dunne, one of Korb’s first clients, was “beyond charming and used to make me laugh.” She has maintained a relationship with Matthew Broderick and Sarah Jessica Parker for nearly 30 years.
Parker recalled finding a listing for an apartment in the New York Times, calling the number and getting connected to Korb for the first time. She has since used Korb’s services in many transactions. “I’m just incredibly fond of her,” said Parker. “She’s really good counsel, she’s an upperclassman in real estate, she’s always enormously friendly, and she presents herself beautifully.”
Dressed in a white shirt with black stripes, a coral scarf and dangly earrings, Korb sat in what she likes to call her “bed office.” This has been her work from home set-up, with knitting materials perched behind her. “I think about my deals while I do this,” she said. “I neurotically and nervously knit. It calms me right down and I think, this’ll work out.” Korb had been working on a sweater and a scarf she refers to as the “village scarf” with what looks like colorful houses.
Korb says that the market is showing signs of picking up, particularly with townhouses. “People want to be more secluded with their living, which the townhouse scenario provides for,” said Korb.
She thinks the real estate market has probably been through the worst of it. Although there is a lot of inventory right now, people have begun to buy places and spend large sums of money. “New York never dies, it sort of slows down and comes back,” she said.
(Photo by Susan Korb)