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Hamptons Life

Jul 6, 2018 4:20 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Sibling Real Estate Veterans Tell All About The Business In New Book

Jul 8, 2018 9:01 PM

A brother and sister real estate duo recently teamed up to write an anecdotal book on the industry, and the result is a witty and insightful look into the everyday lives of the two Douglas Elliman Real Estate veterans.

Broker Joanne Douglas and her brother, Alfred Renna, the executive director of sales at the company’s New York City office, exchanged the wildest encounters from their careers in real estate for years, but it wasn’t until a dinner four years ago that the two thought it would be an interesting project to write down the stories they shared.

“There’s a lot of crazy things that go on,” Mr. Renna said. “Our experiences are not terribly different from anyone else’s experiences. The only difference is one day we decided to go back to the apartment to write some of these stories down. That was how we started writing, but we didn’t know at that time that we were writing a book.”

“We never considered ourselves authors,” added Ms. Douglas, who is also working on a more personal book on grief and learning to fall in love again after her husband’s death. “It’s not like we’ve taken any writing courses.”

“Negotiating New York: Life, Love, and the Pursuit of Real Estate,” the first of their two-part series, unveils secrets and stories of the trade, all while sharing witty and heartwarming insight into navigating the competitive world of real estate. Though written by Ms. Douglas and Mr. Renna, the book follows the experiences of their sisters, Donna and Rosemary, as well.

“The book parallels our professional lives in real estate and our personal lives in real estate, and then it also ties in our family life,” Mr. Renna said, adding that the book is not a how-to guide, but rather it gives more of a high-level sense of how to communicate with buyers and sellers.

While the duo is based in New York City, they’ve traveled across the globe from Italy to the Hamptons, and have compiled a repertoire of anecdotes that can appeal to any reader, not just those involved in the real estate business.

“It may also be for someone who is interested in family dynamics and working with family,” Mr. Renna said. “And then investing as well. In our personal lives we invest, we build, we renovate … so there’s also that perspective.”

“We actually found that the majority of people responding were men,” Ms. Douglas added. “We were surprised because when we first spoke to the publisher about our readership we thought our audience would be mostly middle-America women.”

Mr. Renna said that some of his favorite stories involve his former boss, the real estate mogul and “Shark Tank” investor Barbara Corcoran, who also wrote the forward for the book.

“She was an absolute hoot to work for,” he laughed. “She’s a very funny and clever person, so I included a lot of the stories with her in the book.”

One heartfelt anecdote close to home takes place in Sag Harbor, where the siblings summered since they were children. Their parents purchased the property on a wooded hill, surrounded by trees and farmland. The story goes on to tell of the process of the home being built on the property, and how the children waited eagerly for it to be complete. Come the beginning of winter, the family pulled up to the property to see the progress on the home, only to be disappointed to find that every tree had been cut down, leaving the once verdant area around their soon-to-be summer home bare.

The first project the family undertook upon moving in was planting new trees, which were then used to build tree forts, according to the book. The four siblings built the forts piece by piece every summer, leaving them fascinated with building and designing. Ms. Douglas refers to this experience as their “first development project.”

The two said that the format for “Negotiating New York” was a no-brainer, and that over the years they have learned the best way to relate to people is through storytelling.

“When we do speaking engagements that are more business-oriented and more on the business side of real estate, we try to bring some stories in because people still want to hear the story of what’s going on,” Mr. Renna explained.

“People are so curious,” Ms. Douglas added. “A lot of this is about looking at life and being able to laugh, even during the hard times.”

They said that people who join the real estate business often re-create themselves to hide their pasts and build a new self image for their career, but for the book, the brother and sister wanted to be as transparent as possible about their past and family life.

“We were very real, we didn’t sugarcoat anything,” Ms. Douglas said. “Everything was as it happened.”

While the two have been busy visiting bookstores across New York City and the East End to promote their book, part two of “Negotiating New York” will be in the works during the next few years.

“It’s going to be a lot about renovating and building,” Mr. Renna said of the second book. “It will be a different approach.”

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