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Hamptons Life

Jan 7, 2013 7:58 AMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

One-Stop Shop For Home Buyers

Jan 17, 2013 3:06 PM

In the 1990s, buying and selling houses was nothing more than a hobby for Wall Street trader Lawrence Citarelli Jr.

September 11, 2001 changed everything.

The financial industry—at which Mr. Citarelli had been employed for the past decade—could never be the same. So, in the following years, until 2006, he built, bought and sold approximately 20 houses while still holding down a full-time job in finance.

A few years later, in 2008, the Westhampton Beach native traded in his suit and tie, daily four-hour commute and real estate hobby for jeans, an office 10 minutes from his home and a new chapter in his life: the Lawrence III Group, which now includes First Hampton International Realty, acquisition and development firm CitaDom Holdings, and design/build organization Lawrence III Corporation.

For the self-declared contrarian, a down housing market was the perfect time to start up his own company, he said.

“The whole key to it was the lessons I learned on Wall Street, which was more about the don’t’s,” Mr. Citarelli said during an interview at his Main Street office in Westhampton Beach last week. “It’s the old clichés you have when you’re a kid. Don’t bite off more you can chew. Bulls and bears make money, pigs get slaughtered. Don’t be a pig, don’t be greedy. Don’t run with the masses. Just because your friends are drinking and smoking doesn’t mean you should be doing that.”

He took those lessons and applied them to his adult life, he said. If everyone’s buying, he said, be careful. When everyone stopped, that was his opportunity.

“I was buying and selling all these properties. I was doing spec houses. I did it with my own money. I put my own skin in the game,” he said. “I learned the process with my own dough and I only wanted to be involved with stuff that I could control. I had enough of a background for that. I did one, and then another deal. And then three and then four, until, here we are.”

The entrepreneur’s education in real estate actually began when he was a child, looking up to his father, Lawrence Citarelli Sr., who worked as a roofing, siding and painting contractor. Though he constructed homes for himself, and sold them, the younger Mr. Citarelli didn’t aspire to be a builder for hire, he said. He wanted Wall Street.

“But Wall Street was just numbers and paper. And you made a dollar and that was nice, and now you’ve gotta make two,” he said. “Now two’s gotta be four and now four’s gotta be eight. It was, for me, it was too shallow and what was it really doing? Don’t get me wrong, I liked it, and I was pretty good at it.”

He laughed to himself, and continued, “I was an action junkie. I’m a workaholic. That’s what drove me. But when I started getting into real estate, I never envisioned it being this artistic kind of thing. But to take a piece of junk or take a piece of raw dirt and then to actually create and think about something and actually have it come to fruition and say, ‘You know what? I built that.’ I liked it. So that’s the addiction.”

At first, Mr. Citarelli said he wasn’t keen to explore the Lawrence III Group business model. When his clients met him with construction requests, he turned them down.

“I didn’t want to be in that business,” he said. “I just wanted to do my own deals.”

Then he got to thinking.

“I said to myself, ‘Well wait a minute, there’s all these other builders, why are people asking me?’” he mused. “And the fact of the matter is, I was designing these houses as if I was willing to move into every one of them and I was giving them more than what a typical builder was giving them. The traditional spec house is not such a nice thing. It has this negative connotation to it. Where did the builder cut corners to make his money?”

That’s not how Mr. Citarelli works, he said. Instead, he said he tends to overbuild, which has led him to today. He now runs three fully integrated entities—broker, developer, builder—under one umbrella. In May, Dee Kerrigan Perfido merged her real estate brokerage, Kerrigan Country Realty, with Mr. Citarelli’s company.

“Real estate is in my blood,” Ms. Perfido said during an interview at her office last week. “I like to be the captain of my own ship and Larry and I have that same mentality. And we just like to get the deal done. Larry has the same work ethic I do—24/7—and I think you have to have that when partners team up.”

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