Monday, November 20, 2006

Weekend FT: Lifestyle Models sell real estate in New York

Beauty is in the eye of the freeholder

By Julie Earle-Levine

Published:November 20 2006

At first glance, Paolo Zampolli's premises in downtown Manhattan looks like those of any other luxury real estate broker. Listings for multi-million-dollar condominiums are displayed on Paramount Realty's floor-to-ceiling windows. The usual glossy magazines, comfortable leather sofas and Italian espresso maker are all present.

What is striking is that the real estate brokers in Mr Zampolli's Greene Street office are as eye-catching as the sleek apartments they are selling. These agents are mostly fashion models, many of whom have swapped the catwalk for what they hope will be another lucrative career.

Zampolli's strategy of training models as real estate brokers is an intriguing response to an increasingly competitive real estate market. "It is all aboutluxury and attractiveness," he says. "If you are going to buy an apartment, why not with a beautiful, smart woman?" Mr Zampolli, the owner and president of a modelling agency, ID Model Management, decided two years ago to branch out into real estate at the suggestion of his friend Donald Trump, the property developer.

He recently formed a partnership with Prudential Douglas Elliman, New York, the state's largest real estate services company. ID Model Management, which is in the same building as ID, has a stream of models on their way to fashion shoots. The models leaving Paramount are on their way to show off apartments in much the same way as they might launch a designer's fashion collection.

"For me, the focus is now more on square footage than on fashion magazines," says Mr Zampolli. He says 12 models will be working for by early next year. Six already have broker's licences while the others are still studying for their real estate exams.

Good looks are not the only factor. After years spent attending glitzy parties, many models have acquired a valuable network of wealthy contacts. Angie Everhart, a 37-year-old actor and supermodel, has become one of Mr Zampolli's agents after a 20-year modelling career. "Fashion is the centre of a lot of worlds and lifestyles. You get to meet rock stars, presidents, sports stars and your regular Joes on the street," she says after sweeping into Mr Zampolli's office in knee-high boots, silk blouse and dark designer jeans. All such contacts are possible buyers. "I know a lot of wealthy people round the world, so it made sense for me to get paid to tell them about apartments," she says. With other projects on the go, she intends to sell real estate part-time. "I am only going to sell ultra-luxury properties. No sixth-floor walk-ups. I'm sorry if it sounds snobby but it's just not my style," she says.

Maria Markova, a 21-year-old Russian model with a real estate broker's licence, works part-time for Mr Zampolli while studying philosophy and literature at Colombia University. "I started modelling at 17 and got bored. Now I'm selling real estate to make extra money," she says. Ms Markova has sold two multi-million-dollar apartments at a development on Wall Street.

Aleksandra Slowinska, a Polish-German model in her 20s, worked for ID be-fore studying architecture and interior design in New York and real estate at another firm before joining Paramount Realty. "Real estate is a wonderful transition for a model. You meet all the people when you are modelling and your contact sheet is important. It is almost the same in real estate," she says. Ms Slowinska has not sold any properties yet because, she says, she has focused on her full-time job at Costas Kondylis & Partners, a New York architectural firm that specialises in residential high-rise buildings, but she is confident she will. "One of my goals in real estate is to sell whole buildings," says the blonde, 6ft model.

Mr Zampolli has plans for developments in New York, Brazil and Milan, and believes prime real estate is "easy to sell, whatever the city". He says models can compete with more seasoned brokers. "Some models are not only extremely beautiful, but they are also exceptionally driven." For models, whose careers start at 15 and often end at 24, real estate is a new way to make money.