LeAnne Burke: Manhattan Real Estate Maven
Inside the life of the Georgia Peach turned Big Apple brokerage-machine
NEW YORK, NY —
I pressed the button at the gate twice. A faux pas, I quickly learned, when invited to one of the historic brownstones in Greenwich Village lining “the park.” According to LeAnne Burke, local real estate mogul, Washington Square Park is without a doubt “the park.” Location, location, location.
“Are you a girl scout, environmental activist, or an asshole? Was that redundant?”
Redundant, no. Reductive? Yes. A quality that has allowed her to pinpoint one of a kind investments and transactions, transforming entire neighborhoods across burroughs. Gentrification is her essence. I nervously explained to her that I was at her door to do a feature for the Manhattan Observer. She really could’ve been more understanding that her gate gave zero confirmation of receival — something my Alphabet City mud hut did better than her parkfront estate. Nonetheless, she proceeded to welcome me with ice and wit.
“Ah, that’s right. Come in and make yourself comfortable while I fire my assistant.”
Having obtained security clearance, I traversed through a lush path of brick pavers marked by gothic water features nourishing the effervescent floral landscape. An urban oasis fit for Manhattan royalty.
Before I could get frazzled about a new point of entry, her assistant welcomed me through the front door, blissfully unaware of the rage-laden whirling dervish headed her way. The grand foyer was checkered marble, feeding into a spiral staircase. Burke sat at the top. Despite her larger than life persona, she was a mere four and a half feet tall. Pushing five feet in her signature red pumps. She began to descend the palatial stairway —
She hit every stair on her way down, crashing to my feet. In seconds, one of the most powerful women in all of Manhattan was rendered a sprawled out, upscale cabbage patch doll. Her heel appeared to have gotten caught in one of the iron stair rods that held her Turkish rug in place. I must say, it was an utterly regal way to eat shit. But she quickly bounced back, down a shoe but hubris still intact.
LeAnne Burke knows a thing or two about resilience. Her mother, Beverly Blackwell, raised the seventeen kids on her own in Alpharetta, Georgia. This upbringing taught Burke how to compete for resources and eventually helped earn her a full scholarship to the state university — a bad student, but a great test-taker. She floundered in college, failing to gain approval from the sorority system and spiraling downward into academic probation followed by expulsion. Naturally, this launched her into a full blown hunter-gatherer phase, as she sought shelter through the art of squatting in rural Georgia — arguably a fantastic real estate education. She soon found her way home just short of her mother’s passing, obtaining a fake real estate license and selling her family home through sheer force of will. In the grand scheme of things, that stair rod was nothing.
“You know who that rod reminds me of?” said Burke. After a long silence, she got back on her feet just in time for the punchline. “Bill Monaghan.”
Monaghan: her biggest rival in New York City real estate. He controls the Upper West Side, Burke the Upper East. Everywhere else is a battleground, one that tends to favor Burke. She sits atop every other residential agent in the city, amassing $362 million in commission alone.
“Bill Monaghan?” I said, with a chuckle.
“Yeah. Stylish, but a real cheap shot. You can put that one on the record.”
She didn’t miss a beat, transitioning into a scathing attack on her assistant, providing not an ounce of kindness as chaser. It ended with a demand for cucumber waters, the firing she had promised upon entry, and a nasty tantrum punctuated by the violent heave of an accent vase at the home’s stately wall paneling.
“And go grab me my damn shoe, you brainless hooker!”
I won’t hold her accountable for the absence of pleasantries. It’s written in the stars. She’s a textbook Aries: fiery, a good sense of humor, and, at times, “a real bitch.” Astrology is the lens through which she sees the world. Something she couldn’t say enough about later in our interview, which took place in the seating area that prefaced her lavish master suite.
“Name me a Cancer who has made $362 million in commissions in one year.”
I was silent of course. Puzzled by the challenge, unprepared at best. LeAnne Burke thrives off silence. She’s always planning her next move, a master negotiator with the instant perceptiveness that most can only muster in hindsight. Her mannerisms are pointed and precise, as she stiffly taps her fingers on the arm of her leather tufted armchair, one after the other. Was she plotting something? Before I could figure it out, Burke’s youngest daughter, Annabel, entered the room.
Annabel was timid, kind of like Diana Scarwid in Mommie Dearest. The elder two, Clara and Bianca, were away at college: Columbia University and Boston College, respectively. The three were born on the same day, April 16 1997, 1998, and 1999.
“Yeah I planned that,” she delivered with a toothless smirk. When asked about her ex-husband, Burt Burke, from whom she separated in 2006, she kept things simple.
“Great father, worthless man. Let’s just drop this for my kid’s sake.”
She referred to herself as a “mother of four,” her eldest daughter being Burke Realty — someone else she didn’t have much to say about. But she had some plans she was willing to share. Entering the first quarter of 2017, Burke wants to set the stage for a year of “at least $363 million in commission.”
“Is that all?” I asked. She gave each finger one last rhythmic tap.
“I’m gonna need a new assistant.”