A Wave of New Talent raises the bar on the East End
A New Wave of Talent raises the bar on the East End

Left to right: Randi Ball of Corcoran; David Lineweaver of Saunders; Caroline Sarraf of Compass; Cia Comnas of Brown Harris Stevens

Some real estate agents are born into the business. But most of those on the East End have come to the profession as a second or third career.

Though the content of their past lives might be varied, the most fruitful transitioners have one thing in common: proven track records of success over a sustained period that have helped them build  burgeoning careers.

David Lineweaver enjoyed a successful 25-year career on Wall Street before he moved on to become a fast-rising talent at Saunders & Associates. He built an impressive foundation in mergers and acquisitions, but his heart has always been invested in real estate.

I always felt my second chapter would be in real estate, as I have always loved design, architecture and property,” he says. “I was always drawn to the real-estate sectors, whether raising capital for home-builders, hotel or retail developers, or even real estate investment trusts.”

An interest in Latin America helped shape his career in finance, says the agent, who has called the East End home for the past two decades. After graduating from college, he immersed himself in the developing capital markets of Latin America, then passed the Foreign Service Institute exam and went on to work for Barings Bank–the second oldest merchant bank in the world–in Buenos Aires, Sao Paulo, Lima and Mexico City. His experience in raising capital, sales and negotiating has proven fruitful talents for real estate.

“The work ethic and discipline that comes with working in finance on Wall Street for 25 years will be vital in my future success in the business,” he says, adding that the transition has been “a piece of cake.”

Caroline Sarraf of Compass

Caroline Sarraf of Compass

Caroline Sarraf, an agent at Compass in Bridgehampton, has led a fascinating life. An artist at heart, she studied sculpture at the Rhode Island School of Design and then went on to a creative career that included owning an art gallery in Providence, designing window displays at Macy’s Herald Square and spending three-and-a-half years in Rome photographing the fringes of society—people and places in the extreme were her specialty. Additionally, she spent time at Dean & Deluca, starting up their East Coast businesses, and even opened and ran two successful restaurants of her own, including The Greasy Spoon in Southampton.

The Wainscott resident, who has been a real estate agent for eight years and recently partnered up with Heather Saskas at Compass after leaving Brown Harris Stevens, says that she wouldn’t change a thing about her background.

“All of these things that I have done have made it possible for me to do what I do now,” she says.

From art directing and staging photo shoots to being able to relate to a slew of different types of people, her professional background has aided her success as a top producer.

“I have the gift of gab and can relate to almost anyone, anywhere,” says Ms. Sarraf. “Plus, my photography helps me to show a home how it truly is to people who are looking at pictures. I’m really happy how my background helps people to find their dream house. That’s a very satisfying feeling for me.”

Randi Ball of Corcoran with her family

Randi Ball of Corcoran with her family

Randi Ball, an East Hamptons-based agent at The Corcoran Group, also has a creative past. The 2014 Rookie of the Year for the East End has 20 years’ experience in commercial television production and marketing.

Having worked on the ad agency side for blue-chip companies such as American Express and Coca-Cola, and then opening up her own business representing behind-the-scenes commercial talent, she’s used to the life of high-pressure demands from elite clients. Helping buyers find their dream homes is a walk in the park.

“The worst client you could ever imagine is better than the best director,” she laughs. “I’m kidding, of course, though it’s true that I really love what I do now in a way that makes it a joy to go to work.”

Making the leap from her past life to a new one was scary. But it’s paid off in ways she couldn’t have imagined.

“My biggest fear of leaving advertising and production was that I was unqualified for anything else. After all those years of working hard in such a niche business, I was worried,” she says. “But then I started doing real estate and realized that I already had the skill set. I had all the tools, I just didn’t know until I started.”

Her marketing skills and network of New York connections ensured success out of the gate, says the Amagansett resident.

“It’s such a cliché that I moved to the Hamptons and became a real estate agent but the thing is, I was already getting calls from friends and acquaintances about the market here,” she recalls. “I was referring people to other agents I knew. So I thought, ‘maybe I should try this.’”

The savvy marketer let it be known on social media that she was starting out in the business. The clients immediately started calling.

“My first year I did 20 rentals, then over 30 my second year. And I sold my first house within four months,” she says. “I really think that social media launched me.”

Aspasia (Cia) Comnas, now the executive managing director of all nine of Brown Harris Stevens’ offices, also has not-so-hidden skills from her past that have helped pave the way for a very successful present and future.

Before she was a veteran brokerage manager recognized as one of the very best in the business, Ms. Comnas specialized in Admiralty Law.

“I am Greek. Shipping is in my blood,” she explains. “My father was a top oil and shipping executive for his entire career and I think I just naturally gravitated towards Admiralty Law when I was starting my own legal career.”

The international aspect of the practice most attracted her interest, she says. So while still at New York Law School, the Vassar College graduate worked at a boutique Admiralty Law firm and then continued with them after becoming an attorney.

A summer in Noyac in 1983 convinced her that it was time to change her view from “a view out of my window other than a brick wall, which was the view in my NYC apartment at the time” to “the beauty of the water and nature on the East End.” Within a year, she had moved full-time to the Hamptons.

Ms. Comnas hung up her shingle here and ended up practicing law, gathering quite a bit of knowledge about local real estate in the process. Her decade-and-a-half of legal experience serves her well now, especially as it relates to anticipating obstacles to a closing and finding resolution, as well as garnering the earned trust of colleagues in her former profession.

“I have to say that … it took me a little while to take off my attorney hat in some situations and put on my deal-making hat a as a brokerage manager,” she says.  “Attorneys are by nature more risk-adverse, and taking greater risks to try to make a deal materialize takes a little getting used to. After taking a few such risks where the sky does not fall down, it gets easier.”

After living and working on the East End for more than 30 years, she says she’s glad she made the switch.

“It is a lot more fun to be a real estate brokerage manager.  No two days are the same and no matter how many years I have been in the business, there is always some new twist in situations that come up that astonishes,” she says. “I consider myself very lucky to have been able to live, work and raise my children in this most beautiful part of Long Island. And, what could be nicer than having a job that allows you to enter stunning and state-of-the-art Hamptons homes?”

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