Mother-son duo Louise and Seth Pitlake have been doing real estate in Merrick for decades–20-plus years as part of Douglas Elliman Real Estate–and over that time they have seen many changes to the local market and the industry.
More people have rented longer, they said, to save up for down payments on homes that ideally don’t need much work. And the transition to computers and the web requires their eight-person team, ranked No. 5 for Douglas Elliman in the combined Nassau, Suffolk and Queens area in 2015, to get involved in everything from public relations, to promotions and everyday computer work.
“Our service area is the Gold Coast, but the South Shore’s Gold Coast,” Seth said. “We run from the Five Towns, through the waterfront communities, Oceanside, Freeport, Merrick, Bellmore, up until the Massapequa’s…[W]e do go north of Sunrise Highway, but basically the whole South Shore of Nassau County.”
Louise, how did you get started in the business?
I started because I managed a tennis court years ago in Freeport. It was a tennis/yachting/boating club. And it went out of business after about 18 years. I decided to go into real estate. I took the course and the instructor said, “You’re a dynamite, you have to work for me.” So I came to work at a small agency–at that time, we did not have corporate. Then we had very mom-and-pop agencies, and I worked there almost 10 years. Seth was in the same agency. He was a chef at one time and he decided to go into real estate… Then Prudential Long Island came along. Dottie Hermann had gotten the franchise and she asked us to come work for her, and that’s history. I’ve been with Dottie over 22 years. She bought Douglas Elliman and now we’re Douglas Elliman Real Estate.
How do you get most of you business?
LP: I would say that 85-90 percent of our business is referral business. Because I’ve been living here over 50 years in Merrick, and, you know, everybody knows who we are.
Seth, why did you decide to go into real estate rather than stay in the restaurant business?
I was in the food business from the minute I graduated high school and always a classically trained chef working in restaurants. [I] went to restaurant school. After a certain point, I think I just got burnt out and it’s not an easy business to be in. Not that real estate is any different, but I think real estate is a little more mental, not as physical as the restaurant business.
Believe it or not, I don’t remember exactly how I wound up in the real estate business, but I think it was because being local, there was a little bit of an intrigue in the market at that time. We had a higher-end marketplace that was just starting to come up, the waterfronts were just starting to sell. It was just an interesting field to go into, and think it was just timing. It was one the easiest things to get into at that time because you didn’t have to go back to school to do it. You could get a license or just go to work for a company, and if you were good, you could make something of the business.
What are people looking for in homes nowadays? Are there standard things they need to have?
LP: The young people coming in, they are career people. They really do not have time, so they are looking for homes that are fairly nice–that are all updated or half updated so they don’t have to go in and do a complete renovation job. And they do make the money, so they can afford these homes. It’s just time. They don’t have the time to do it.
SP: Younger buyers, specifically first-time buyers, are coming to our neighborhoods basically for the same reason that everyone always does. You look for location. You look for what the town has to offer as a lifestyle. You look for schools. Then you look for the benefits of living in a certain area. Here on the South Shore, our proximity to the waterfront, our proximity to Manhattan transport to work, our shopping, the beaches, the restaurants. That’s all a plus for these kids who are coming out. But they’re not necessarily looking for the house of their dreams for the next 30 years. They’re looking to replace what they are paying in rent not so much as a long-term investment but as a springboard to what would be their second or third property as the family grows, as the family expands, or as their needs change and they choose to move to another area.
You’ve hit a bit on my next question. What are some of the more popular attractions in the area you cover?
SP: Where we are, while it’s not a best-kept secret, I believe this area offers more than most of the rest of Long Island. That’s why we really consider ourselves the Gold Coast of the South Shore. We are 45 minutes direct to Manhattan, which puts us pretty close to being a realistic bedroom community to the boroughs. We’re the last exit on the Meadowbrook, so you’re 4 minutes from Jones Beach, you are 5 minutes from the Lido Beach, Point Lookout and Long Beach, you are 6 minutes in any direction to some of the best shopping on Long Island–that whole Roosevelt Field-Westbury corridor; 20 minutes is Manhasset to North Shore; and we are right in the middle of the Meadowbrook, the Wantagh and the Seaford-Oyster Bay. So to traverse [Nassau], you’re 15 minutes or 20 minutes anywhere North Shore or South Shore….We just have a very vibrant set of local towns. It just offers something for everyone. There’s no reason to leave the area.
What are some of the up-and-coming areas and why?
SP: We’re seeing some of the neighborhoods within the neighborhoods get developed. For instance, areas of North Merrick–Wenshaw Park, Briarcliff–these are areas that have always been popular, but they have been a little sleepy. Now we’re seeing them come into their own as far as pulling buyers. We’re seeing East Meadow go through a tremendous transformation. And buyers are running there because of the affordability and they’re still within the realm of what this part of the South Shore has to offer. We’re seeing a lot of people going to Long Beach and Lido Beach–the barrier islands. You’ve got more condos and coops there, so if you’re looking for something more turnkey and citified you’re going in that direction, if you’re not just looking for a single-family home community.
What’s it like working as a mother-son team?
SP: We’re not very similar in the ways we do business, but we complement each other in that we have our strengths in completely different areas. I think Louise’s expertise, knowledge of the neighborhoods, being here as long as she has, and doing as many transactions as she has, really puts her in the top ladder of negotiating and she is able to deal with different ages of the community. Being a little younger, I tend to go more toward the technology and the marketing and delegating to the “T.” …We don’t walk over each other. We don’t do the same things, and because we’re related, we don’t feel like we need to check up on each other. So if she’s doing something, I know instinctively that it’s getting done, and I think she feels the same way.