For Bob Knakal, baseball has always been a central theme in his life. His flair for statistics began with his love of baseball and continued throughout his career in his statistical understanding of the New York commercial real estate sales market.
With the recent sale of 150 Union Avenue in Brooklyn, in fact, Knakal reached a career milestone with 2,222 properties sold. Adam America built the 130-unit apartment building at 150 Union Street in 2015, and HUBB NYC bought it for $76.8 million.
Knakal, now in his 39th year as an investment real estate broker in New York, has meticulously tracked his sales activities since the beginning of his career. “My affinity for numbers began during my Little League baseball career. I was a pitcher and kept all my stats in a scrapbook. I also collected baseball cards as a kid and always loved reading the stats on the backs of the cards,” Knakal told me.
He easily blurted out that he knew: Hank Aaron had 132 hits in 1957, Tom Seaver won 25 games as a pitcher for the Mets in 1969, and Don Mattingly had his best year in 1986 with 238 hits and a batting average from . 352 for Knakal’s beloved New York Yankees, all remembered from the backs of baseball cards. Apparently then statistics became a significant pastime for him.
His baseball career continued through high school, where he was a pitcher in Hackensack, New Jersey, and on into college, where he is still in the record books at the University of Pennsylvania for his low earned run average in his sophomore year.
Bob’s brokerage career began in July 1984 at Coldwell Banker Commercial (CBRE’s predecessor). On his second day on the job, he meets Paul Massey. The two teamed up and four years later formed Massey Knakal Realty Services in November 1988. They determined the order of names by tossing a coin in the lobby of the Waldorf Astoria.
Massey Knakal was sold to Cushman & Wakefield in 2014. Knakal was chairman of New York Investment Sales at C&W until June 2018. In September 2018, we arrived at JLL with 53 of our colleagues, all of whom worked at Massey Knakal with us.
Bob originally kept track of his transactions in a handwritten ledger, but now relies on an Excel spreadsheet after some prodding. So the handwritten ledgers were converted to digital format and now the list is updated on closing of each new transaction of ours. The sale of 150 Union Avenue is not only the 2,222nd sale of his career, but also puts Knakal’s total dollar volume above $20.5 billion, with more than 70 million square feet sold, encompassing more than 40,000 residential units.
Rod Santomassimo, founder of Massimo Group and Knakal’s broker trainer for over 10 years, said this with great relief: “We’ve trained thousands of CRE brokers and Bob is in a class by himself. His commitment to his craft positions him as an authority in the world’s most competitive market. The man lives to create experiences for his clients and his family.”
For Knakal, the analogy of building sales to baseball remains.
“In the commercial real estate sales business, most of what we do every day is not glamorous,” he said. “It’s the fundamentals — making calls, following up on prospects, tracking comparable sales, reading real estate publications, showing buildings and preparing valuable opinions for potential sellers. These are the building blocks of business, just as running sprints, making pickups, and working on your curveball every day are practically the building blocks of a pitcher’s life. These fundamental things are sometimes not fun to do, but having the discipline to do them day after day and month after month makes a difference. They put you in a position to succeed.
“In baseball, the moment of truth is when you’re on the mound and the umpire calls ‘Play Ball!’ “
As for retirement, Knakal won’t hear of it. “I make a living and get to talk to and help great clients achieve their goals every day, many of whom have become personal friends. I also work with good friends who have been there for 20 years with me. Why would I stop doing that?” Sticking to the baseball theme, he added with a smile, “In baseball, 3,000 hits is considered a big career milestone. It may take some time, but I’m on track to sell building number 3000.”
Jonathan Hageman is a managing director in JLL’s capital markets practice and a 20-year business partner of Knakal’s.