Raphael DeNiro, son of Robert, has a celebrity pedigree that includes real estate in the blood.
"Most people don't know this, but my grandparents on my father's side were key pioneers of Soho real estate," he said. "They were bohemian artists from the Village, and they were some of the first to convert commercial warehouses to live/work spaces Downtown."
His great uncle, Jack DeNiro, owns JC DeNiro & Associates, a boutique brokerage founded in Florida that also has offices in New York. And he has also worked with his father on the 80-room Downtown Hotel, next to the Tribeca Grill.
Raphael DeNiro is extending the family's real estate legacy by running his own group under the Prudential Douglas Elliman umbrella. He specializes in upscale apartments across the city and also dabbles in yacht charters. His group includes one associate broker and five agents, including his cousin, Lauren DeNiro Pipher.
Group members "work with me, not for me," he said.
DeNiro says he strives to offer white-glove service, a standard he achieves by putting himself in the clients' shoes. "If I was looking to buy something, I would want to work with an honest broker who cares about what I need and what I want, not just about closing another deal," he said. "I work with people who I will see again, and I don't want someone coming back six months or a year later telling me that they are disappointed with their living environment."
In addition to the yacht charter perks, added-value amenities for clients include the use of high-definition film, which brings digital marketing to the next level. Not only does he provide the ability to track and upload transactions on-line, he has also hired film crews to capture images of properties, which he provides on DVD or via the Internet so clients can easily consider purchases.
For leisure, DeNiro is raising a show puppy with impeccable lineage, which he plans to enter into the prestigious Westminster competition some day. He also enjoys fishing off Montauk. As a child, he acted in some of his father's films, but it was not his passion.
Indeed, during the filming of "Raging Bull," he said, "they couldn't stop me from running around the pool," which led to his performance landing on the cutting-room floor.
DeNiro cites two formative moments in his desire to enter the world of real estate. The first came as a child, when his grandmother told him that all great fortunes rest upon real estate. The other is his close work with his father on development projects, mainly in Tribeca, including the new hotel on Greenwich Street. Other projects the famous actor has developed include the Loft Residences at 116 Hudson Street, a five-unit condo development with 4,000 square feet of retail space, which first hit the market two years ago and involved combining an existing vacant 19th-century brick building with a new glass-and-metal curtain wall structure. Father and son are now looking worldwide for hospitality projects, particularly in the Caribbean.
Serving as a broker provides the perfect experience to eventually become a developer, he said. "I wanted to get into development when I saw my father at work," DeNiro said, "but I knew that I had to get a firm grasp on the market and see how things work on the other end. This prompted me to get my sales license, and a year later my broker's license. I now know more than I could ever imagine had I gone directly into developing. I am confident that when I do my first project, it will be done right."
Though the DeNiro name brings instant cachet, Raphael refuses to blithely cash in on his dad's accomplishments and shuns the limelight. Like father, like son.
"I deny interview requests all the time," he said. "There only needs to be one celebrity in the family. My name is a hot commodity. It is known worldwide and it is a brand in and of itself. I only use it when I can put my integrity behind it 110 percent. If I don't believe in the project, then my name cannot be attached."
DeNiro's demeanor has impressed his mentor, Howard Lorber, chairman of Prudential Douglas Elliman. "He's very serious about this," said Lorber. "It's not like he's some rich kid who needs a place to hang around."
Of course, his name confers credibility with high-profile clients, who can afford blue-chip properties that generate high commissions. "They can relate to me," he said. "I was born into a situation that has not only afforded me numerous valuable lessons, but has also taught me what my clients need me to know. I can fully relate to how they live, what they like and what they don't like."
DeNiro has reportedly represented California supermarket mogul and billionaire Ron Burkle, another low-key figure, who lost his anonymity in a scandal surrounding alleged extortion by a reporter at Page Six, the gossip section of the New York Post. DeNiro declined to name his bold-faced clients.
"I believe strict confidentiality is what keeps them coming back," he said, adding that he is wary of the pernicious influence of the press. "Some real estate transactions are too personal to be spread all over the news, especially the clientele I work with. They trust me to keep their personal business just that -- personal."
DeNiro met Lorber two years ago and the relationship blossomed. "He's very honest and straightforward," said Lorber. "We could capitalize on his name, but we don't. We have to respect what he wants to do in his situation. You can't coast through life on your name alone; if you're not smart, honest and hard-working, the name isn't going to help."
"I want the DeNiro name to be synonymous with real estate, as it is with film," he said. "I can only do that by focusing on service, creating positive word of mouth references and continuing to dedicate my time and energy to the clients. As far as real estate is concerned, I am here to stay. Whether it is remaining a broker, becoming a developer or possibly even a hotelier, wherever my career path takes me, it will be related to real estate one way or another."