For Bob Knakal, baseball has always been a central theme in his life. His knack for statistics began with his love of baseball and has continued throughout his career in his statistical understanding of the New York City commercial real estate sales market.
With the recent sale of 150 Union Avenue in Brooklyn, in fact, Knakal has reached a career milestone of 2,222 properties sold. Adam America developed 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 of negotiating the sale of investment properties in New York City, has been a meticulous monitor of his sales activity since the beginning of his career. “My affinity for numbers started during my Little League baseball career. I was a pitcher and kept all my stats in a notebook. I also collected baseball cards as a kid and always enjoyed read the stats on the back of the cards,” Knakal told me.
He readily said he knew: Hank Aaron had 132 runs batted in in 1957, Tom Seaver won 25 games as a Mets pitcher in 1969, and Don Mattingly had his best year in 1986 with 238 hits and a . 352 for Knakal’s beloved New York Yankees, all remembered from the backs of baseball cards. Clearly, this was when statistics became a meaningful pastime for him.
His baseball career continued throughout high school, where he was an all-county pitcher in Hackensack, NJ, and later in college, where he is still in the University of Pennsylvania record books for his career low in his sophomore year.
Bob’s brokerage career began in July 1984 at Coldwell Banker Commercial (CBRE’s predecessor firm). On her second day on the job, she met Paul Massey. The two teamed up and four years later formed Massey Knakal Realty Services in November 1988. They decided on the order of the names with a coin toss in the lobby of the Waldorf Astoria.
Massey Knakal was sold to Cushman & Wakefield in 2014. Knakal served as president of New York investment sales at C&W until June 2018. In September 2018, we joined JLL with 53 of our colleagues , all of whom had 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 hand written ledgers were converted to digital format and now the list is updated as each new transaction of ours is closed. The sale of 150 Union Avenue is not only the 2,222nd sale of his career, but also brings Knakal’s total dollar volume to more than $20.5 billion, with more than 70 million square feet sold spanning more than 40,000 residential units.
Rod Santomassimo, founder of the Massimo Group and trainer of Knakal runners for more than 10 years, put it bluntly: “We’ve trained thousands of CRE runners and Bob is in a class by himself. His commitment to his craft has positioned him as an authority in the world’s most competitive market. The man lives to create experiences for his customers and his family.”
For Knakal, the sales pitch analogy with baseball holds.
“In the commercial real estate sales business, most of what we do every day is not glamorous,” he said. “These are fundamental things: making calls, following up on leads, tracking comparable sales, reading real estate publications, showing buildings and preparing value opinions for potential sellers. These are the building blocks of the business, in the same way that sprinting, catching, and working every day in practice are 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 month after month is a differentiator. They put you in a position to succeed.”
“In baseball, the moment of truth is when you’re on the mound and the umpire yells, ‘Play the ball!’ In the commercial real estate sector, this very moment is when you meet the clients to get the exclusive, at the signing of the contract and sitting at the closing table”.
As for retirement, Knakal won’t talk about it. “I speak for a living and I get to speak to and help great clients achieve their goals every day, many of whom become personal friends. I also work alongside good friends who have been with me for 20 years. Why should I stop doing that?” Staying on the subject of baseball, he added with a smile, “In baseball, 3,000 hits is considered a huge career milestone. It might take a while, but I have my eyes on the 3,000th sales building.”
Jonathan Hageman is a managing director of JLL’s capital markets practice and a business partner of Knakal’s for 20 years.