The former CEO of well-known fashion brand, Vertigo, Jean-Marc Zarka found a much-needed refuge on the East End after his divorce. What he didn’t know was that he would find himself segueing from being mentored by one of the most successful East End real estate agents at Douglas Elliman to becoming the go-to agent in the Hamptons, with a global network for home-seekers and investors alike.
You pivoted from Seventh Avenue to the Hamptons luxury real estate market. When and why did you make this move?
I was going through a divorce. I needed to sell my home in Westhampton to finalize it. I hired Enzo Morabito as my broker. He sold my house and we remained friends after that. Shortly after I sold my fashion brand, Vertigo, Enzo encouraged me to get my real estate license both in New York and in Florida.
In 2017, once I was licensed, Enzo recruited me for Douglas Elliman. He’s been mentoring me ever since. I am very grateful to have learned so much in such a short time and for all the support my company, Douglas Elliman, has given me.
How has your background in the fashion industry helped you as an agent?
The fashion industry is a very complex and highly competitive industry. You need to be very focused, very creative, and highly organized. You also need extremely good marketing and communication skills. In my opinion, if you can make it in the fashion industry you can make it in any industry.
Real estate is actually a lot simpler than the fashion industry. The product is already made and you do not have to carry the cost of your inventory. The fashion industry has helped me develop strong negotiating skills. I spent many days inside garment factories in mainland China negotiating production prices. For each style manufactured, the price of the yard of fabric, the trims, and the labor was the result of intense negotiations.
You’ve traveled extensively, and you speak several languages. Has this helped you as well? If so, how?
My extensive international travels both for business and pleasure and my exposure to so many different cultures have given me an edge over other agents. I believe I am better prepared to tackle the luxury home market because of it. The Hamptons being so close to New York City, you just never know who you are going to meet and where they could be coming from.
There is a lot of foreign money pouring into the U.S. residential luxury market, whether it is in the Hamptons, South Florida, Colorado, or California. Douglas Elliman was a pioneer in recognizing this by forming, early on, an alliance with Knight Frank Residential. KFR is a global real estate conglomerate that ensures that our products are seen in key buyer locations around the world, such as London, Hong Kong, Melbourne, Moscow, and Singapore.
In other words, when you list your property with me, it will be seen by qualified buyers throughout the world.
You’ve been involved in spec building and investment property real estate. In your current role, are you involved in guiding the architecture, and the building process?
What started as an investment became more a hobby as I need to always satisfy my insatiable need for creativity.
Some people qualify renovating a home as a traumatic experience. For me, it is an absolute thrill. As a fashion designer, I am very detail-oriented and I like to pick every design and its components myself. I owned and renovated apartments in Paris, Miami, and of course, did a few houses in the Hamptons.
Are there any homes that you’ve sold that you’re particularly proud of?
I recently sold a house on the bay on Dune Road in Westhampton Beach. The house was built in the ‘90s and it was basically designed to look exactly like the upper deck of a luxury liner, chimney and all. The prospective buyers were not crazy about the outside design from the start. They basically wanted to modify it to make it conform more to today’s standards.
I made it my mission to explain the design so they could understand it, embrace it, and most important, keep it as is. I remember the analogy I used: “Pretend you are buying a classic car. Would you get rid of the fins and the chrome bumpers to make it look like a current car or would you preserve and maintain it as is?”
That tipped the scale and they bought it the next day.
Do you have a favorite architectural building in the Hamptons?
I absolutely love 145 Neck Path in East Hampton. It is a 5000-square-foot glass box in the woods. It’s an open-plan gem made out of glass and steel beams, surrounded by floor-to-ceiling windows, completely unencumbered by columns. It was designed by Jeff Smilow, who also happens to be the structural engineer for the Freedom Tower in lower Manhattan.
It is breathtaking! In my opinion, it deserves to earn National Architectural Landmark status, just like many of Frank Lloyd Wright’s houses.
What advice would you give sellers? Buyers?
Sellers: If you are ready to sell, then sell! When you are really ready to sell your home, your home is no longer your home. It has become a house. It is just an asset that you need to turn into a liquid asset. Selling your house is a business transaction best handled by a real estate professional who will guide you and complete that transaction for you.
Dear Buyers, we love the fact that you have done your homework online. You have virtually visited every home in a 50-mile radius before you even got into your car and onto the LIE.
Still, when it comes to picking the right home out of your Zillow Top 10 list, leave it to us professionals with deep knowledge of the local market, to tell you which one you should buy. Let our experience help you make the right choice for you and your family.
Are there any up-and-coming neighborhoods we should know about?
Remsenburg has always been a favorite of mine — the first Hamptons, get there sooner, stay longer they say. Beautiful setting right on the bay, great value, low property taxes, and as far as you can get from the scene as possible. Yet the best restaurants, performing arts center, and shops are only minutes away.
What do you do for fun when you’re not working?
What do you mean? Working in real estate is fun! I practice yoga every day, but on a nice day you’ll find me on the golf course, on a boat, or riding my motorcycle on the North Fork. I also love to cook and entertain at home.
Anything to add?
I just want to say how grateful I feel to live in such a beautiful environment. I was very fortunate to have traveled to many places throughout the world, but the East End of Long Island to me is by far the most beautiful place on Earth.
To reach Zarka or inquire about his properties, call 917-751-0515 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.