Saunders agent closing deals with an eye for design

Jon Vaccari

Selling high-end homes in the multi-millions requires more than hopes and dreams — it requires a talented someone seeing that home in its most beautiful state possible. Beyond decluttering and staging, Louisiana native and Saunders & Associates agent Jon Vaccari has decades of experience as a commercial and residential developer and interior designer. Sprouting from finance, which morphed into a world of interior and fashion design, Vaccari’s work has honed his high-end aesthetic to where he can illustrate to an exclusive prospect how to make the absolute most of a vision. He sees the sale as selling a lifestyle, not just a house.

You have the most beautiful home. Tell us about it.

I had to evacuate from New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina, and went to Miami. Later on, Steve was doing his residency in New York and told me to check out Sag Harbor. I saw a picture of a house with a boat in the back yard and knew it was my dream to live near the water again. I got on the train and came out here and rented a house. I had a margarita at B. Smith’s on the pier and said, “I’m not leaving.”

Steve and I grew up in the South near the water, we fell in love with Sag Harbor because of that. So, we bought a house in the village, which was a farmhouse we renovated. But we still didn’t have the waterfront that we wanted.

Property values went down a little and there was this house with the most beautiful view we’d ever seen out here. It was too small, but we decided that if the house next door ever became available, we could make it a project. We bought it and waited. When it finally did a year-and-a-half later, we took an aggressive stance and ended up with an acre of waterfront land. We worked with architect Blaze Makoid, who we became very good friends with.

We live in our house in the winter, so we didn’t want to make it too contemporary. I’m a strong believer of bringing the outside in, with all the light we have access to, so that you get that even flow. We did that with the wood floors, wood panels, stone floors. It’s such a successful project because it’s modern, but comfortable at the same time. I had an interior design business for 25 years.

Did you study interior design?

I first majored in finance, but I ended up working in California marketing with accounts in interior design and fashion. When I switched my education to interior design, I was being published in magazines like Veranda and Southern Accents. My teacher had said I could teach their class.

How would you describe your style?

It has evolved. I started out at the University of Miami before living in California. It went from that Miami bling to the California bungalow style. I traveled to Paris a lot, fell in love with the 1940s, and slowly started mixing the looks as you do more and more projects. I always loved ‘70s coffee tables. I love mixing textures, fabrics, and wood.

You’re a developer as well?

The first Sag Harbor farmhouse was small, but we almost tripled the size. In New York City, we converted two warehouses in SoHo into a 5000-square-foot city apartment. We also put together a penthouse on Greene Street with a 40×20 terrace. That was a beautiful project. We developed houses in Miami and Palm Springs as well. Eventually, we started a family and wanted to bring up the kids in the country.

Real estate seems like a natural progression for you.

I was flying back and forth to New Orleans because my firm was able to stay open. As the city was coming back after the hurricane, we had lots of projects. I just got worn out after the kids were born and decided to stay put as they got closer to their teens. Real estate was always something I loved, and I know so much about it from the building, renovations, to the interior design. I got my license and interviewed with several firms, showing them everything I had to offer, including my background in finance.

I ended up joining Saunders because I loved their approach to marketing and the boutique-ness of the firm. Two weeks after joining, Terry Cohen asked me to work with her. That’s how I joined the Terry Cohen team. We are opposites, but we get along so beautifully. She has so much knowledge, it’s mindboggling. The nice thing between us is the trust and respect. We have each other’s backs.

Can you give us an example of how you bring your experience to clients?

I can walk into a space and someone may say that it isn’t for them. “You just have to move this, you paint this, you get rid of this.” It’s so easy, and they eventually see what I’m seeing.

You seem to know about up-and-coming neighborhoods. Tell us about them.

Bay Haven in Sag Harbor is an amazing area. Everyone has waterfront access, and can walk around safely. That and Redwood are my favorite neighborhoods in Sag Harbor. In the last six months, three waterfront properties came on the market. Two are already sold.

Why do you think you and your team are closing in this market?

New construction is really hot. They’re the ones closing. They don’t have the time or want to go in and fix something up. They want something done without the hassle. We also price right. If you don’t price it right, it sits, has a reputation of being on the market for a while. If you do price it right, you’ll be done in three months. The market is educated. They can compare and do their homework. You have to be competitive. After pricing right, you then have to clean it up or stage it. We don’t hold back on what we think will sell the house.

There was a seller that didn’t listen to us and went with another salesperson. While that’s fine, the house is still on the market.

Any advice for buyers in the current market?

There are some great houses out here right now. They’re in their mindset of “new, new, new.” Go in with a more open mind and you will see good houses in good locations. It’s hard to get buyers’ minds around it sometimes. For sellers, it’s the staging and presentation.

To reach Vaccari or inquire about his properties, call 504-914-1239 or email