Real estate styles of the rich and famous

They don’t make realtors like Sally Siano anymore. From humble beginnings in New Rochelle in the 1930s, Siano has made it to the top of her profession with vitality, vision and intuition, a lot of nous and a little bit of chutzpah. (OK, maybe more than a little bit of chutzpah.)

When the late Jane Dove profiled her for WAG in 2017, she wrote about Sally’s first job, in a dental office in New Rochelle, and her marriage to Joseph Siano, one of 11 siblings. It was a marriage that was to last 60 years. It was Joseph’s job in construction that led to the couple buying their first home in Yorktown Heights. The owner of the development, called The Crossroads, took a liking to Sally and offered her a break, selling units with a commission of $800 per house. “I sold out the entire 250-unit subdivision and that was the beginning of my real estate career,” Sally explained to Jane.

Hard work, an eye for detail and uncompromising integrity in a field where honesty is not always seen as the best policy have singled Sally out from the herd.

Now she has written a memoir about her storied career. Waggishly titled “It’s A Great Life!,” the book is a romp through Sally’s six decades in Westchester real estate, filled with personal reflection, celebrity anecdotes and sage advice — a how-to-buy-real-estate manual, if you will, posing as a professional autobiography. 

With a down-to-earth, crisp and refreshing voice, this is not so much a “Lives of the Rich and Famous,” as a forensic analysis of what makes the rich and famous tick. 

There’s Marla Maples doing a cartwheel on the lawn of a house she really likes, before (not yet President) Donald J. Trump nixes the whole business, when Sally drives him up on a subsequent viewing. “This is not for us. This is junk,” Trump says at the first house Sally shows him, before settling on the Seven Springs estate, adjacent to Byram Lake, with its 30,000-square-foot main house, which Sally sells him instead (although she is never able to collect her commission.) 

We have Ricky and Ralph Lauren buying a two-story garage for $10 million — Ralph “kicking and screaming” at the price but eventually seeing the sense of it — to house his collection of 150 vintage cars. And Billy Joel and Christie Brinkley crossing Long Island Sound by boat (Billy, Sally tells us, was boat-mad) to view houses by the water in Greenwich, although to no avail. (He eventually bought on Long Island and she retreated to the Hamptons.) There are fun and games, too, with the Oscar-winning Michael Douglases (she being Catherine Zeta-Jones) and a touching, romantic interlude between hoteliers Leona and Harry Helmsley — all in a day’s work for the industrious, well-connected Sally.

In telling her own story, she has also chronicled a fascinating age, from the 1960s to the’90s, in the history of Westchester. But the book is not just a recent history of real estate in the county. “How Green Was My Hudson Valley” is also a love story — a paean to Bedford. 

“There are families here that have been here for 10 or 12 or even 14 generations and have never moved. I often say they are like the Indians: They never leave the reservation. Oh, they come and go — and they go all around the world. They travel for pleasure and business, sometimes both at the same time. But they always come back to Bedford.”

Mount Kisco and Greenwich may have their stories too, but Bedford is clearly her true love. Here she is again:

“They came back to their little house or their big house, and they always found it just as they had left it. They were back in Bedford. They had come home. It’s a wonderful place to live. It’s a wonderful place to raise your children. It has a wonderful school district and wonderful churches. It has a grand hospital system and lots of doctors. It’s Bedford — a surprising little town that still surprises and delights, no matter how long you’ve been here.”

There are other towns on her radar, certainly, but the sense of Bedford’s superiority always comes through. She hopes former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, a “cute little thing” whom she could not help in Bedford, is happy in her old Colonial in Chappaqua. “Bedford,” she writes, “is no Scarsdale, no Larchmont. There are no show-off houses and no show-off people. In Bedford there are just people who want to live beautifully, quietly, elegantly.” Ouch. It is true Sally can be a bit salty at times, but who, after all, does not promote his patch?

One of Sally’s gifts as a memoirist is the ability to tell a good, even juicy, story without fundamentally breaching the privacy of her clients.  Discretion is  paramount, of course, in the real estate business, and Sally somehow manages to stay on the right side of it. Anecdotes are keenly related but real secrets are never shared.

And there are lessons here for all prospective house buyers. You need a broker who is, above all, honest. You also need attention to detail, thorough knowledge, a lack of pressure and an agent who “gets” you and what you’re about. You need to get the agent, too, of course — a two-way relationship, not unlike the one you might have with your therapist or indeed your hairdresser.

Lovely, charming, but real — these are words which Sally returns to time and again. She sells “houses for people to live in and raise their families, not sterile museum showplaces.”

Sally’s memoir shows her appreciation for charmed life in real estate and of the absurd. Astute, practical, never self-pitying — even when the going gets really tough — Sally is an object lesson in attention to detail and how to get the job done. 

“Sheer plod makes plow-down sillion shine,” wrote the Victorian poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins, in his poem “The Windhover.” He was talking about how basic human effort, the repetition of a mundane act, attention to detail and perseverance will lead to dazzling results. That, surely, is the kind of razzle-dazzle sparkle Sally Siano has found in her brilliant career.

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