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From Realty To Reality

Photography by Heidi Green

With countless reality television shows available to watch
at any given moment, most of us have witnessed how mixing family and TV cameras
can make for fabulous entertainment. We’ve seen it all: train wrecks in the
form of cheating spouses, friendships going from bad to worse and snarky
comments slung across the screen. However, one hit show is taking a completely
different approach. The mother-daughters team at the top real estate firm
Gumley Haft Kleier and current stars of HGTV’s Selling New York shows us that a
family business can make for great television without the drama—real or
scripted.

On Selling New York, Michele Kleier and her daughters
Samantha Kleier-Forbes and Sabrina Kleier-Morgenstern give viewers an insider’s
look into Manhattan’s highly competitive high-end real estate market. With
clients like celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse and Prince Lorenzo Borghese, these
ladies sell some of the hottest properties in New York
City. And trust us, people are buying.

On a recent afternoon, the trio could
be found at their favorite Manhattan
spot: a Park Avenue apartment. But this property is not
for sale. It’s the home of Michele and her husband, Ian—who oversees the daily
operations of the firm—and also where the girls were raised. With three cell
phones ringing non-stop and lots of cross-conversation flying through the air,
the Kleiers opened up about business, the family and how it all began.

Over forty years ago, Michele was in her hometown of Pittsburgh,
Pennsylvania, working as a computer
programmer for IBM. When the company offered
to move her to Manhattan and pay
all of her expenses, she jumped at the opportunity. But the job didn’t last
long. Soon, Michele decided to pursue a graduate degree in social work from Columbia.
Although she was successful as a social worker, that part of her professional
life ended abruptly. “I was trying to help a client who was unfortunately a
drug addict and he threatened me with a gun,” she recalls.

Pregnant with Samantha, Michele was too nervous to go back
to work and instead took two years off. By what she calls a happy accident, she
ended up in real estate. “I was meeting [people] in the park and everyone was
looking for apartments,” she remembers. “I just started working with people
that I knew and it just went from there. I was obviously born to be a real
estate broker.”

At the time, the market was not nearly as fast-paced as it
is today. “I used to take Samantha in a stroller and Sabrina in a snuggly on my
appointments. And things were much more casual then. People thought it was the
cutest thing,” says Michele. With this comment, the sisters laugh and reflect
back on learning “coop” and “condo” along with their ABCs.

But while the real estate business was engrained in their
daily life, Ian and Michele encouraged their three children to work outside of
the family trade. (The Kleier’s son, Jonathan, died in 2009 from a heart
condition.) Sabrina first worked in television and Samantha in public relations,
but both of them eventually decided to join the family firm and have not looked
back.

Fast forward to 2012: Samantha and her husband, J.P. Forbes,
are raising two children, 6-year-old Chase and 10-month-old Caroline. Sabrina
and her husband, Rob Morgenstern, are raising 3-year-old Cooper. Today, the women
recall watching their own mother early on in her career. “She was able to work
and have no help and three children,” recalls Samantha. “Now, we couldn’t do
this without help for our children. It’s different; it’s much faster paced.”

When asked about the biggest challenge of raising her own
kids, Sabrina notes that it’s “balancing so many different things and trying to
have [children] think they are, of course, our priority.”

“You kind of want to be ten people at once,” Samantha adds.

Living by the motto “it takes a village,” Sabrina keeps her
priorities in order while working at a hectic pace. “I won’t spend the day
working and then spend the night going out and have [my son] be with a
babysitter all day.” Having family in the city only a few blocks away allows
the sisters to help each other out with childcare.

One might think that working as a family, and spending
weekends and holidays together would leave the Kleiers yearning for some time
and space apart. But the sisters are adamant about living within a three-block
radius of each other and their parents. “We’d both rather be in smaller spaces
than give that up and go somewhere else,” Samantha says.

“The dream is all to be in the same building at some point,”
Michele adds—a poignant goal for real estate experts who seem to have their
pick of the market.

Keeping her children close to her was a well thought-out
scheme for Michele. Even before she had kids, she knew they would not leave her
side because according to her, “New York City
is the best city in the world. Where else would they want to go?”

“She also told us to marry orphans. Or at least marry people
from out of town,” Samantha says. The three of them simultaneously burst out
laughing. And their mother quickly confesses that she does not like to share
her family. "IMG_0045.JPG"

“They are the most interesting people I have ever met,” she
gushes. “I think we all feel that way about each other. We never get tired of
being together.”

When Michele isn’t busy showing some of Manhattan’s
most coveted properties to potential buyers, like Lagasse’s $13.5 million
townhouse, she loves spending time with her grandchildren. Just don’t call her
Grandma! Early on, Chase started calling Michele “Mom” after hearing Samantha
and Sabrina refer to her. Even more adorable, Chase likes to be on television,
but he doesn’t like to shoot for the show.

“He’s very elusive about it,” says Samantha.

Recalling a moment from a family vacation in Florida,
Sabrina explains how her nephew dealt with some curious fans. “Chase said, ‘Yep,
it’s us. It’s the Kleiers. We’re Selling New York.’”

It seems as though there are no clear divisions when it
comes to separating the professional, personal and family lives for the
Kleiers—even when it comes to their beloved dogs, which also travel with the
group. When the HGTV camera crew asked to tape them in their Florida
home while scrambling eggs for the dogs’ breakfast, they initially resisted.
The women thought it was too personal to show them in such a casual setting,
cooking in the kitchen, rather than selling a multimillion-dollar property in Manhattan.
But they finally gave in.

“It was the kick-off episode and really set the precedent of
us as a family,” Samantha says.

What began as a tight-knit local fam has turned into an even
closer clan to be watched from living room couches across the country.

“There is no personal life,” Michele says with a laugh. “Everything
is connected and I think in a good way. Except that we don’t have time to
breathe!”

D.J. Duckworth, a journalist, is a southern girl
at heart. She and her family recently moved to New York
City from Arkansas.
She blogs regularly at jonesboro.com and at djduckworthyoga.com.

WATCH SELLING NEW YORK
ON HGTV, THURSDAY NIGHTS AT 9:30PM EST.


Tips From The Kleiers For Navigating The NYC Real
Estate Market

Work with a broker you trust (and like). You’ll be spending
more time with them than you could ever imagine.

Be willing to go out of your comfort zone. If you want to
live in a 10-block radius, be willing to look within 12
blocks.

See all of the properties in person. Never trust everything
you see on the web or on paper.

Be open to the process. Make a wish list, but be realistic
and willing to compromise.