Chances are, if you walk into the American Hotel in Sag Harbor on any given weekday afternoon, you might find a man sitting at the corner table of the dining room. He will catch your eye, as much for his debonaire appearance as the gravitas his presence seems to hold. You will find yourself asking: Who is that?
Enzo Morabito may be alone, pecking away at his laptop or speaking in quiet tones on his cellphone. Or he may be joined by any number of local—and, possibly, less local—celebrities. On one recent late morning, he went to sit at his usual table, only to find it occupied by baseball great Keith Hernandez and American Hotel owner, Ted Conklin. But instead of being irked, he characteristically found the joy in the moment. “I hadn’t seen them in months,” he said, “so I was glad.” Still, Conklin and Hernandez vacated the real estate legend’s regular table.
When you see Morabito here, he will certainly be sipping on a glass of Peyrassol Provençal rose. And he will most definitely be dressed in a style that can only be described as Hamptons dapper: slightly faded but pressed jeans; a handsome summer-wool sports coat; a crisp, snappy tattersall or striped button-down under a bright, zip-neck sweater. Just the hint of a smile that, if you catch his eye, seems to say: I know you.
Morabito heads his eponymous real estate team with Douglas Elliman that he owns and runs with his wife, Cathy Albert Morabito. For years, they’ve remained one of the top property selling groups in the Hamptons. That’s not marketing blah-dee-blah. He is indeed responsible for billions of dollars in sales over his 30-plus year career, in large part for that cool demeanor he wears as comfortably as cashmere, and for seeing the value in land that no one else could foresee. You may or may not be a fan of this talent, but it is a talent, and one that has pervaded his life, be it in land or art or people.
“In Long Island and the Hamptons, we were the first in real estate to start a team. It was like a revelation for me,” he says of the group he and Cathy created more than 25 years ago. “It was like I could fly a plane, but suddenly I had everything else I needed, like landing gear and wheels.”
He likes to give credit where credit’s due, taking pleasure in the process of recognizing the talents around him and encouraging them to flourish. “I know what to look for. It’s like a football team—I know how to put it together.” In fact, experience doesn’t even sort of top of his list for potential candidates on his team. “A lot of brokers, they’re just nutsy. Everyone I brought in had no previous experience [in real estate],” he says. “The main thing is—are you ready for this?—always get people who will tell the truth, even if it’s painful. Then they’re not self-serving.”
Morabito was always kind of ethereal and art-focused kid, seeing beyond or through the people and the situations around him. Perhaps that sense of finding the bigger picture came from the experience of leaving behind one country and moving to another as a young child. He, his parents and his four siblings emigrated from the Tyrrhenian Sea-facing town of Gioa Tauro in Calabria, Italy, to another seaside town: Bellport, Long Island. “Our whole family lived on four of five blocks; they were all related to me. There were a hundred of us kids,” he recalls. “All Italian.”
Eventually, the family re-settled in Patchogue near the river, and it was here he made a group of lifelong friends with whom he stills meets twice weekly, on Tuesdays and Saturdays—among them, Dick Blakeslee who, among other things, owns the Oar in Patchogue and Paul Pontieri, the mayor of Bellport. They were a tightknit group, going to school and playing baseball together (Morabito was a shortstop) and boating out to Davis Park on summer weekends. “Our teachers were from the war generation. They were the first to be educated and they became educators, so they encouraged all of us to become teachers, too.”
And that’s just what Morabito did. After getting a bachelor’s degree in Marine Biology and Art at Stony Brook, he spent a decade as an art teacher in the Patchogue-Medford school district. He loved teaching kids to see, appreciate and create art, all the while doing his own painting on the side and lifeguarding at Grand Bend Beach in Fire Island during the summers to make a little extra money.
Right around the 10-year mark at the dawn of the 1980s, he and a friend got the opportunity to invest in a beachside disco that became a popular haunt to dance the night away. With the money he made, he decided to try his hand at investing in large tracts and land and subdividing them. When the realtors he was working with refused to walk the potential buyers into the woods (“They were afraid of ticks,” he says), he decided to sell the land himself.
He saw the beauty and potential in areas like Sagaponack, which back then didn’t hold the same cachet as tony East Hampton or Southampton, as well as in Orient on the North Fork. The latter came about when photographer Annie Liebowitz wanted to ditch her digs in Sagaponack, so Morabito took her up in a plane to see Orient, which he thought had a ton of potential.
“I sold her house to a Dutch friend of mine and she ended up buying something on the Hudson; I bought 150 acres on Dam Pond,” he says. “The guiding principle for me is the land. That’s the backbone; the skeleton that houses the body and gives it structure.”
By the 1990s, Douglas Elliman came knocking, and that’s when he and Cathy formed his namesake realty team and opened the office that still sits on Main Street in Westhampton, where they now live, too. “She’s the opposite of me. She doesn’t sell real estate, but financially runs the company. She’s meticulous and organized and creative,” he says. “We have dinner and come up with all these ideas, especially after a bottle of wine. We laugh a lot. We’ve been married 21 years. It’s a blessing.”
But successful as they’ve been, for Morabito it’s never been about the houses, even though he’s certainly sold plenty of them. And whenever he has gone on a visit with a client, it’s not the finishes or the cutting-edge technology or multitude of ensuite bathrooms that he first notices; it’s the art.
“When I first walk into a high-end house, it takes me two or three times to really see it because all I see at first is the artwork,” he laughs. “I’m an art lover, my god. I can walk into a home and tell right away if a Warhol or Picasso or deKooning is original if it’s in front of me. That’s my greatest kick.”
He and Cathy are plotting another real estate venture, too: to build Morabito his own art studio, where he can finally get back to painting. “I want to do large format work,” he says. “I’m going with large cans of paint.”
Thinking big, though, has never scared him.
“I’m a very passionate person. And I make mistakes, I just try not to repeat them. That’s what’s most important,” he says. “It’s nice to get up in the morning and know you do something really, really well. More important, that you do it the right way. And, yeah, maybe also somebody up there likes me.”