In a part of Long Island where it sometimes appears there are more real estate agents than inventory, three young North Fork natives are forging their own paths in the local market — and finding a way to stand apart from the crowd.
IKE ISRAEL, 32
Associate broker, Richmond Realty, Riverhead
Perhaps it was inevitable that Ike Israel would end up in real estate. After all, the Greenport native’s father, Richard, founded Richmond Realty in 1987 and Israel’s younger brothers, Marcel and Herbert, are both agents there. But for Israel, who joined the Riverhead practice in 2004 and specializes in commercial real estate, doing his part to carry the family torch is anything but an obligation.
“I like working with different people,” he said. “It’s the thrill of the game, kind of, when you’re house-hunting with somebody.”
Israel, an Aquebogue resident who graduated from Greenport High School in 2000 and earned a bachelor’s degree in construction management from Georgia Tech, grew up watching his father help shape the North Fork’s current residential landscape.
“As kids, [my brothers and I] were always building houses with him,” he said. “It always kind of fascinated me.”
From a young age, Israel said, he knew he eventually wanted to work in construction or development. But as he matured, his interest shifted to real estate, particularly the field’s commercial sector.
In the 11 years since he joined Richmond Realty, Israel has been at the helm of numerous multi-million-dollar deals, the majority of them in Riverhead. He sold a medical complex on Harrison Avenue for $5.8 million in 2008 and is currently in contract for the sale of a $5 million West Main Street office building. Israel also handled the redevelopment and leasing for Blue Duck Bakery and Ralph’s Italian Ices, both of which made their debut downtown in 2013.
“When I first started in 2004, most of downtown Riverhead was vacant,” he recalled, adding that the area’s ongoing revitalization has been “pretty interesting to watch.”
Israel’s own state-of-the-art Route 58 medical complex, Northville Commerce Park, opened last year. Today, he said, more than 65 percent of the 28,000-square-foot park is rented.
Now in the process of developing a new 38,000-square-foot retail complex, also on Route 58, Israel realizes some residents are concerned about what they feel is the over-commercialization of Riverhead’s main thoroughfare. And he empathizes with them — to a point.
“People don’t want us to cut down all the trees — that we understand,” he said. “However, everyone complains in Riverhead that the taxes are too high. How is that going to change if we don’t have more commercial development?”
Ultimately, he said, people should have “everything they wish for” — and that means having options.
“When the Home Depot was built in Riverhead, people were like ‘Wow! But is that good for the lumber yards?’ ” he said. “No — it was competition. But competition is healthy.”
JOE DIVELLO, 28
Real estate agent, Century 21 Albertson Realty, Southold
These days you’ll find him outfitted in a suit jacket and dress shirt, but Joe DiVello is a country boy through and through.
“My entire life I’ve been fishing and clamming and hunting,” said the Mattituck native, who joined Southold’s Century 21 Albertson Realty in September 2014. “I feel like I’ve pretty much mastered this place.”
DiVello, who graduated from Mattituck High School in 2006 and earned a bachelor’s degree in economics from the University of Colorado, grew up picking fruit, mowing grass and pulling weeds at his mother’s Mattituck farm stand, Patty’s Berries and Bunches. He even spent time working on a lobster boat when he was still in middle school.
“I’ve been selling my entire life,” said DiVello, who now lives in Cutchogue. “I’ve always been good at bringing different personalities together.”
DiVello had intended to go into the hedge fund industry after college, but in 2010, at the height of the recession, it was “really hard to get a job in finance,” he said. Instead, he took an internship in New York City screening portfolio managers, making the grueling four-hour round trip to Manhattan five days a week.
After completing his internship, DiVello concluded the North Fork was where he belonged.
“I didn’t want to be in the city anymore,” he said. “I could have lived anywhere in the world, but this is where I wanted to be.”
Today, DiVello is helping buyers find their dream houses in the place he has always called home — despite the market’s current low inventory.
“When the market is brisk and inventory levels are low, I just have to remind myself that so long as I keep my finger on the pulse of market activity, my clients will be the first ones through the door when the perfect home becomes available,” he said.
This sense of determination means the term “busy” barely suffices when it comes to describing DiVello’s life. “I’m always ‘on,’ ” he lamented — and he’s continuously chasing his next sale.
“I’m proud of all my transactions, but the transaction I’m most proud of is my next one,” he said.
MICHELE DELLA CROCE, 27
Licensed real estate salesperson, Douglas Elliman Real Estate, Mattituck
Working a 9-to-5 job never, well, worked for Michele Della Croce.
“It was so routine that it just didn’t keep my attention,” the lifelong Cutchogue resident said.
Fortunately for Della Croce, who joined Douglas Elliman in 2013, being part of the local real estate scene means never having an ordinary day.
“It’s always challenging, always changing and always different,” she said.
A member of Mattituck High School’s Class of 2006, Della Croce, née Dibble, graduated from the University of Tampa in 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in advertising and public relations.
“I graduated with 95 kids,” she said of her decision to attend college more than a thousand miles from home. “I wanted to get out and do something different.”
It wasn’t long, however, before Della Croce found herself yearning for the North Fork — especially once she met her husband, John, whom she married in June 2014.
After a stint doing advertising and purchasing for a commercial construction company, Della Croce decided corporate culture wasn’t for her — and she didn’t want to waste any time embarking on a new career path. So she became a licensed real estate agent after taking an online course and quickly got to work at Douglas Elliman.
With two years under her belt, Della Croce, who specializes in residential real estate, said she’s most proud of the first sale she ever made.
“It was a ‘for sale by owner’ and those are kind of difficult to get, because usually [the seller] is turned off to real estate agents because they’ve had a bad experience,” she said. “It feels very rewarding when you get one.”
The North Fork market is changing — demand is high and inventory is low — but Della Croce isn’t worried that her hometown will become an exclusive, price-prohibitive locale à la the South Fork.
“I don’t think it will ever be like the Hamptons,” she said, pointing out that the North Fork geographically can’t accommodate much more development. “I think it will always have a more relaxed feel and attract people who are looking for an escape.”
No matter the local market’s future, Della Croce feels confident she made the right decision in taking that online real estate course two years ago.
“Just as I’m feeling discouraged, I pick up my phone and it’s someone that becomes my next client,” she said. “You never know where your business is going to come from.
“It could be the smallest little house or it could be the biggest mansion,” she continued. “So it’s kind of thrilling. It’s a roller coaster, for sure.”
This story originally appeared in the 2015 edition of northforker Real Estate