Mala Sander’s love affair with the Hamptons began in the early 1980s when she met her husband, Jeff Sander, whose family had been visiting the East End since the 1940s. “We started coming out here more and more on weekends and eventually we bought our own house,” she recalls.
Born in India and raised in the tri-state area, she was enjoying a successful career in marketing at IBM and spending a lot of time traveling. After the couple bought their home on North Haven, “I finally said, ‘I just can’t leave this place. I love it here.’” In 2000, they made the move to call the place they love home.
“I figured I would live happily ever after in my little house here on the bay,” she says with a laugh. “Then I started getting involved with things that let me use my marketing expertise, like Bay Street Theater, where I joined their marketing committee and created things with them,” such as a successful “Business for Bay Street” campaign.
Through her volunteer work, she met Peter Hallock, one of the founding partners of Allan M. Schneider Associates, one of the last large, locally owned real estate companies on the East End at the time, and he encouraged her to think about a career in real estate.
“I was like, ‘No, not me. Never, never never,’” she says. But he was persuasive and convinced her to get her license and the brokerage hired her in 2001. (Allan M. Schneider Associates was acquired by National Realty Trust, Inc., and absorbed into The Corcoran Group, a subsidiary of NRT, in 2006.)
The transition to a new career was natural. “I think really understanding how to promote and position product is everything when it comes to marketing and it translated well into real estate,” she says.
When she got her first listing, she created a listing sheet with photographs she had taken herself, which was not as commonplace then. “I would drop the listing sheets off to other offices, to other brokers to say, ‘Hey, I have this listing. You should sell it.’ At that moment, I had no way other than networking and on the phone to get to clients. There was no web — well, there was, but the web was just in its infancy in the real estate world out here.”
She seemed ahead of her time for the real estate market here. “I remember, I would walk into the office with my laptop and everybody thought I was insane. People would say, ‘Oh my God, here she comes with her briefcase and her skirt and her laptop and her pictures, like who needs this?’”
Her approach paid off. Her first sale, nine months in, was a little house on Noyac Road for $265,000.
What followed is what Corcoran calls a meteoric rise. With name recognition, she is known as the go-to agent in the Sag Harbor-North Haven area and now she leads a top team that has expanded geographically. Last year, they closed deals in every hamlet from Southampton to Amagansett.
Mala Sander+Team at The Corcoran Group was the firm’s #1 team on the East End in 2021, both in sales volume — over $225 million — and in the most transactions — the team closes 100 to 150 rental and sales transactions per year.
What’s the recipe for success? “I think it’s about finding innovative and creative ways to make things happen,” Sander says.
“I pride myself on being really accessible and easy to deal with for brokers as well as for clients because I feel like brokers are just as much my clients as clients are, as buyers and sellers are. My philosophy is to make it easy for them to make business,” she says. “And it works.”
Trust is key. “That’s my philosophy for my team. My team is by extension who I am and that’s the way I operate. It’s the way we operate.”
She hired her first assistant about 10 years ago and the team grew to five — and continues to grow. The team consists of Sander’s daughter, Tina Pignatelli, Kyle Koz, Chelsea Massa and Maxwell Labadie.
“I have a lot of business. Now I’m at the point I feel like I can make other people successful as well. I can be of service to my clients and make others successful,” Sander says.
Every team requires leadership and vision. “It’s been a return to my roots of being a manager of people and setting goals and saying this is how we’re going to achieve our goals,” she adds. “We’re happy to make a deal and we know how to get it done.”
Together, Sander+Team have the capacity to work with all levels of clientele, from first-time homebuyers to billionaires. They are proud to say they offer the same level of service to every client, regardless of their budget.
As a team, they always have someone available for showings and never have to prioritize one client over another. Clients are all out on the same beautiful spring weekend? “No problem. One of us can’t be in two places at once, but as a team we can!” says Pignatelli, who specializes in buyer representation. “It’s also great for our worklife balance to be able to share the workload and cover for each other when needed.”
The team also has a dedicated operations manager who handles the paperwork and scheduling.
“We can service our clients on every level and every need. I never have to say no to somebody that wants to show a property,” Sander says. “That happens all the time with other agents that can’t manage their time or
schedule or whatever they have going on. . . so then my buyer has to wait because this person can’t make it work. We don’t have that problem. We can get anybody into any listing almost any time, unless there’s a seller reason why we can’t get in.”
Each member of the team has a specialty. Whether it’s specializing in sales or rentals or operations and marketing, they each bring a special set of skills to the table that allow them to work efficiently. Sander says clients can feel the difference of working with a well-organized company versus just one person.
“It’s always great to see how each individual can play and contribute to the bigger goal,” Sander says.
As a team of five, they have a combined experience of over 50 years, and more than 75 years, total, of calling the South Fork home, making them not only experts in the market, but in Hamptons life, as well.
In fact, the team motto has become: “Representing and selling all the best of the Hamptons.”
Each team member is an expert in a different corner of life on the East End, from boating to the arts to the culinary scene. Sander is familiar with all aspects of waterfront living and is involved with cultural community organizations, from Bay Street, where she is now on the board, to the Sag Harbor Cinema. “It’s important to me to give back to the community.”
Ultimately, they see their position as not just a job selling homes, but selling the overall Hamptons lifestyle. Their website, newsletters and social media pages keep followers up-to-date on the best new restaurants, shops, events and more.
The team’s marketing presence stands out, even on crowded social media feeds. They don’t just send out e-blasts or take out print ads, they boast targeted advertising for each listing to maximize exposure. Indeed, they sold and rented homes directly from an Instagram post on @malasander. The team has a dedicated marketing person in Labadie.
A six-figure advertising budget allows a heavy focus on digital and social advertising. They are keenly aware that 80% of web traffic is from a phone or tablet and they optimize advertising specifically for mobile.
Earlier this year, the team launched a new website, malasander.com, as an access point for clients and prospective clients to explore listings. It also showcases, in one place, all the resources the team offers, from “Mala’s Hamptons Muse-letter,” blog posts, neighborhood guides, social media, etc.
They also feature listings from around the globe through membership in the International Luxury Alliance, an elite network of professionals that allows connections with agents in the top luxury markets across the United States and Europe.
“When we market a home, it’s not just to local or regional buyers,” says Labadie.
Thinking locally, the team also had some fun creating a new line of hats. The team always leaves a welcome kit for their rental clients at the start of the season and they were talking about what they could give people. “We just sort of brainstormed about it . . . and we thought, what would be a quintessential Hamptons thing to put on the front of the hat?”
They collaborated with Sag Harbor clothing store Sunswell to design a beach plum graphic. “When I first started coming out here to the Hamptons and I’d go for my runs or my walks, it was the scent of the
beach plum that got me,” Sander says.
The team hopes it will become for the Hamptons what the hibiscus flower is for Nantucket.
You don’t have to necessarily rent from Mala Sander+Team to get one. The best part, Labadie says, “If anyone wants one, all they have to do is ask!”
This article appeared in the Memorial Day 2022 issue of Behind The Hedges. Read the full digital version of the magazine here.