Robin Kaplan was expecting them to arrive in an outdated plane. She was expecting a genteel, mature couple. And she was expecting babushkas.
So when the Hamptons real estate agent first met her Russian renters face to face—after months of preparation and organizing their temporary visas—she was stunned.
They were young jet-setters. They were young and rich. And they were simply gorgeous.
“The gentleman I’d been emailing with was like a young Clark Gable,” Ms. Kaplan, who works for Douglas Elliman in the real estate agency’s East Hampton office, said with a girlish laugh during a recent telephone interview. “So handsome, so attractive. His wife, as well. Very understated, not a lot of jewelry. Just chic.”
That was three years ago. Every summer since, the Russian couple have arrived with new friends in tow, Ms. Kaplan said. The Hamptons seasonal renters are eager to show them the beaches, the boats, the celebrities and the nightlife—the reasons they are convinced that the East End is Russia’s new playground, according to Town & Country agent Anton Nesterov.
“It’s going to be a few years before it really kicks off,” Mr. Nesterov, who moved here from the Ukraine permanently in 2006, said during a recent interview at his Southampton office. “Back in the years, it was Maldives. It was so fancy. Then they started to join the United States, like California and Miami. And, now, they call this new place in the sun: Hamptons.”
Because the Russian movement is just getting off the ground, most of the foreign renters—and eventual buyers—are coming to the East End by way of Manhattan, Mr. Nesterov explained, adding that he is aiming to change that. Last April, he met Gilya Marcus Simonyan—general manager at Victoria Properties, a real estate agency in Moscow—at an exhibition in Russia, and they agreed to team up.
To date, Victoria Properties is the first company to offer Hamptons properties for sale and for rent in Russia. And it is almost an exclusive, Ms. Marcus Simonyan explained recently in an email exchange.
“The Hamptons is becoming a new spot for Russians and I’m sure in the nearest future, more Russians are going to ‘migrate’ from Miami Beach, which used to be the Russian place in the U.S.,” she said. “Despite being expensive and posh, it also feels like home. It’s [cozy] and sweet, like a small Russian village, with lots of beautiful homes and cute streets. It’s a place to be.”
But, still, most Russians don’t know about the Hamptons, she said.
As for a “Russian invasion” here in the Hamptons, a number of agencies on the East End are not seeing an increase in Russian renters or buyers.
“I think that it’s complete nonsense,” Andrew Saunders, the owner of Saunders & Associates, said during a recent telephone interview. “There are some Russians here, there are some Chinese people here, there are some Brazilian people here, but it doesn’t mean that it’s a defined trend. It seems like an awfully ambitious statement. We may be on the threshold of people coming from Russia, Brazil, China, but I have no idea—based on the statistics—that that is poised to occur. And any other judgment about it is based on prognostication, which we don’t like to do. For us, it’s all about the data and the data does not suggest that that is going on.”
Even though Ms. Kaplan has recently seen a rise in Russian business, she also shied away from defining the movement as an “influx,” as did Ernest Cervi, the executive managing director of The Corcoran Group office in Bridgehampton.
However, he did report during a telephone interview last month that roughly 30 percent of the agency’s website hits are international—a significant increase over the last five years.
“Certainly, to become a world-class resort,” he said, “you have to have people coming in from other parts of the world.”
It started with the working class, according to Mr. Nesterov, such as himself. He first visited the East End in 2004, much to his dismay.
“I said, ‘No, I’m not going,’” he recalled. “So my mom made me go. When I was going to the Embassy, I didn’t even speak English, nothing. And I was hoping I would get no visa. And they gave me visa. So, that’s it. Then, I came here and I like it.”
He is not the only one.
After a major wave of immigrants arrived on the East End about a decade ago, came the Russian starlets, models, financiers and celebrities: notably politico Mikhail Prokhorov, who owns the Brooklyn Nets and is rumored to own a home in Sagaponack; composer Igor Krutoy, who dropped nearly $23.9 million on a Gin Lane teardown in Southampton; and, right around the corner, retail billionaire Igor Sosin, who reportedly paid $860,000 for a two-month, 12-bedroom rental on Ox Pasture Road.
They set the trend, Mr. Nesterov said. And, after them, other wealthy Russians flocked.
“The Russians, you can’t even ask what they do. Because they never gonna tell you,” he said. “That’s true. It is. People just got so much money, but they never gonna tell you what they do. Only what they like to do, just the same like everybody else.“
They go out on their yachts, Mr. Nesterov said. They visit the wineries. They lay out in the sun. And they throw elaborate parties at their estates—when they’re not out on the town. Last summer, when mega-mogul Russian money really appeared to have made an impact on the East End, 75 Main’s Turkish owner Zach Erdem began throwing European-themed parties at his Southampton restaurant.
To date, the most popular nationality there is always Russians, he said.
“It’s a very classy party with people that know how to have fun,” Mr. Erdem said last month during a telephone interview. “It’s a very good-looking crowd. Trust me. Russian ladies are something that you definitely want to see. Russians are smart and beautiful people. Not even one person gets drunk and misbehaves. They do drink their vodka, but they carry themselves very well.”
It is only a matter of time before the upper middle class follow suit, Mr. Nesterov said. Then, the East End could see a similar shift as previous and current Russian locales, such as Miami Beach, with Russian restaurants, Russian newspapers and Russian boutiques. In Southampton, Waldbaum’s has caught on; the supermarket’s shelves are already stocked with more Russian food items.
“It will be soon. It doesn’t take long,” Mr. Nesterov said. “First it’s always renters, to see how it is, if it’s safe. They like that nobody knows them, that there are no Russians here. But then, more and more Russian coming. So they are full of Russians.”
He laughed, and continued, “I, personally, doesn’t like that. If I’m leaving from my country, do I really want to live with Russians? No. It’s nice to have a few people around, but if it’s gonna be more and more and more? I have to go. As soon as they come, I’m gone. Santa Barbara, Costa Rica, woohoo! Actually, not there. There are so many Russians in Costa Rica.”
It is only natural for Russians to move around in clans, Ms. Marcus Simonyan explained. She has seen it in countless other communities over the years, she said, such as Saint-Tropez on the French Riviera and Courchevel in the French Alps.
“One buys a house and his whole family—including cousins, uncles, etc.—friends, friends of friends, co-workers, join him,” she said. “They always form a kind of community. They pick a spot and go there every year.”
Last summer, Ms. Kaplan’s original Russian family returned to the East End to rent a sleek, modern, four-bedroom, four-bathroom home in Wainscott for $150,000 per month—a significant increase from their first East Hampton rental that cost them $50,000 for August.
“Each subsequent deal has become higher and the houses have become larger,” Ms. Kaplan reported. “They’re strivers. First, it was one family. By the third summer, there were three.”
Ms. Kaplan said that she anticipates they’ll be back for a fourth summer. And, currently, one of the newer families is looking for land to purchase for themselves—no place other than south of the highway.