There is something to be said for the power that lies in the identity inherent in a sense of place, even if others don’t know where that place is, exactly. It’s a power that creates not only a sense of self, but of what that self can become. “Growing up, when we used to travel and people would say ‘where are you from?’ I would say the North Fork, and I’d see that blank look on their faces,” says Donielle Cardinale, Licensed Associate Real Estate Broker with Daniel Gale, Sotheby’s International Realty. “So I would have to throw my hand out there and do the two-fingers thing and say, ‘Okay, this is the South Fork, you’ve heard of the Hamptons—well, we’re on the other half.’”
Times have certainly changed in how that other half lives. Flash forward from those travels of yesteryear and Cardinale is still not only living the North Fork life but selling it—figuratively and literally—as one of its leading brokers, while the bucolic location resting on those slightly higher latitudes than the Hamptons has never been hotter with an ever-widening audience.
“Now, my sister and I go down to Miami for a weekend every month throughout the winter, and when we’re in South Beach there are people from all over the country, all over the world, and almost all of them, when I say I’m from the North Fork, say ‘Oh, yes!’” Cardinale says, “Sometimes we still get ‘Oh, you’re out by the Hamptons,’ but we’ll also get ‘Oh, you live in wine country, you’re out by all the vineyards.’ It’s really amazing to me, having been out here my whole life and seeing that slow progression of it being a place that really was the best-kept secret to knowing that the North Fork isn’t a secret any longer.”
It’s a secret her family has shared through eight decades. On a recent summer Sunday night out in Laurel, Cardinale and her clan returned from the annual croquet party for her 97-year-old grandfather and went back to continue the celebration at her cousin’s house on Peconic Bay Boulevard, “which was that original house that my family purchased back in the ’40s. It is still in the family, which is really neat.” To say her roots run deep in North Fork dirt is an understatement.
Her father’s family, originally from Brooklyn, spent their summers out here going back to the 1940s. In 1978, her parents moved here full-time after owning their own summer home for a decade. “Slowly but surely, my family moved out here,” she says with no small joy. The annual Christmas Day photo at her grandfather’s home captures 60 or so relatives, all locals. “Now all of my aunts and uncles and most of my cousins are based on the North Fork. Some work in the city, some in Connecticut, but this is home for all of us.”
Cardinale has made real estate a fourth-generation proposition in her family. Her great grandfather and grandfather, then her dad and her brothers, all got into the business, although “the most recent generations did commercial real estate—management, investment and redevelopment.” She and her now-ex-husband had a construction company, she established decorating and interior design businesses—no part of the business is an unknown to her. “I’ve done a lot of different aspects—we would buy homes, fix them up, I would stage them and then we’d sell them, so we’ve always done it on our own from our own personal investment and working with my family, but I had not done sales, and definitely not residential sales until about 10 years ago. So that was a big shift.”
That shift came about while she was going through her divorce and “trying to think of what could I do that I could utilize the skills that I had from so many businesses before to make a living here on the North Fork while raising my children,” she says. “I didn’t want to be working in the city or anywhere else where I wouldn’t be able to pick up my kids from school or drop them off in the morning.
“I really wanted to go back to school and do therapy or psychology of some type,” she continues, “but I found out that this business—or my own way of doing this business—is really more about all of that and not about sales. I look at it more as getting to understand my clients, whether it’s buyers or sellers, what they want and what they need—because oftentimes when they first come to me, they’re not even sure. And once I understand who they are, how they live, what they want, what will make them happy, the right property will sell itself to them. That’s where I fell in love with it.”
It’s a love story that has grown over time, during which Cardinale has come to see the differences—“none better, none worse, just differences” she says with a diplomatic air—between the markets that mark the two forks.
“The North Fork buyer and the South Fork buyer are a slightly different kind of person,” she notes. “Here on the North Fork, people tend to be a little bit more conservative by nature, they do not spend beyond their means, they spend beneath their means. So when we do have those fluctuations in the market like we did in ’08, on the North Fork we lag behind—we don’t feel the hurt quite as quickly, and we also recover a little more slowly. For me, ’08 and ’09 were great years, even 2010 was pretty darn good, then ’11 and ’12 was when I started to feel things changing a little bit,” Cardinale adds. “And now ’13 was on that upswing, ’14 was even better, and this year is going to be my best year ever.
“So it’s definitely on the incline,” she goes on, “and we’re starting to feel things pop on the upper price points again. I’m seeing properties sell at asking price and above, we’re seeing many properties with multiple offers—if it’s priced right, it will sell, it will probably sell fairly quickly, and it will probably have more than one buyer interested in it.”
That surge is fueling interest across the North Fork, it seems. There’s the “sweet spot,” as Cardinale calls the area from Laurel to Southold. Locations such as Jamesport and Aquebogue also garner praise, as she notes their combination of quintessential North Fork charm with a desirable proximity to both the South Fork and New York City. And then there’s the recent
“I get it, because I love Greenport. It’s so much fun—it’s the only walking village on the North Fork, where if you live in the city and you want to take the Jitney out or the train, you get dropped off, you don’t ever need a car, there’s always plenty to do or see there, and it’s just got its own character and
charm and energy.”
Cardinale’s enthusiasm when she speaks of every corner of the North Fork is infectious, peppered with the kind of effusive inflections and knowing laughs that can only come from a local who can’t hold back. “This sounds really cliché, but it feels like I live in paradise and I love everything about being here, and I think that’s why it feels so easy to do what I do, because I believe in it,” she says. “I come from a family of boaters, so this time of year we definitely spend a lot of time on the water. I love horses and have ridden since I was 11, and my daughter also rides. I’m a huge foodie, food is one of life’s great pleasures, and good food and good company is a great night for me, and there are definitely plenty of wonderful restaurants to enjoy out here. Anywhere I can be out enjoying my family and my friends, that’s where I am.”