Confessions of a New York Luxury Realtor, Pilot, and Aerial Photographer


Mike Franklin is a history buff. He can tell you about elegant old castles in Upstate New York, about where J.P. Morgan and the Vanderbilts played among nature’s splendor. And he’s well-equipped to sell anyone on gorgeous properties off the beaten path.

In high-end real estate, most of the major money is hidden. You can’t see it from the road. But you can see it all from the air.

Some may be a six-hour car ride from New York City, but Franklin can arrange to fly you there in about an hour and a half. From your perch in the sky, you’ll get a crystal-clear view of a secluded boathouse, for instance, or the way a parcel of tree-covered land juts out into the lake like your own private peninsula.

“If you have a small plane, you can get to the Adirondacks in as little as forty minutes from Teterboro Airport.”


“I just don’t think people in the tri-state area understand that the Thousand Islands are up here – more than 1,800 islands. They don’t have a clue. It’s a perfect place for a float plane,” he says.

Working for Select Sotheby’s International Realty, Franklin and his partner, Mike DeRosa, cover a region of about 20,000 square miles – from the Western Catskills to the Finger Lakes, and including the Adirondacks and Thousand Islands, a wealth of islands that straddle the US-Canada border in the St. Lawrence River. Most of Franklin’s properties are on the waterfront; many are historical.


At the turn of the last century, the Thousand Islands and Adirondacks were a big destination.

“At the turn of the last century, the Thousand Islands and Adirondacks were a big destination,” he says.“From the 1870s to 1910, they were a playground for the rich and famous.” The railroad shuttled scions to paradise, among them J.P. Morgan, the Vanderbilts, George Boldt, the proprietor of the Waldorf Astoria, and Frederick Bourne, the president and heir to the Singer sewing machine fortune.

“In the Gilded Age, these tycoons would get on a train in New York, have some cocktails, wake up in the morning and take their steam yachts to their vacation homes,” he adds.

Things changed when the car came along. “Before that, the people went where the railroad went. But with the automobile, they had more choices,” Franklin says. Hence, the Upstate diamond lost some of its glitter, but the beauty remains and so do their Gilded Age mansions.


“Magnificent real estate is very reasonably priced up here. The main hurdle is transportation time,” says Franklin, who grew up in central New York, south of Rochester. “So taking people by small aircraft is the answer. Last year, I sold a great island property to a buyer from Philadelphia who can fly up with his entire family in forty minutes in a King Air.”

“In high-end real estate, most of the major money is hidden. You can’t see it from the road. But you can see it all from the air,” adds Franklin, who has taken thousands of aerial photos for five years.

“I arrange to have a commercial pilot pick people up anywhere in the Northeast and get them up and back from the closest local airport to wherever they live in a very short period of time,” says Franklin. “It’s affordable and just a fun way to see how beautiful the region is. My friend Ian Coristine, a noted Canadian Thousand Islands aerial photographer, calls it ‘the privileged view.’” The charge for being swept up and away is about $150 per hour and the plane can accommodate three passengers.


Included in his exclusive stable are: Paduka Run, a 65-acre equestrian property in the rolling green Genesee Valley below Rochester; an expansive residence on a private lane in Geneva, in the Finger Lakes region, with main house, beach house, guest house, dock, boat, kayaks, Jet Skis, and 270 feet of pristine Seneca Lake waterfront property. (You can even opt to keep on the handyman who knows the grounds.) And then there’s Sherman Castle in New Hartford – built by an heir to the Domino Sugar fortune – with historic stone walls and bucolic land parcel.


Franklin has mostly flown Cessnas, the small, pistonpowered planes. But he’s in the early stages of trying to build an amphibious airplane, or float plane, with some friends.

“I plan to document the production on a web page to inspire people,” says the avid photographer. “I think amphibious planes will be the ultimate rich person’s toy.”

Last year, Franklin flew the east coast of Lake Ontario into the St. Lawrence Seaway, following it up to the Eisenhower locks at Massena where the Seaway cuts through Canada.

You can’t clip his wings when it comes to Upstate opportunities.


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