April 10, 2018 02:00 PM

Barbara Corcoran is known in her industry as the queen of New York real estate, and her castle, a four-bedroom, seven-bath penthouse on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, is appropriately lavish.

But the self-made millionaire, 69, will be the first to tell you she didn’t simply flex her regal powers to scoop up the stunning two-story apartment. Much like the ocean-dwelling apex predator she embodies on ABC’s hit reality series Shark Tank, Corcoran had to make a few daring maneuvers to land this prime property.

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“Years ago I was trying to get my old business, the Corcoran Group, through some hard times, so I took a second job as a messenger. I was delivering an envelope to the woman who lived here, and when she opened the door off the elevator, I saw that terrace,” she says, pointing to her enviable outdoor space with views across Central Park.”I said, ‘Excuse me, ma’am, but if you ever sell this place, will you call me first?'”

Melanie Acevedo

Corcoran says that the woman politely obliged and, she figured, promptly forgot her. “But what do you think happened 25 years later?” she asks with a gleeful grin. “I got rich. I sold my business. She knew who I was, and she called me first.”

After negotiating the price down by millions — “She was dreaming,” Corcoran says of the original number — she closed the deal. “I feel like it really was destined for me,” she notes. “And it was a good real estate year, thank God.”

Now, she says, she believes the real estate match “was all meant to be. I think that fate intervened several times, but the engine that drove the fate was my sheer desire and my inability to get rid of the dream in my head. I never forgot the apartment. I compared everything else I ever saw to it. I was smitten.”

Melanie Acevedo

The savvy investor spent two years renovating the place, flipping the upstairs and downstairs floor plans and transforming a historic greenhouse into her light-filled kitchen.

“The renovation process is exactly like going through labor. But just like having a child, after it’s born, you forget the pain,” Corcoran says of the overhaul, which she oversaw herself. “It was horrific. I thought I was capable of running a construction job. In hindsight, I really had no business because I also have this very big day job.”

She had also sold her previous place much more quickly than anticipated and the buyers wanted to move in right away, leaving Corcoran and her family — husband Bill Higgins, a retired Navy captain and FBI agent, age 73, and their children Tom, 23, and Kate, 12 — without a place to stay

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“Kate and I moved into the bedroom upstairs and we lived there for three months. I sent my husband over to my closest friend’s house and he lived over there,” she recalls with a laugh. “So we lived in the bedroom with a little hot plate. And they sealed us off and finished the job around us, which took another six months.”

The unusual arrangement proved to be a hidden joy for mother-daughter duo. “For Kate and I, it’s our best memory when we camped out upstairs.”

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Her family finally moved in a little over a year ago. Now, she says, there’s no place she’d rather be. “Even on rainy, dire, dismal days, this place is sunny,” she says. “It’s like living on top of the world.”

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