Like many analysts, Ivy Zelman has experienced the power of the All-­America Research Team, but it hasn’t always been pretty. In 1997 the then Ivy Schneider was ranked No. 3 in the Building sector when her firm, ­Salomon Brothers, was being merged into Smith Barney as part of Travelers Group’s $9 billion acquisition of Citicorp, which owned ­Salomon. When it came time to pick which analyst would lead the coverage of homebuilders, management went with Smith Barney’s David Dwyer, who was ranked No. 2.

“I was out of a job and miserable, because I’m very loyal, and I would have stayed at ­Salomon probably forever if they would have kept me,” says ­Zelman, 45, who grew up on Long Island and had joined the firm in 1990 after graduating from George Mason University in Virginia with a BS in accounting.

It didn’t take long for Zelman to find a new home on Wall Street. In January 1998, Credit Suisse First Boston hired her at a premium to what she had been making at Salomon. “It’s like when baseball players get traded,” says Zelman, who moved up one notch in the ranking that year, narrowly losing to Dwyer (she also got married that year and changed her surname). “You really never know your market value until you go to your next firm.”

In 1999, Zelman leapfrogged Dwyer to capture her first No. 1 crown, as investors rewarded her for being early to downgrade several homebuilders. Zelman’s bearishness would become legendary over the next few years, culminating in her December 2006 downgrade of the entire sector.

“I am where I am today with my own firm because of calling the housing bust,” says Zelman, who left Credit Suisse in May 2007 and along with her husband, David, started Cleveland- and New York–based boutique Zelman & Associates. (Ivy is CEO and oversees research; David, a former ­Salomon salesman, is president and runs the business.)

Zelman, who this year wins her tenth No. 1 title (and 18th appearance overall), has had no problem competing as an independent. Her firm has grown to 25 people and has offices in Boston and New York. Her annual Housing Summit drew nearly 450 attendees in September, just one week after Zelman testified before the Senate on the state of the U.S. housing market. Her forecast was unusually upbeat. “The American dream of homeownership” is not dead, Zelman said. “Our great nation is still forming new households, and I expect population and household growth to support building activity at levels nearly triple the current pace.”    

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