Embattled residential brokerage the Bellmarc Group – which hemorrhaged hundreds of agents amid legal and financial woes over the past two years – has shuttered four offices around Manhattan and will operate out of a single location in the Flatiron district, The Real Deal has learned.
Founder Neil Binder confirmed the news, saying the decision to close Bellmarc’s offices on the Upper West Side, Washington Heights, Downtown and East Side was made “in favor of focusing on one central location at 936 Broadway.” He said a new search engine he created would help eliminate the need for multiple office locations citywide.
As of last year, Bellmarc had five offices, down from seven in 2013, when the firm had 600 agents and signed a franchise agreement with Coldwell Banker. Today, there are 226 agents listed on Bellmarc’s website. Late last year, Coldwell Banker terminated the relationship with Bellmarc, saying the Manhattan firm owed it hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees.
Bellmarc’s troubles surfaced in 2014 when Binder, who founded the firm in 1979, was sued by business partners Anthony DeGrotta and Larry Friedman, who accused him of embezzling hundreds of thousands of dollars from the company. They subsequently settled, and as part of the agreement DeGrotta and Friedman gave up their stakes in Bellmarc. The two are now at Keller Williams NYC.
But amid the scandal and the ensuing financial trouble, hundreds of Bellmarc agents fled to other firms. In late 2014, the brokerage was evicted from its Lexington Avenue office.
In an interview with TRD last year, Binder acknowledged he was in a tough spot.
“I’m mending,” he said. “Today I’m not Hercules.” At the time, he signaled his intention to resurrect the firm with the help of a new partner.
Throughout, a number of Bellmarc agents have remained fiercely loyal to Binder and the firm. “People have worked a long time with Bellmarc and really have a close bond with the company and all that Neil has done,” one Upper East Side agent told TRD this week. “He’s always tried to accommodate the brokers in the office.”
In the email confirming the office closures, Binder said agents are being trained to use Homepik.com, a patented real estate search engine that he says he created. Homepik graded every apartment in Manhattan, based on factors such as location, building quality, and views, to help agents and clients find and evaluate properties, its website states.
“The use of this system does not require neighborhood locations,” Binder wrote, “since the system itself provides superior guidance to agents in showing properties throughout Manhattan.”