A major shift is in the works for one of Manhattan’s largest residential brokerages. The Bellmarc Group will become a franchise of Coldwell Banker, the international firm that is part of the publicly traded Realogy real estate conglomerate, company officials told The Real Deal.
The franchise, known as Coldwell Banker The Bellmarc Group, will act as a holding company for two divisions, Coldwell Banker Bellmarc and Coldwell Banker AC Lawrence, though the day-to-day operations of the firm will remain unchanged, executives said.
The 600 agents of the 34-year-old firm, which acquired the rental-focused AC Lawrence Real Estate in November, will continue to operate out of its seven existing Manhattan offices. The firm will use a new company logo and branding materials beginning today.
From Bellmarc’s perspective, the partnership represents a chance to court higher-end and international business — both increasingly lucrative segments of the industry, as the demand for luxury New York City homes has taken off — which neither Bellmarc nor AC Lawrence has heavily targeted in the past.
“We want to increase our penetration in the market and serve the higher-end segment more effectively than we are by having the power of Coldwell Banker behind us and their referral network that we are hopefully going to exploit to its extreme,” said Neil Binder, the president of Bellmarc Group, who will become president of Coldwell Banker The Bellmarc Group. Larry Friedman and Anthony DeGrotta, the co-founders of AC Lawrence, will become president of Coldwell Banker Bellmarc and president of Coldwell Banker AC Lawrence, respectively.
Coldwell Banker has 82,000 agents located in 50 countries around the world, and falls under the corporate umbrella of Realogy, along with the Corcoran Group, Citi Habitats and Sotheby’s International Realty.
“To take our brand and company to the next level we had to partner up with somebody who had global reach,” Friedman said. “Although we had a strong Manhattan presence we’re not very strong internationally.”
Meanwhile, Coldwell Banker — like several other national franchises seeking to gain a foothold in Manhattan — has floundered in New York City. In 2009, its 214-agent franchise Coldwell Banker Hunt Kennedy shuttered with $12 million in debt, as The Real Deal reported.
Following the closure, the company took a “step back” from New York, said Budge Huskey, the president and CEO of Coldwell Banker. It was not until about 18 months ago that the firm began contemplating another go at Manhattan, attempting to “identify who would be the perfect business partner,” he said.
“It’s painfully obvious that there was a lack of presence in the New York City market,” he added. “It’s extremely important to us as an international brand to reestablish a very strong footprint within the New York City market because it’s such an important city to us and our international partners.”
Huskey identified the Bellmarc Group as an ideal partner because of its quality and number of agents, as well as its prominence in both the rental and sales markets.
Only a few months old, the Bellmarc Group is the product of a tie-up between Bellmarc Realty and AC Lawrence, and now ranks as the fifth largest residential brokerage in Manhattan, according to The Real Deal‘s May ranking. Binder had been looking to partner with another firm for some time, specifically after co-founder Marc Broxmeyer wanted to sell his stake in the firm due to a serious illness.
Talks with Coldwell Banker began last July, Friedman said.
“We were approached by Coldwell Banker, who always had an interest in talking to me, and this time we really felt it would be tremendously synergistic to have the two companies work together as a team to create the finest company in New York City — that’s the goal,” Binder said. “We don’t want to be a company that just has Coldwell Banker. We want to be the finest company in New York City that has the name Coldwell Banker.”
The company is actively looking to hire an unspecified number of new agents.
“[We’re] aggressively looking for great people,” Friedman said. “This arrangement will tremendously help us to attract and retain great agents.”