Elliman’s real estate office of the future

Mar.March 02, 2009 10:42 AM
 Anthony Santangelo will run Elliman’s new office at 664 Fulton Street

Prudential Douglas Elliman is opening what it hopes will be the real estate office of the future.

The company has leased the former headquarters of Eva M. Daniels Realty office at 664 Fulton Street at the corner of South Elliott Place in Fort Greene, said Michael Guerra, an executive vice president at Elliman and the company’s director of sales for Brooklyn. Elliman’s Anthony Santangelo will serve as director of sales at the new location, which is slated to open late next month.

But this isn’t just any office. Elliman is still ironing out the details, but it’s likely that the small storefront space will become the prototype for a new, money-saving strategy the company has been considering for over a year: real estate office meets high-tech coffee shop.

The rhombus-shaped space, which fit only about eight desks when Daniels was there, is much smaller than Elliman’s other offices, Guerra said. So, instead of being divided into separate offices and cubicles, the space will primarily remain one large open room dotted with café-style tables and chairs, with only a conference room as a separate area. Elliman agents will likely not have desks assigned to them, but instead will book free space in the office for days when they may conduct business there, he said. Agents will have access to a high-speed Wi-Fi connection. Elliman is also looking into the logistics of serving food and beverages at the office, Guerra said.

“Both our agents and the public will be using the space in the way they use a coffee shop,” he said. “We want to create a warm, friendly atmosphere.”

The concept, while new to the New York City real estate world, is based on a model popularized on the West Coast by California-based Intero Real Estate Services. In 2007, Intero began opening minimalist, technology-rich offices with open layouts that were significantly smaller than their other offices. More akin to a high-end gallery than a real estate office, the offices are equipped with espresso bars and serve wine and beer.

Intero coined the term “Andare” — Italian for “to go or to work” — to describe the offices. Intero now has five company- and franchise-owned Andare offices, with roughly 140 agents working out of them.

The major advantage to these new offices is lower overhead costs, said Gino Blefari, president and CEO of Intero, since the spaces are smaller and require less of a build-out. Thanks to technological advances, agents now need far less brick and mortar to do their work, while innovations like keyless entry require less staff. “The agents are wireless, they’re paperless,” he said, calling Andare the “office of the future.”

“They saw the opportunity to look at an office where you don’t have to have these big 10,000- to 15,000-square-foot palaces that a lot of real estate agents have,” said Jose Perez, a consultant retained by Intero to help the company grow its franchise.

Besides, “the customers love it,” Blefari said. “It’s a different venue; it’s almost like a little coffee room or a resort type area.”

Office expenses — rent and staff — make up a large part of a real estate company’s bottom line. Looking to save money in the face of the economic downturn, New York City has seen a rash of real estate office closings, although Elliman has bucked the trend by taking back 15,000 square feet of space it had previously subleased to house a new rental operation at 205 East 42nd Street between Second and Third avenues.

Elliman’s Guerra said it’s a “tremendous statement” for Elliman to be opening the new Fort Greene office in a declining market. “It’s our way of saying, ‘we’re here and we’re not going away,'” he said.

Elliman hosted a speaker from Intero at a manager’s retreat in 2007, and has been discussing Andare-type concepts ever since, Guerra said. The Fort Greene location is perfect for the trial run because of its small size, location in a high foot-traffic area, and an “artistic” community which will likely be receptive to the unconventional concept, he added.

“We want to make a comfortable space for people in the neighborhood to come and do business with us,” he said. “The business model is changing, and we want to be out in front of it.”

Daniels, who leased the Fulton Street space from 1986 to January 15 of this year, said she moved because her lease was up and the landlord had raised the rent. She’s now operating from a space two blocks away, she said.

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