Historic brokerage turns off lights in Montauk

Mar.March 30, 2009 10:50 AM

The Tuma Real Estate Agency, a real estate brokerage that was a major force in transforming Long Island’s Montauk from a slow-paced fishing village into a premier second-home getaway, has closed after 56 years in business.

Though the housing downturn was partly a factor, the closure on the East End this past fall had more to do with the industry’s cutthroat nature, said Frank Tuma Sr., who founded the brokerage in 1952, though it had been run by daughter Lexa DeSpirito since 2001.

“Business was slow, but my daughter never really liked it because it was so dog-eat-dog,” said Tuma, 84. “I told her it would be sad to close, but I also didn’t like the aggravation and backstabbing she had to put up with it.” DeSpirito did not return calls for comment.

Montauk, on New York’s easternmost end, was probably a far more collegial place in the 1950s, when developers were just starting to put up cottages for New York City residents. Indeed, there were about three agencies then, brokers say, versus 10 today.

There was also a lot more land to go around, though it soon gave rise to Tuma-marketed subdivisions like Ditch Plains, with bungalows, and in the 1990s, Culloden Point, on Montauk’s northern edge, with multimillion-dollar mansions.

Tuma, which was based at 770 Main Street in Montauk, sold homes and land as well as handled summer rentals in Montauk and the surrounding areas.

Montauk’s tight-knit brokerage community is bittersweet about Tuma’s closing.

“It changes the patina of the town because Frank has been around for so long,” said Bob Cronley, an agent with Pospisil Real Estate, which along with Tuma Agency, was one of Montauk’s earliest firms.

Agreed, said Kathleen Beckmann, a 26-year veteran with her own real estate business, who formerly worked for Tuma.

“Less competition is always good,” she said, “but I would rather they stayed.”

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