The Real Deal New York

City Connections’ virtual offices go more traditional

By Jill Noonan | January 13, 2012 04:00PM

City Connections Realty is changing the look of two of its new Manhattan offices because they were being “underutilized,” according to residential and commercial firm founder David Schlamm.

The “concept” offices — which The Real Deal originally reported would open last April, but which opened in September — were set up more like casual meeting spaces with couches, rather than desks and were only available to the firm’s 60 virtual agents. One of them is a 600-square-foot space at 510 Amsterdam Avenue, between 84th and 85th streets; the other a 550-square-foot space at 311 East 76th Street, between First and Second avenues.

But Schlamm said one of the drawbacks to the more innovative design “was that with all of the frosting and digital screens [in the windows], people walking by could not look in.” As a result, City Connections was not getting the branding it was hoping for.

The offices ” almost seemed like a mysterious club,” he said. “They may have been too forward thinking.” The company headquarters is a 6,400-square-foot space on the 10th floor at 71 West 23rd Street.

Now, the company is giving the offices, which are both staffed seven days a week, a slightly more traditional feel, though they will still be more casual than standard brokerage offices. Over the next few weeks, the firm will install more traditional awnings. And, it just installed several permanent desks at each site.

The Upper West Side location just had four permanent desks installed, while the Upper East Side had three. Schlamm said the plan is to hire “high-producing” brokers, or a team of brokers, from outside the company to occupy those desks. He does not yet have anyone lined up, but said he will start talking to potential hires soon.

“The spaces were being under utilized and we have the extra room,” he said.

Schlamm said “there weren’t as many virtual agents using them as I thought there would be.” The firm currently has about 60 permanent agents and 60 virtual agents, though not all of the virtual agents actually use the offices.

Last January, he said he planned to bring the firm’s broker headcount up to 200 agents, but that hasn’t happened yet — partly, he said, because it’s tougher to make a living in sales and partly because there’s more competition from other high-split firms.

Brokers at City Connections pay between $950 and $1,450 in desk fees and get 90 percent of their commission up to $250,000 and 100 percent thereafter. Last year, Schlamm also began offering virtual agents the option of paying as little as $150 in exchange for keeping 70 percent of the commission on the first $60,000 they earn, and 90 percent thereafter.

The firm, Schlamm said, is still profitable at its current broker headcount and he suspects that more virtual agents will sign on this spring.

He said he invested a “couple of hundred thousand” dollars into the concept offices originally and that the change up will cost “substantially less.”