Reborn into resale: Williamsburg brokers learn to cope outside the sales office

TRD New York /
May.May 08, 2013 06:00 PM

The wave of Williamsburg’s new development inventory has slowed to a small swell, with many boom-time projects finally selling out after years of fitful sales — and relatively few newly built condominiums coming online. As a result, neighborhood brokers who cut their teeth working at on-site sales offices are struggling to learn the business of resales and to build up a roster of clients, sources said.

This past December, the Edge sold out of all of its 565 waterfront condos, a long slog since the waterfront complex went on the market in April 2008, on the cusp of the housing crash. But the massive project was only the most visible example of a changing Williamsburg market, where housing stock is concentrated in new developments more than most other neighborhoods.

The Toll Brothers’ Northside Piers, with 269 units; the so-called finger building at 144 North 8th Street with 41 units; and the 120-unit Warehouse 11, which sold out last month, are all beginning to see more resales than sponsor sales, according to StreetEasy.

And that means that newer agents, some of whom have only worked at new developments, are struggling to transition from working on site to courting individual homeowners, said Jennifer Johnsen, executive director of sales at MNS, which handled sales and marketing for the Edge.

The business of resales, of course, involves a host of different skills, from putting together listings to promoting properties to negotiating the emotional minefield of selling a home — to say little of drumming up clients in the first place.

“If they are smart and focus on maintaining relationships, they have a future in resales,” said Johnsen, referring to agents who are making the transition into resale. She said she helped several agents at MNS draft up business plans before the units at The Edge sold out. “But the here-and-now is that you do not have cash flow, so you’ve got to get out there, meet clients and get out of the mindset of assuming that the customers are going to come to you.”

For Ian MacDermut, an agent at MNS, “getting out there” has been harder than he ever imagined.

“Two years ago, I was on-site with over three hundred immaculate units in the finest building in Williamsburg,” MacDermut said. “Fast forward to present day, I’ve sold the last units at the Edge. The sales office is no more. I’m mostly left to my own devices and there are no more than a dozen listings in the entire neighborhood at any given time. It’s night and day.”

MacDermut is currently listing one of the 35 rental units at the Edge that have come on the market since the development officially sold out. The three-bedroom rental is priced at $12,500 per month.

Meanwhile, brokers that focus on resales are stepping up their game.

Ari Harkov, a senior vice president at Halstead Property, said his firm has been responsible for more than 60 percent of resales at the Edge. (A look at data on StreetEasy roughly confirms this estimate.)

Harkov is listing three of the seven resale units on the market. He credits his success to the fact that his business partner, Warner Lewis, lives in the building.

“Our business is a business of relationships,” Harkov said. “When we work with buyers, that buyer is going to one day be a seller. I think where some of these on-site agents may have failed is that they have neglected to build a relationship with these people that would last long after the transaction.”

Indeed, maintaining contacts within the community is crucial, said Lior Barak, a senior vice president at the Corcoran Group who lives in Williamsburg and works out of the firm’s office there.

“There are some firms that have been working the neighborhood for a few years,” Barak said. “And they sold a good number of projects, but they were solely representing the developer. I don’t think that they always cared about the resale business that would come years later from that same development.”

For firms that specialize in resales, forecasting future deals is the currency of the trade.

“The biggest piece of advice I would give to brokers in this transition,” Harkov said, “is that what you do now in terms of marketing is going to pay dividends in six, nine, 12 or 19 months. That piece of generating a pipeline of resale is the hardest part of this business and that’s where most agents fail.”

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Jennifer Johnsen, executive director of sales at MNS, was referring specifically to her agents at the Edge, before it sold out, when she stated: “If they are smart and focus on maintaining relations, they have a future in resales.”  Johnsen was referring to agents in general who are making the transition. The story also should have added that Johnsen said she helped several agents at MNS draft up business plans before the units at The Edge sold out.  MNS agents have been able to successfully transition into resales for the units that have come on the market since the development officially sold out, Johnsen said.

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