On Wednesday evening, Bill Raveis, the man behind Northeast brokerage giant William Raveis, hosted 35 of New York City’s top brokers at the storied Four Seasons restaurant. Among those in attendance: Douglas Elliman’s Leonard Steinberg, Brown Harris Stevens’ Lisa Lippman and the Corcoran Group’s Maria Pashby. Prior to a meal of Dover sole and filet mignon, Raveis announced to his guests that on June 1, his firm would be opening its 100th office — in New York City. Raveis also revealed that Rutenberg Realty principals and veteran brokers Paul Purcell and Kathy Braddock would head up the new venture.
The freshly-minted firm, named William Raveis New York City, has already taken a 4,000-square-foot office space at Tower 56, an FXFOWLE-designed building at East 56th Street between Park and Lexington avenues. It will take more than a fancy office to break into what is arguably the country’s toughest market, however.
Purcell and Braddock, who will be co-managing directors of the venture, are no strangers to building a real estate company from the ground up. The pair turned Rutenberg into a successful firm — the city’s sixth-largest by TRD’s most recent agent count — on the back of a bold business model, in which brokers keep the lion’s share of their commissions in exchange for fixed monthly and transaction fees. Prior to Rutenberg, the duo were at the helm of Douglas Elliman, with Purcell serving as president and Braddock as his chief lieutenant. They enjoyed tremendous success when running Elliman, said Miller Samuel president Jonathan Miller, and it was “very logical” that they were chosen to spearhead William Raveis’ push into New York.
“I think Paul and I do consider ourselves serial real estate entrepreneurs,” Braddock said. “Bringing a new company to market is something we enjoy.”
Raveis, for his part, started his eponymous firm in 1974 above a grocery store in Fairfield, Conn. The one-room, one-agent firm has since blossomed into the largest family-owned brokerage in the Northeast, with more than 3,500 agents. In New York, the company plans to open up to four offices with around 200 agents, he said, stressing that he is actively looking to recruit out-and-out entrepreneurs.
Purcell said he’s known founder Raveis since the mid-1980s and sold him Elliman’s Connecticut offices in the late 1990s. Both he and Braddock expressed excitement about the challenge of putting together a new team from scratch.
“He believes his customer is the real estate broker,” Purcell said of Raveis. “And he’s looking to build the best business he possibly can. Every Manhattan firm is built from Manhattan out, while he’s built from the outside to Manhattan.”
Braddock said that though both she and Purcell “clearly had a stake in the growth of the business,” Raveis would maintain full ownership of the New York venture.
What distinguishes his firm, Raveis said, is its belief that “the agent’s brand is more important than the company’s brand.”
“We teach agents how to build their brands and teams,” he continued, “and then help them transfer their business and brands over to their team when they’re looking to retire.”
Other innovations the firm would bring, he said, included a “real estate concierge service,” a call center that passes leads on to individual agents, and real-time market data that will be available online.
“The business models in New York are a little stale,” Raveis said. “We’re going to shake them up a little bit.”
Together, Braddock and Purcell previously owned a third of Rutenberg’s New York division, according to court documents reviewed by TRD last year. Braddock confirmed that the move to William Raveis marked the end of their involvement with Rutenberg.“We hope it continues to prosper and grow,” she said. A Rutenberg insider said that the two no longer hold a stake in the company.
Michael Barbolla, Rutenberg’s general sales manager and now chief operating officer, wished his former colleagues the very best with the new venture.
“They were an integral part of the success here,” he said. “But the [business] model really is the driving force behind our success.” Rutenberg hopes to expand to locations in Park Slope and Williamsburg within the next year, Barbolla added, and will look to boost its agent roster to 600.
It’s possible, however, that the troubles that Purcell and Braddock had with their former Rutenberg partner Joseph Moshe played a part in their decision to join Raveis, sources said. In 2012, Moshe filed suit against the duo, alleging that they were improperly siphoning funds from the New York Rutenberg office and competing against the firm with their own consulting company, Braddock + Purcell. Both Purcell and Braddock have denied the claims.
William Raveis New York City has already received $70 million worth of business from the firm’s Northeast branches, and Raveis said he expects that number to jump to $200 million in a year’s time. Miller said that “if you’re in the markets [such as Connecticut] where a large part of the employment is coming from New York,” it made sense to establish a presence in the city and look to leverage existing relationships.
The challenge, though, will be to convince New Yorkers that William Raveis isn’t just a name to be associated with leafy driveways and cul-de-sacs. Indeed, the firm must show it can sell a Fifth Avenue penthouse with the same panache that it might a Colonial-style home in Greenwich, CT.
Miller did note that many other big out-of-towners, had tried, and failed, to make it in New York. Coldwell Banker, for example, flopped spectacularly in its first attempt at cracking the Big Apple, and is back in a new incarnation as Coldwell Banker Bellmarc Group. Century 21 Real Estate, another giant with more than 100,000 employees world-wide, wasn’t a smash hit here either, though it does have some activity in Upper Manhattan.
“Other firms have tried to make the connection,” he said. “It’s hard to do.”