The Real Deal New York

William Raveis NYC hits reboot after early fumbles

CEO Bill Raveis: ‘We’re not going broke if it doesn’t happen in a week’
By E.B. Solomont | April 06, 2015 02:55PM

Bill Raveis waited nearly four decades before he brought his eponymous real estate firm to New York City. But nearly a year since planting a flag here, William Raveis NYC’s teething troubles have persisted. The firm has lost its headline recruits and had to put the brakes on a plan to launch a new development division.

But Raveis, who borrowed $2,000 in 1974 to launch his firm – a firm which last year sold more than $8 billion worth of real estate – has always been a long-term player, and he’s willing to tweak his approach to make it work.

“These things are a slow roast,” he told The Real Deal during an interview last week at the firm’s offices at East 56th Street, his tan complexion and vivid blue eyes offset by a navy suit and snowy dress shirt with cufflinks.

“We’re not going broke if it doesn’t happen in a week,” he added.  “We’re building a culture.”

Raveis said his “appetite” for big producers was, in retrospect, unwise. In the fall, William Raveis NYC hired name-brand brokers such as Corcoran Group’s Fabienne Lecole and Halstead Property’s Julia Boland. Both Lecole and Boland, however left the firm for Corcoran in March. William Raveis subsequently put its new development sales business here on hold.

“That was a big learning lesson,” Raveis said. “It recentered us.” He’s now shifting the focus to workhorses, eyeing agents who may not necessarily have a track record of big numbers, but can hustle and build a business for themselves.

Companywide, William Raveis has 110 offices and a stronghold in Connecticut, where the firm is headquartered. Last year, it tapped industry veterans Paul Purcell, a former president of Douglas Elliman, and business partner Kathy Braddock to launch William Raveis NYC. Both were top executives at Elliman and are credited with building up Rutenberg Realty.

Raveis has toyed with the idea of entering New York City before. In 2011, he came close to buying a stake in Neil Binder’s the Bellmarc Group, a firm that is now mired in financial woes and is seeing a mass exodus of agents.

Other out-of-town brokerages have struggled mightily to capture business here, including United Kingdom-based Foxtons, and national bigwigs like Weichert and Coldwell Banker, whose most recent attempt was through an ill-fated affiliation with Bellmarc.

“The competitiveness here is as fierce as it’s ever been,” said Town Residential CEO and founder Andrew Heiberger, who also founded Citi Habitats.

“I think it’s easier to expand out of New York than it is to expand into New York,” he said, citing the competition, intricacies and sophistication of the market here. “You need to have a network here in New York. There’s no shortcut.”

According to Heiberger, the ramp-up time for sales at a typical startup brokerage, could take at least 12 to 18 months. “You need a critical mass [of brokers] in order to service clients and customers,” he said.

Veteran brokerage heads admit that things have only gotten more cutthroat. “There are simply so many more players,” said David Schlamm, who founded City Connections Real Estate nearly 30 years ago. “You either have to have that big, powerful sexiness or branding like Elliman, Corcoran or Sotheby’s,” he said, or have “deep pockets and can afford to go negative for a few years.” As an example of the latter, he cited Town, which is backed by Thor Equities’ Joseph Sitt, and Compass, which raised $73 million from investors.

Raveis, who is financially committed to the New York office, offered a candid look at his learning curve here. “It’s more competitive than I anticipated,” he said, of acrimony between brokerages. (He accused Douglas Elliman of blocking emails from Raveis, as TRD reported last week.)

Raveis said the “angst” between brokerages created a kind of “static” that distracted him from the business, along with New York’s lack of a centralized MLS, REBNY’s unique set of rules and more. “The business models are easy to compete with here,” he said. “It’s the static.”