The Real Deal New York

Warren Buffett’s firm takes on New York real estate

Former Sotheby’s manager Ellie Johnson will lead Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices NYC
By Miriam Hall | January 09, 2017 03:11PM

Ellie Johnson

Undaunted by the cutthroat residential brokerage game in New York City, Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices opened its first office in the city this week.

Ellie Johnson, the longtime former senior vice president and manager of the Upper East Side sales office at Sotheby’s International Realty, is leading Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices foray into New York City, the company announced Monday.

The New York City operation is the latest step in the company’s “strategic expansion” in the northeast. Over the past two years, Berkshire Hathaway has been establishing a presence in Westchester County by acquiring brokerages in Scarsdale, Larchmont, Eastchester and Rye.

Johnson, who resigned from Sotheby’s last September, said the brokerage now has five brokers and will continue to recruit. The team is focusing exclusively on the residential market, but Johnson said the company will eventually expand into commercial real estate.

The team already has exclusive listings in the city, according to Johnson, and is operating in Manhattan and some neighborhoods in Brooklyn. She did not immediately provide the exclusive listings or state what the firm was targeting in terms of sales volume or agent counts. The firm’s new office is on the 37th floor of 590 Madison Avenue.

“We might be new in New York City, but the brand is globally known and well established across the country,” said Johnson. “When you mention Berkshire Hathaway, the first thing people think of is Warren Buffett.”

But the power of the Berkshire Hathaway name might not mean much in a notoriously brutal Manhattan market that’s long been dominated by established brokerages with strong neighborhood ties.

“Coming in with William Raveis, which is a huge force, it was not a slam dunk in Manhattan,” said Paul Purcell, the managing director of William Raveis’ New York City office. “[Manhattan] does not respond to firms that are everywhere else in America. We’re not a Coldwell town or a Century 21 town. When you say Berkshire Hathaway, that’s not going to be exciting to a broker or a consumer.”

In 2014, William Raveis opened in Manhattan, but the firm quickly encountered trouble. It lost big name recruits and was forced to put the brakes on a plan to launch a new development division.

Other out-of-town companies have also struggled to gain traction in the Big Apple, including U.K.-based Foxtons, and Coldwell Banker, whose attempts to affiliate with Bellmarc ended in litigation.

Still, Johnson said she’s not concerned about the brokerage’s ability to take on Douglas Elliman, Corcoran and everybody else.

“I welcome competition and I thrive in it,” she said. “There’s enough for all of us. I don’t need to take somebody’s business. We all bring something to the table.”