The Real Deal New York

Where are all the South Bronx resi brokerages?

The market is heating up, but few firms have arrived
By Eddie Small | October 10, 2017 08:00AM

The Clocktower and a rendering of 101 Lincoln Avenue (Photo illustration by Lexi Pilgrim for The Real Deal using “The Bronx Illustrated Poster” image courtesy of FromTheBronx.com)

The South Bronx has been talked up as New York’s next hot real estate market for years, but this hype has yet to translate into residential brokerages actually setting up shop in the neighborhood, according to real estate professionals.

“There isn’t really anybody,” said Sarah Saltzberg, principal broker at Upper Manhattan’s Bohemia Realty Group. “I mean to be honest, that’s where we have our eye on next, is to open in the South Bronx.”

Players in the Bronx real estate industry offered multiple reasons as to why there is a lack of local resi firms, ranging from the ease of getting to the neighborhood from other parts of the city to its relatively small amount of large scale housing developments. They also expressed confidence that this would all be changing soon given the amount of ongoing construction in the neighborhood.

“I think that there’s been a lot of media attention, a lot of priming the pump,” said Michael Brady, executive director of the 3rd Avenue Business Improvement District, “but now is when the non-sexy element happens, and that’s the construction.”

The fact that construction is still ongoing rather than finished helps explain the lack of resi brokerages in the neighborhood, according to Brady, who said more companies would not start showing up until there were more residential units to sell and rent.

“Market-rate residential developments have been very small scale. They usually consist of brownstones that have been converted,” he said. “I think that it’s just not there yet, and you know, from a brokerage standpoint, they have to ensure that there’s a real demand for their services. And right now, it’s really not there yet. I think you have a year or two left.”

And when units in a larger residential building do hit the market, local firms don’t always get in on the action. Carnegie Management’s new residential buildings at 25 Bruckner Boulevard, for instance, have 130 units between them, but Manhattan-based Mdrn. Residential is handling the marketing and leasing. And while developer Keith Rubenstein said he is not sure yet who will handle leasing at Somerset Partners’ and the Chetrit Group’s massive project on the South Bronx waterfront, his company does have an in-house brokerage.

There are real estate agents currently working in the South Bronx, which The Real Deal defined as encompassing New York’s 10451, 10452, 10454, 10455, 10456, 10459 and 10474 zip codes, but they make up a very small percentage of the overall number of agents in the borough. The zip codes had just 178 agents registered with the Department of State, which is only about 7 percent of the more than 2,600 agents registered throughout the Bronx.

Additionally, when TRD compiled the Bronx firms that had the most agents in the borough earlier this year,  it found that none of the top 10 firms were located in the South Bronx. The companies that are based in the South Bronx tend to be on the smaller side, maxing out at around 10 or 15 agents, according to the Department of State’s Licensing Services data.

Some of the larger firms, such as Bohemia Realty Group and Besmatch Real Estate, have listings in the South Bronx but are not based in the neighborhood. Bohemia’s offices are located in Harlem and Washington Heights, while Besmatch is in Wakefield and Schuylerville.

Besmatch founder Harry Baksh said that, like Bohemia, his company also plans to open an office in the South Bronx, ideally in the next 18 months. For now, however, he said it is enough to have offices close to the South Bronx, as this still provides his agents with easy access to the neighborhoods — an attitude that helps explain the area’s lack of larger residential brokerages.

“You don’t physically have to be there in order to take advantage of the opportunities that exist there,” he said.

Still, Baksh acknowledged that a firm located right in the heart of the South Bronx would have a leg up in terms of visibility. He said his main concern at this point is the cost of setting up shop down there “because things in the South Bronx are not cheap anymore.”

Nelson Management Group president Robert Nelson, whose company manages properties throughout the Bronx, attributed the lack of residential brokerages in the borough’s southern neighborhoods to “a bourgeois mentality that’s not interested in a proletariat marketplace.”

In other words, “It’s lacking that sexy element to it,” he said, “which is something that we’ve found in other places.”

But Nelson thinks the South Bronx is ripe for change, comparing the neighborhood to parts of Brooklyn like Clinton Hill and Bushwick that were initially dominated by smaller real estate offices before larger brokerages began to arrive. He pointed to the pending megaproject from Somerset and Chetrit as a possible turning point for the South Bronx.

“Absolutely it will change,” he said. “I don’t think it’s gotten started yet.”