Bianka Yankov, a co-founder of Spire Group who helped pioneer the 100-percent commission brokerage model in New York City, died Friday after a battle with cancer. She was 37.
Born in Bulgaria, Yankov moved to New York when she was 17. While working as a bartender she met her future husband, Dimo Nikolov, and in the early aughts the couple quit their jobs and got licensed as agents so they could spend more time together.
“Friends said, ‘You won’t last,’” Nikolov recalled. “But it was the opposite. We became a strong rental team.”
Working at Kevin Kurland’s boutique firm, Kurland Realty, Yankov quickly ascended the management ranks. In 2011 she and Kurland co-founded Spire, one of the city’s first 100 percent commission firms.
At the time, brokerage competition was heating up because the market was soft and the notion of agents keeping 100 percent of their commission — instead of giving the firms a cut — was relatively novel.
“It was outside the box,” said Josh Fields, Spire’s managing director, who worked with Yankov for 15 years. “It was a way to draw in experienced agents who liked the idea of not having to give a large percentage of their hard-earned money back to the company.”
Within a year, Spire grew from four agents to more than 100. In 2017, Yankov bought out Kurland’s stake in the brokerage. He later joined Citi Habitats, now part of the Corcoran Group.
Fields said Yankov’s grit, determination and work ethic drew agents to her. With Nikolov, Yankov had two sons. “Spire Group was her third baby,” he said.
In 2019 the firm closed $14.7 million in sell-side deals, according to an analysis by The Real Deal. Including buy-side deals, the total was north of $100 million, said Dina Tango, Spire’s director of operations.
“[Bianka] had a sixth sense about the market and how to save a deal,” Tango said. “Agents responded to that. In a positive environment, they produced more.”
Competitors said Yankov was also known for being ready to roll up her sleeves. “The 100 percent models don’t have huge staffs,” said David Schlamm, founder and president of City Connections Realty. “She was very hands on, 24/7. She wanted her agents to do well.”
Last year, Yankov was diagnosed with colon cancer — a disease that killed her older brother — but kept the news to herself. “When doctors said ‘no’ to her, she didn’t accept it,” Fields said.
Yankov and Nikolov — avid travelers who got engaged in Alaska, married in Hawaii and honeymooned in Bora Bora — pulled their six- and seven-year-old sons out of school earlier this year for a final holiday. They traveled to Mexico, Panama and Costa Rica.
In early March, the family flew to Bulgaria and celebrated Yankov’s 37th birthday on April 15. She died two days later.