The threat of new property taxes has brought together executives from three of New York City’s largest residential brokerages.
Douglas Elliman, the Corcoran Group and Brown Harris Stevens have formed the Coalition for Livable Neighborhoods, which will lobby lawmakers on legislation that would impact the selling and leasing of homes in the city. State Sen. Brad Hoylman’s proposed pied-à-terre tax is chief among those issues.
“We’re putting our money where our mouth is,” said Pam Liebman, Corcoran CEO and president.
The organization has hired veteran lobbyist Emily Giske of Bolton-St. Johns, who is a vice chair of the State Democratic Party and a member of the Democratic National Committee.Scott Durkin, Elliman’s president and chief operating officer, said an annual pied-à-terre tax would be “devastating” to the city’s luxury home market and that’s what brought the firms, who are often competitors, together.
“Taxing like this, it’s biting off your nose to spite your face,” he said. “We had to act as a group.”
The firms are now educating their combined 5,800 agents about the coalition. Eventually, the organization will expand to include condo owners and co-op shareholders, Durkin said. (Elliman and BHS have divisions that act as managing agents for residential buildings.)
Bess Freedman, CEO of BHS, said the coalition’s goal is to inform lawmakers of the “trickle down” effects legislation like the pied-à-terre tax would have on construction, home values and the livelihoods of real estate agents.
“I do think a lot of these senators like for example Brad Hoylman … is trying to sell a narrative that he’s going to hurt the rich people,” she said. “That narrative doesn’t take into account the actual real impact it has on everyday people.”
The brokerages declined to comment on the coalition’s initial budget, but records show the new group has Bolton-St. Johns on retainer for $10,000 per month from mid-September to February 2021. Elliman’s general counsel Kenneth Haber signed for the coalition.
Liebman said the hope is that more brokerages will join.
“We’re hoping that every firm that wants to be involved will sign up,” she said.
The founding of a coalition is notable in the world of residential brokerages, which has traditionally relied on the Real Estate Board of New York to handle politicos. But after the passage of the new rent law last year and other legislation proposed by the city and state, many in the residential sector began to make noise about getting their own representation.
Recent legislation that’s drawn the industry’s ire includes the state’s pied-à-terre tax; the Department of State’s ban of tenant-pays broker fees, which the industry is fighting in court; and a city bill that proposed capping rental brokers’ income, which drew hundreds of agents to City Hall in protest last summer.
Do-it-yourself lobbying began when developer William Zeckendorf, whose company Terra Holdings owns BHS, hired his own lobbyist in spring 2019 to stop the pied-à-terre tax from being part of the state’s budget that year.
When an amended version of the proposed tax on second homes was revived months later, Zeckendorf began organizing a group that could mobilize homeowners to stand with the industry through Terra’s brokerages. The coalition is the result of those efforts, sources confirmed, though Zeckendorf did not respond to request for comment.
REBNY expressed support for the coalition. “We welcome other efforts to promote sensible policy approaches that can address the City and State’s long-term needs,” spokesperson Sam Spokony said in a statement.
The group is far from alone. Last month, a separate organization called the NYC Homeowners Coalition launched. Its 600,000 members include REBNY, the New York State Building & Construction Trades Council, labor union 32BJ, the New York State Association of Realtors and the Council of New York Cooperatives & Condominiums.
Stuart Saft, CNYC’s chair and one of the founders of the NYC Homeowners group, said the effort was catalyzed by the pied-à-terre tax proposal but it will focus on any proposed legislation that would affect property values.
“If you own a home in New York, you’re considered to be an ATM machine,” he said.
The New York Residential Agent Continuum, formed in 2018, also took the step of hiring its own lobbyist last year. (NYRAC is also a member of the NYC Homeowners Coalition.)
The brokerages’ coalition is supportive of the NYC Homeowners Coalition, and, as most firms’ agents are REBNY members, they are involved indirectly in the organization.