Coffee, tea, or brokerage?

Firms open café-style offices for virtual agents

Feb.February 28, 2011 02:58 PM


Elliman’s Mark Menendez at the firm’s “concept” office at 4 Leonard Street

A latte to go with your apartment listings? That’s what some New York brokerages are starting to offer in compact new lounge-style storefront offices.

The spaces offer what some firms see as a model for accommodating virtual agents who normally work from home. They give brokers a place to drop in and do business without occupying an actual desk. Some have the trappings of a regular office — fax, copier and receptionist — while others rely on agents to bring their own mobile devices and computers.

“Paying for itself” is how Mark Menendez, director of rentals at Prudential Douglas Elliman, describes his firm’s “concept” office, which has been open for four months at 4 Leonard Street. Brokers can entertain clients in the 1,500-square-foot, loft-like space, which is outfitted with café tables and chairs.

“Our overhead is actually reduced; it’s more economically efficient to do it this way,” said Menendez.

The idea for Elliman’s concept office came up about two years ago, and was partly inspired by similar spaces on the West Coast. For example, California brokerage Intero Real Estate has more than 50 locations in the Sunshine State, branded “Andare.” The spaces look like someone’s very modern living room/kitchen, with long, sleek coffee bars and refrigerator drawers full of mineral water.

“The Andare model encourages agents to get out and meet more people and do more business,” said Tom Tognoli, COO of Intero. “Sitting in an office and just searching the web is a business killer.”

David Schlamm, founder of City Connections, is opening two such café spaces next month — one a 600-square-foot space at 510 Amsterdam Avenue, the other a 550-square-foot space at 311 East 76th Street. Both will have iPads, couches and complimentary coffee and tea — “comfortable, casual and high-tech,” said Schlamm. The firm’s main, 6,400-square-foot office will stay “between 99 and 100 percent leased up” in terms of desk space and is shared by about 60 agents, noted Schlamm. But the company has about 60 virtual agents who will use the new spaces. The virtual agents pay a new membership fee of $150 and the company gets 70 percent of the agent’s first $60,000; the agent gets 90 percent after that.

Schlamm declined to reveal the exact rent, but said it is “well over $100 per square foot.” Still, he said, the two additional offices will bring about more agents. “By having 10 more virtuals — in my mind that will more than cover the added expense of the two locations.”


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