The Real Deal New York

Dust settles around William B. May’s new name

By Tom Acitelli | November 27, 2007 03:47PM

Century 21 William B. May officially changed its name to Century 21 Kevin B. Brown & Associates in early September, in a possible resolution of the legal dispute over the company name following the departure of president and part-owner Peter Marra last year.

Brown, a Century 21 franchisee and former owner of Ashforth Warburg Real Estate, bought with a partner William B. May’s Madison Avenue branch in the spring of 2004. His purchase followed the departure of Marra a May family in-law who sold his share in the company to Brown Harris Stevens and whose move led to fighting within the family, broker defections, and a firm split in several directions.

Lawsuits between members of the May family and various parties soon followed, centering on who owned, and for how much, the name “William B. May.”

The new Century 21 Kevin B. Brown & Associates has no affiliation now with any William B. May offices, and is, in fact, part of a re-branding effort to take the franchise beyond Midtown or any other part of Manhattan, said Brown.

“Our prior licensing agreement restricted us geographically,” Brown told The Real Deal two days after the name change. “We’re already in conversation with [real estate] people in Connecticut, Staten Island, Brooklyn, and in New Jersey. Since those discussions have moved along at a very fast clip, we needed to do a name change.”

Brown said he preferred to focus on the future of his newly re-branded firm, and said the only connection with William B. May now was “a shared heritage.”

(The company’s Web site as of late September touted his firm’s existence “since 1866” the year William B. May was founded and Century 21 Kevin B. Brown & Associates’ flagship office is at 575 Madison Avenue, the former William B. May Midtown office.)

“We wish them all the best,” Brown said. “I’ll leave it at that.”

Century 21 Kevin B. Brown & Associates has about 150 brokers now, said CEO Doug Magid. Most are starting their real estate careers, he said, and the new firm wants to focus heavily on training the agents as it expands.

Its expansion happens under the umbrella of a corporate brand with an international real estate presence: Century 21 has more than 137,500 brokers and 7,500 independently owned franchises worldwide.

Still, its presence in the city remains small in comparison to Manhattan giants like Prudential Douglas Elliman and the Corcoran Group, which have thousands of brokers in the city and surrounding areas, and a long history of New York-centric branding.

But Brown says that could eventually change.

“If you go into another firm,” Brown said, “and they say, ‘We have 2,000 brokers,’ how does that benefit you as a seller?”

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