The Brooklyn firm boom

As borough grows in popularity, residential brokerage ranking shows spike in agent counts and listing volume

Aug.August 01, 2014 07:00 AM
From left:

From left: Peggy Aguayo of Halstead Property, the $13 million listing at 105 Eighth Avenue and Anthony Lolli of Rapid Realty

With the Brooklyn brand now slapped on everything from Dubai diners to French clothing — and with a Park Slope resident in City Hall — Kings County has, perhaps, never seen its star shine brighter.

And real estate firms are, not surprisingly, continuing to capture some of that glow.

This month, The Real Deal ranked the top Brooklyn firms by both number of agents and dollar volume of listings.

The biggest five Brooklyn firms by agent count were: Rapid Realty, the rental franchise; the Corcoran Group; Fillmore Real Estate; Douglas Elliman, and Ideal Properties.

Meanwhile, Corcoran, Elliman, Fillmore, Halstead Property and RE/MAX Metro ranked as the top five firms in terms of listing dollar volume.

While several local firms increased their market share and staff size, it was the major Manhattan brokerages that posted the biggest gains since the last time TRD published the ranking in 2011.

Corcoran, Elliman and Brown Harris Stevens all increased their Brooklyn-agent head counts at least 32 percent in the last three years, according to TRD’s data, which was gathered on the firm’s websites and from firm officials last month. Some of that expansion has come from new offices.

For example, Corcoran, which has had a presence in Brooklyn since the late 1990s — well before its Manhattan competitors — opened a new borough headquarters six months ago, which has 100 desks, at One Pierrepont Plaza, said Frank Percesepe, a Corcoran regional senior vice president for Brooklyn.

A portion of the firm’s former headquarters, at nearby 124 Montague Street, has also been retained. “We’re very invested in the borough,” Percesepe said.

Halstead, though, has posted the biggest gains in the last few years in terms of agent count, nearly quadrupling its number of Brooklyn-based brokers. In 2011, the brokerage had 37 Brooklyn-based agents; today, it has 135.The firm, which has operated in the borough for a decade, recently increased its footprint both with the acquisition of a local firm and a pioneering move into the rapidly gentrifying neighborhood of Bedford-Stuyvesant.

Last year, Halstead snapped up the Aguayo Real Estate Group, which gave it a new office in a prime location, Fifth Avenue in Park Slope. Peggy Aguayo, the firm founder, jumped over to Halstead, as did her son, Brendan, who is now a senior vice president with Halstead Property Development Marketing. Five other former Aguayo agents are also now at Halstead, said Robyn Kammerer, the firm’s spokeswoman.

And this spring, Halstead also became the first big-name firm to open a Bed-Stuy office — its sixth in the borough. The 1,000-square-foot space, on Stuyvesant Avenue, has 13 agents.

“That market is just growing by leaps and bounds,” said Trish Martin, Halstead’s executive director of sales for the borough.

Brooklyn's biggest firms
FirmNo. of Brooklyn agents
Rapid Realty439
Corcoran Group352
Fillmore Real Estate338
Douglas Elliman190
Ideal Properties145
Halstead Property135
Brown Harris Stevens96
RE/MAX Metro87
Ben Bay Realty75
Weichert Realtors, The Franzese Group72
Exit All Seasons Realty67
Source: Agent numbers from firm websites and firm officials last month. Only Brooklyn-based agents were counted.

Listing leaders

Since 2011, the cumulative dollar volume of listings for the top five firms on TRD’s ranking shot up significantly.

Indeed, as of late June, the firms had nearly $1.4 billion in total listings, whereas three years ago, they had roughly $961 million.

The increase may be partly because prices are, of course, rising in Brooklyn.

The average price was $783,000 in the second quarter, up from $672,000 in 2013’s second quarter and from $574,000 in 2011’s second quarter, according to Douglas Elliman.

In addition, Brooklyn is the only borough in the city where prices are now higher than they were pre-recession, Elliman said.

In terms of number of listings, the top-five firms had just over 1,850 listings combined this year, versus roughly 1,540 last time around.

But each firm experienced the market differently.

For example, Corcoran saw its number of listings plunge 58 percent, to 261 from 619 in 2011. Still, its dollar volume dipped by only about 14 percent, to $360.3 million, suggesting that the firm has been picking up pricier listings. The brokerage also had a higher dollar volume of listings than any other firm in the borough.

Corcoran’s Percesepe said inventory is down across the board and competition from other firms is picking up. But, he maintained, Corcoran is turning listings into sales quickly, so analyzing listings only doesn’t tell the full story.

“All I can say is that my business is healthy,” he said.

Elliman, meanwhile, played some serious catch-up in the last few years. The company saw its listing dollar volume soar to $342.1 million, up from only $190.3 million in 2011. The firm added about 60 agents but no offices during that time. Its newest office, 664 Fulton Street, which is in Fort Greene, opened in 2009, a spokeswoman said.

In addition, Fillmore, a local powerhouse that’s been around since the 1960s, has shown it can go toe-to-toe with bigger players.

While its broker total dipped slightly, to 338 agents, the company’s listing count and dollar volume have both skyrocketed. The firm had 914 listings in June valued at $323.7 million, compared with just 329 listings valued at $130.8 million in 2011.

In a sort of reverse migration, aggressive expansion into the brownstone-lined areas close to the East River has helped, said Fillmore president John Reinhardt. The firm recently created a separate division, Fillmore Brooklyn, which will focus on northern and western neighborhoods like Fort Greene and Bed-Stuy, where the company opened its 14th office in April.

And in an effort to tap a broader broker network, the company also just joined the Real Estate Board of New York, which many Brooklyn firms have shunned for years. Reinhardt said the firm hopes to tackle more new-development marketing this year.

Meanwhile, Halstead edged onto the list at No. 4, with 107 Brooklyn listings valued at $185 million, and RE/MAX took the No. 5 spot with 255 listings valued at $169.5 million.

But in a show of just how competitive the Brooklyn residential brokerage world has become, one firm that made the cut in 2011 — Brown Harris Stevens — did not make the top-five listing dollar volume ranking this year, despite seeing its totals climb.

HED: Ranking firms by Brooklyn listing dollar volume
FirmNo. of listingsDollar Volume
Corcoran Group261360.3 million
Douglas Elliman319342.1 million
Fillmore Real Estate914323.7 million
Halstead Property107$185 million
RE/MAX Metro255169.5 million
Source: Data collected last month from firm websites and company officials. Data from firms that was not able to be verified was excluded.

Locally sourced

While some mom-and-pop firms, like Aguayo Real Estate, were absorbed by Manhattan brokerages, a surprising number of local firms, and local franchises have persevered and even prospered.

For instance, Rapid Realty, which was founded in the late 1990s in Park Slope, ranked No. 1 in terms of agent count with a hefty 439 brokers in 30 Brooklyn offices.

But unlike the other companies on the ranking, the firm operates as a franchise, so each office is run as a separate business. In addition, it focuses almost exclusively on rentals.

According to Rapid’s CEO, Anthony Lolli, the company is continuing to expand. He said the firm — which made headlines for doling out 15 percent raises to agents who get Rapid Realty tattoos — added several dozen agents in just the last few weeks.

Similarly, the seven-year-old, Brooklyn-based Ideal Properties surged to 145 agents this year, compared with just 46 in 2011. Last summer, the firm opened its fourth office in the borough, on Bedford Avenue in Williamsburg.

Meanwhile,, which represents a slew of new developments in the Williamsburg area, also shot up on the agent-count ranking since 2011.

The firm, founded by Williamsburg native David Maundrell, claimed the No. 7 slot on TRD’s ranking, with 106 agents in three offices.

Brown Harris Stevens ranked No. 8 with 96 agents, compared to 73 in the last ranking. Close on its heels, in the No. 9 spot, was RE/MAX, with 87 agents in two offices.

“Our biggest company secret is that we list and sell 86 percent of everything ourselves,” said Larry Cricchio, the general manager of the firm, which focuses on Bay Ridge, Borough Park and Gravesend.

Like RE/MAX, other firms that focus on southern Brooklyn, which haven’t yet experienced hipster invasions, have been able to hang onto their market share.

Ben Bay Realty Company, which has been in business in the Bay Ridge area since 1954, is one of those companies. The firm, which ranked No. 10 with 75 agents in two offices, is hiring around two new agents a month, said owner Charles Fabbella.

While most of Ben Bay’s clients are still locals, Fabbella told TRD he is also now seeing families who were priced out of Park Slope come to Bay Ridge, where they can pick up a bay-windowed row house for about $1.5 million, several million cheaper than they could in their current neighborhoods.

In fact, Fabbella’s considering opening an office in Park Slope to head off some of those relocators, he said. “Brooklyn’s become hotter than I ever would have believed,” he said.

Weichert Realtors’ the Franzese Group, a franchise of the national brand, clocked in at No. 11 with 72 agents, after also not making the ranking three years ago.

Also focused on southern Brooklyn, the firm has roughly doubled in size in the past few years.

“Most of the hoopla is about Downtown, but our business has gone up tremendously, too,” said Anthony Franzese, the president of the Franzese Group. The firm has offices Dyker Heights and in Gravesend, which opened in 2007 and 2012, respectively, and is keeping an eye on Coney Island as a possible next office location, Franzese said.

Franzese also noted that 70 percent of his employees are newbie agents, who he said are easier to train.

But with all the buzz about the borough these days, he said, “recruiting has gotten a lot easier.”

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