Tops in Bronx

<i>The Real Deal</i> ranked the largest Bronx residential firms

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Big is a relative term in New York City real estate. A roster of agents that might be pint-sized in Manhattan can make a Bronx firm a powerhouse.

Century 21 Future Homes has built a team of 74 agents working from three offices throughout the Bronx. With nearly 150 closings under its belt so far this year and another 100 in the pipeline, the firm has experienced a 15 to 20 percent increase in sales over last year (in an admittedly dismal year in real estate).

It also topped The Real Deal‘s first-ever ranking of Bronx residential brokerages by number of brokers, followed by ERA Besmatch Real Estate, with 64 agents.

“My business is helping minorities buy homes. These are people who’ve been saving for six, seven, even 10 years,” said Harold Maniram, principal broker at Century 21 Future Homes. Maniram said that the firm places tremendous value on educating brokers. “Today’s consumers have more knowledge than most agents.”

Maniram is making sure the firm’s agents are skilled at qualifying buyers. “We make sure you’re serious. We get all the eggs in the right [basket].” That wasn’t necessary three years ago, he said, when credit flowed easily and brokers made buying simple.

Agent tallies don’t tell the entire story of the Bronx landscape. Residential sales in one area yield a far different payout than other areas do because the homes are so much more expensive. In other words, when it comes to Bronx real estate, there’s Riverdale and there’s everywhere else.

Covering about three square miles in what is otherwise the city’s poorest county, Riverdale’s pricier housing stock skews the Bronx’s average pricing upward. Riverdale’s median price per square foot, according to the listings aggregator StreetEasy, stands at $344, while the comparable figure for all of the Bronx is $277 per square foot. Some established Riverdale firms, such as Robert E. Hill and Susan Goldy, didn’t make the top-10 list by virtue of their smaller head counts, but both firms might have made a total sales volume list, had figures been publicly available.

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Riverdale’s quality stock recently has lured top-shelf firms to the area. Exclusive Properties Sotheby’s International Realty defied convention in the down market by making its debut in January 2009. “Instead of a wait-and-see attitude, instead of downsizing, for us it was about moving in the opposite direction — growth, growth, growth,” said Executive Vice President Vasco Da Silva, who has attracted 18 agents to the office. The firm brokered the sale of a 100-year-old Fieldston colonial for $1.525 million in October.

Prudential Douglas Elliman made the most recent leap into Riverdale, as first reported by The Real Deal last month. The brokerage is buying John Edwards Real Estate, a 10-agent firm that did not make the list of biggest firms in terms of number of agents, but boasts over 100 listings, with two dozen of those priced at seven figures and higher, including a $10.5 million Fieldston mansion. The purchase will give Elliman its first office in the Bronx.

The other major player in the area, Halstead Property Riverdale, has begun looking beyond the tony city-suburb to other parts of the Bronx. Anthony DeVivio, Halstead’s director of sales for Riverdale and Harlem, is upbeat on the Bronx, where he expects 2010 closings to total about $60 million by year’s end. “It’s a big ship that’s going to turn slowly. But I don’t think there’s any going back on it. It’s going to turn,” said DeVivio, referring to the borough’s real estate landscape. He recently hired three agents with the intention of making inroads in Morris Park, in Pelham Parkway and on the Grand Concourse.

An analysis of the Bronx by StreetEasy backs DeVivio’s hunch. The borough has recorded 2,279 sales through the first three quarters of 2010, up 26 percent over the same period last year. However, the average sales price remains sluggish — $312,903 in the third quarter, a 1.5 percent rise over 2009. That average is still 23 percent below the heights of 2007.

Many brokers are also dealing with an abundance of foreclosures and short sales. One Bronx zip code in particular — 10469, which includes a part of Baychester — was noted earlier this year for being one of the country’s leaders in short sales.

“Right now, short sales are less than 20 percent of our listings,” said Urmilla Busgith, who runs Century 21 Metro-Star in Morris Park, which was seventh on The Real Deal‘s ranking with 22 agents. “I think that’s going to increase. A lot of homeowners are trying to hang on. They’re trying and trying.”

Busgith said her firm has closed 78 transactions valued at $18 million in 2010 through the end of October. Short sales have clogged the pipeline; Busgith and other brokers said banks are taking between nine months and two years to approve a deal.

While the Bronx has fewer million-dollar listings than Manhattan, brokers there also say that financing presents the most difficult obstacle in completing transactions. Even in Riverdale, brokers feel the reverberations of tight credit. “It’s the new normal,” said Sotheby’s Da Silva.