Brokers from shuttered firms land at new companies

The shuttering of several New York real estate brokerages, including Coldwell Banker Hunt Kennedy and JC DeNiro & Associates, has set in motion a game of musical chairs among brokers. While some agents are still scrambling for their next jobs, many seem to have quickly landed seats — even if the transition has been a bit hectic.

“It’s a very discombobulating time,” said Armanda Squadrilli, who is now a senior vice president at Prudential Douglas Elliman after an eight-month stint at Coldwell Banker Hunt Kennedy, which shuttered in May. For two years prior to that she worked at JC DeNiro, which closed in April.

“Every firm I go to closes, so people should watch me carefully,” Squadrilli joked.

Like others who have moved to mega-firms — CBHK had 325 agents, while Elliman has more than 3,500 — Squadrilli praised the resources a well-funded corporation can offer, like a larger administrative staff to help with tech support and other tasks.

While Squadrilli landed at Elliman, CBHK officials say most of their agents ended up at Corcoran — though they didn’t wear too many holes in their shoes getting there. Corcoran and Coldwell Banker are both owned by NRT, an offshoot of the New Jersey-based Realogy. Though New York’s CBHK was an independently owned franchise, its agents frequently rubbed elbows with their corporate relatives at “conventions and cocktail parties,” which nurtured business relationships, said CBHK co-founder David Michonski, adding that 90 percent of CBHK’s agents went to Corcoran or to Sotheby’s, another NRT company.

In addition to company co-founder JoAnne Kennedy, the top producers who ended up at Corcoran — in other words, those who did over $1 million a year in business — were Brian Kelley and Martin Eiden, Michonski said. Patrick Lilly, Marsha Matus and Richard Oceguera were also part of the pack relocating there, he added.

But there are exceptions. Nitza Zinbarg, a top agent from CBHK, ended up going to Warburg Realty in May. She said she wanted to continue to market Twenty9th Park Madison, a new construction condominium Warburg took over after CBHK went under.
Note: Correction appended

“I’ve been doing it for two years, so I stayed in the same position, which I think makes sense for everybody,” Zinbarg said.

Elayne Reimer, meanwhile, is now at Halstead Property, where she has 24 listings — all but two of which she brought with her from CBHK. In all, 27 CBHK agents are now working at Halstead, according to a spokesman for the company. In addition to Reimer, they include top-producing agents Mary Hall Mayer, Bonnie Brown, James Harp, Debra Weiner, Helen Anderson and Michael DeRosa. To kick off the recruiting effort, Diane Ramirez, president of Halstead, hosted a cocktail party at her Upper East Side home for 50 CBHK brokers.

While Reimer speaks highly of her former firm, she explains that some of her clients are glad she moved. “‘I went with you originally in spite of the organization,’ a lister told me,” about CBHK, Reimer said. “Now she’s saying, ‘Now you have everything.'”

Many brokers from JC DeNiro, meanwhile, ended up at Elliman.

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S. Hunie Kwon, who was DeNiro’s most senior agent until the company folded, having started in 2002 when the firm launched, noted that “a manager [at DeNiro] gave a small talk and said it would be clear sailing to go work there.”

Similarly, Danielle Sevier, formerly with JC DeNiro, said she was invited to join Elliman by broker Raphael De Niro, the nephew of the founder of her old firm. (Family members spell their names differently.)

And David Margolies, a former DeNiro broker, said as the end drew near, the firm’s founder, Jack, encouraged employees to reach out to Elliman.

“Jack said, ‘Raphael works there, we have a relationship, here’s the manager, speak to him,'” said Margolies, who left the firm in October before it closed, and actually ended up at Corcoran.

Iris Shorin, another DeNiro agent, said she wanted a firm with a sophisticated Web site. Shorin, who is now with Ardor New York Real Estate, a firm that has no storefronts, said her new firm’s Web-based listings system “gives me much better exposure” than getting leads from people walking into DeNiro’s snazzy storefronts.

But not every transition has been smooth. For those who have gone to mega-firms, segueing from a tiny office can be challenging. Some find it hard to be a small fish.

To avoid that fate, perhaps, other brokers have taken an opposite tack. For instance, Eric Hantman, who worked at Homestead New York, which was a 35-agent firm when it folded, has launched a new business, Prime NY, with just 10 agents.

Though Hantman said Homestead broke up due to a “falling out” and not the weak economy, Prime is feeling the effects of the weakened sales market and is focusing primarily on rentals. “Yes, it’s a little odd what we’re doing, because many people aren’t starting out right now,” said Hantman. “But we see opportunities.”

For some, the shakeout of the last few months has led to a better-fitting firm.

Marianne Thorsen was a commercial broker for CBHK, which focused mainly on the residential side of the market. Now she’s with a commercial firm, Sierra Realty. “I had no desire to work for a residential brokerage and presumably head up a new commercial division,” said Thorsen, who hung up her shingle at Sierra last month with fellow CBHK commercial agent Blanche Baker Magill. “It never entered my mind to go to a Corcoran or a Sotheby’s.”

Meanwhile, the only one to confess a plan that didn’t immediately involve open houses was Michonski, who said he will seclude himself in the Rocky Mountains to finish a book about marketing he’s been writing for 12 years. “Many of the principles [in the book] are things we have taught our agents,” he said. “It’s meant to be more timeless.”