Managers with listings

<i>In break with past, heads of brokerage offices do more deals themselves </i>

It has long been a cardinal rule in residential real estate in New York that those who are running the show and managing the office don’t actually sell apartments.

While they must be licensed to do so, the thinking goes that managers are there to help train their agents, help their agents navigate deals, and divvy up any leads that come in.

“Managers do not sell,” but instead make their money from salaries and bonuses, said Michael Adorno, a spokesperson for the Corcoran Group, about the policy at his firm, which resembles those of other large New York City brokerages.

“Managers do not compete with their agents that they are there to help,” Adorno said.

Yet some firms seem to be rethinking the role of their managers, as companies deal with the protracted malaise in the housing market. According to appraisal firm Miller Samuel, sales volume was down 7.2 percent in the fourth quarter of 2010, compared to the same quarter in 2009.

Also, some other brokerages, which historically have let their managers handle a modest caseload of deals, appear to be tapping these senior employees with greater frequency, said brokers who asked not to be named. That’s largely to ensure that the most experienced players are out there in this tough economy closing deals for their firms.

Barak Realty’s change on this front may be the most notable.

In 2009, as the housing market sputtered, the firm did away with the manager position at its sole West Side office to clear the way for founder Barak Dunayer to assume those responsibilities. But rather than just draft sell sheets and review board packages, Dunayer, in a break with tradition, became an active salesperson. His brokers, like all brokers, split their commissions with the firm, which he owns.

While a manager’s corralling of deals might rub some brokers the wrong way, Dunayer insists that was not the case, adding that brokers were complaining that the business was comatose.

“I want to lead by example,” said Dunayer, who late last month had 11 solo apartment listings. The intended message to his firm’s 35 agents was, “‘I’m not going to sit here and just enjoy the air-conditioning,'” he said. “‘I’m going to be there in the trenches with you.'”

Managers of the five offices at Bellmarc historically may have the best of both worlds. Not only do they get a cut of the profits of their offices — like managers at some other firms do — they can also sell apartments themselves, according to brokers, though that’s been the policy for a while.

Still, today, those managers appear be selling more than they were pre-recession, according to brokers with rival firms who asked to remain anonymous because of the sensitivity of the subject.

Chief among them, they say, is Dan Berman, an executive vice president who’s managed Bellmarc’s 65-agent Midtown office for the past five years. Last month, he had 11 property listings on his website — a hefty portfolio relative to Bellmarc’s other brokers — and on most of them he was the sole listing agent.

For his part, Berman denied that there’s been any uptick, and said the reason managers sometimes have more listings is because they are often former brokers themselves, with long lists of contacts.

Indeed, Berman has been selling apartments for more than two decades.

“If I sold an apartment to someone a decade ago, they might call me up when it’s time to sell again,” Berman said. “I have some flexibility about whether to do it myself or give it to another agent.”

Similarly, any walk-ins to his office on Lexington Avenue, near East 56th Street, aren’t greeted by Berman but by a receptionist or a broker doing a four-hour “floor duty” shift, he explains, so it’s not like he’s monopolizing them.

While the bigger firms, like Corcoran, Prudential Douglas Elliman, Brown Harris Stevens and others, often have hard-and-fast rules about managers not selling, the lines between who can sell seem more blurred in smaller firms.

Warburg Realty, for instance, allows managers at its three offices, plus president Fred Peters, to serve as salespeople. Those managers have been increasingly active, some industry observers say, because the firm, like all firms, needs a boost from able hands to help it weather the still-sluggish sales market.

Like Berman, Peters denied that managers would help themselves to what isn’t rightfully theirs. “My managers would never take business that didn’t belong to them,” he said. Likewise, Peters explained that letting management sell helps them to not get rusty. “You have to have your finger on the pulse of the marketplace, and to do that you have to be in it every now and then,” he said.

Still, according to Warburg’s website, last month the firm’s managers, plus Peters, had just eight of Warburg’s 158 New York City listings, with Peters having four of those listings.

For some ex-managers, the loosening of the restrictions is welcome, said Antonio del Rosario, CEO of ADR New York Realty, a new stand-alone division at Charles Rutenberg Realty.

In the 10 years del Rosario has worked in real estate, six were spent as a manager: for Citi Habitats, for Barak Realty (before it did away with the position), and for A.C. Lawrence & Co. Throughout, he said, he was diligent about assigning leads to other agents instead of taking them on himself. He pointed to a $1 million Tribeca loft listing that he had handed to a rookie broker when he was at A.C. Lawrence.

But now, things are different. Taking advantage of his newfound ability to sell and rent, while also busy opening new offices, del Rosario had listed five New York apartments last month, even if all were shared with partner Delvis Estrada.

“Business models must change because the business is changing [in this economy],” he said.