Surveying a year of surprises

Sixth annual ranking of brokerages reflects new realities for rivals

New York City real estate has clearly seen its share of market firsts in the last year. So it’s no wonder that The Real Deal’s annual survey of biggest brokerages was crammed with surprises. The survey — which looked at everything from the number of listings per Manhattan agent to median listing prices — found that five companies saw a year-over-year decrease in agents. That was more firms showing a decrease than any year since The Real Deal survey began in 2004.

There were still brokerages that grew despite the slowdown, many of them fueled by new recruits from other flailing industries.

For the sixth year in a row, Prudential Douglas Elliman reigned as the city’s largest firm, with more agents than its archrival, the Corcoran Group. But in a reversal from last year, Elliman edged out Corcoran in the number of exclusive sales listings, and added agents while Corcoran shrank.

Howard Lorber, the chairman of Elliman, said his company has been actively working to pry market share away from Corcoran and other competitors.

“We are trying to widen the gap even more,’ said Lorber, whose other ventures include Nathan’s Famous hot dogs.

Still, in a sign that competition between the two firms is alive and well, Corcoran topped Elliman and all other companies in the total dollar value of its listings and also outdid Elliman in terms of median listing price and number of listings per agent.

And in a coup for Corcoran, a senior vice president at the firm, Carrie Chiang, outranked Elliman über-broker Dolly Lenz, widely considered Manhattan’s top broker, in total dollar volume of listings.

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Also making it into the top five were townhouse specialist Paula Del Nunzio of Brown Harris Stevens, John Burger of the same firm and Serena Boardman of Sotheby’s International Realty.

The Real Deal gathered data from the firms’ Web sites and the OLR listing portal. It included only listings because of the difficulty in compiling data for closed sales and sales in contract.

The survey also included Manhattan’s top boutique firms — defined as firms with between 10 and 60 agents, not including those that specialize primarily in new development. Some of those boutique companies have recently shut their doors; others are surviving, and even thriving, in the downturn.

In addition to the traditional survey data, The Real Deal also looked at the new turf wars that are emerging. Those skirmishes are taking place in both the city (as brokerages close offices) as well as on the East End of Long Island, where slowing sales have led to cutbacks, leaving an opening for fast-growing independent firms like Town & Country Real Estate to gain ground.

Largest residential firms 2009

Assessing the boutique business

A look at the best brokers

Edging out East End rivals

Doing the office shuffle

All stories by Candace Taylor