The Real Deal Miami

Trumped-up changes

The president’s former resi brokerage is looking to increase its local market share, but industry rivals see obstacles ahead for them
By Mike Seemuth | March 20, 2018 11:00AM

Trump International Realty opened offices on two Trump-owned golf courses, in Jupiter (pictured) and in Doral, in 2012.

These days, when a Trump family member speaks, the world must listen. So, when the president’s son Eric Trump announced that the Trump Organization’s boutique residential brokerage, Trump International Realty, was “expanding in Jupiter and big time in Miami” in an interview with the Palm Beach Post this year, the industry in South Florida took notice.

But with just two locations and fewer than two dozen agents in the region operating for the firm at present, Trump International Realty faces tough competition from rivals with more offices, more agents and longer histories in South Florida, insiders said.

“The name doesn’t necessarily mean success,” said Mike Pappas, president and CEO of the Keyes Company, a Miami-based residential brokerage firm. Founded in 1926, Keyes now has 58 offices, mainly in southeastern Florida but also in such markets as Daytona Beach and Naples.

“The brand doesn’t drive business. Business drives the brand. At the end of the day, you have to execute effectively … and without scale, it’s difficult,” Pappas said.

The residential brokerage with the presidential name has increased its staff in recent months and is looking to expand its market share by “doing more marketing, more reaching out, more events in the community, just getting the name out there more,” said Heidi Brzyski, who was appointed in September as the South Florida managing broker of the New York City-based firm. Brzyski said there are no plans to open more offices yet.

President Trump withdrew from the management of Trump International Realty and other family businesses after he took office. The president’s sons Donald Jr. and Eric run Trump International Realty, each operating as an executive vice president of the brokerage.

One of the brokerage’s star agents, Katrina Campins, who was a cast member in the first season of “The Apprentice,” said Eric Trump has played more of a hands-on role in the firm.

“Trump International Realty really has become one of his babies as far as really expanding and growing,”
she said.

Asked if the president’s regular trips to Palm Beach County have raised awareness of the brokerage firm and improved its prospects there, Brzyski said, “No. He has no affiliation with Trump International Realty.”

Beyond New York City and South Florida, Trump International Realty has offices in Las Vegas, Charlotte, New Jersey and Westchester. Like the western Miami-Dade County office at Trump National Doral Miami and a smaller one at the Trump National Golf Club Jupiter, the offices in Charlotte, New Jersey and Westchester are located on Trump-owned golf courses. Both South Florida offices opened after Trump acquired the two golf courses in 2012.

In addition to increasing the number of agents, the scope of Trump International Realty may expand to commercial real estate, Brzyski said. “We’re not limiting ourselves just to residential,” she said.

But expanding into the commercial sector will take more effort and intention beyond not ruling it out, brokers said. “Residential and commercial are two different worlds … You’re probably going to need different leadership and associates,” Pappas said.

As of the end of February, Trump International Realty had 19 South Florida agents: 13 based at the Miami-area office and six in Jupiter.

Trump International Realty’s website details each agent’s recent closings and shows that the brokerage already has several big producers. Among them is Campins, who today, along with Realtor Jennifer Barnett, represents the priciest listing Trump’s brokerage has ever had in South Florida: a $39 million dollar Las Olas mansion.

Though Donald Trump is “a well-known force in the real estate world — more on the development side — every brokerage firm is only as good as its agents,” said Phil Gutman, Miami-based president of real estate brokerage firm Brown Harris Stevens Avatar.

Even with a handful of top-producing agents and its big-name brand, Trump International Realty may struggle to get bigger in South Florida, given a shrinking inventory of homes and a crowded field of brokerages representing them, brokers said. The total number of tri-county sales of houses, townhouses and condos dropped to 88,229 last year from 91,226 in 2016, according to Miami Association of Realtors data. Despite fewer closings, the data showed that median sales prices for South Florida houses, townhouses and condos increased at annual rates exceeding 7 percent in 2016 and 2017.

On the other hand, Pappas said Trump International Realty is well positioned to gain from its office locations at South Florida golf courses, which give the brokerage ample exposure to potential clients: “I think those relationships can work and do give you an edge.”

And Palm Beach may be the best place to be, as other players are also increasing their presence there.

“I think it’s a great time to expand in Palm Beach County,” said Daniel de la Vega, president of One Sotheby’s International Realty, which is doing just that. The 10-year-old brokerage was preparing in early March to open an office in West Palm Beach, its third location in the county together with offices in Palm Beach Gardens and Jupiter.

But de la Vega said Trump International Realty will have issues with the entrenched competition in Palm Beach County as it tries to expand there. “I think it’s going to be very difficult for Mr. Trump to compete with a lot of the longstanding brands that have been working in this market,” he said. “Mr. Trump hasn’t had much success in the past in the brokerage business, and I don’t see why that would change in the future, except that he has a big following in Palm Beach because he has his home there.”

Throughout South Florida, where One Sotheby’s International Realty has 14 offices, the brokerage firm feels negligible competitive pressure from Trump International Realty, de la Vega said.

“They’re really not a player in our market at all,” he said. “I don’t think any of the top five firms would tell you that [they are]. We don’t even see them as competition.”