Binder, Bellmarc and bankruptcy?

As court weighs receivership, agent roster and listings shrink

At the height of its strength in 2013, Bellmarc Realty employed more than 500 agents and boasted $90 million in listings. Today, founder Neil Binder is broke, former agents say they’re owed thousands in unpaid commissions and an ongoing lawsuit from Capital One bank threatens to kill his once-powerful brokerage.

On Wednesday, Capital One Bank renewed its calls for a court-appointed receiver to guard a $580,000 debt, arguing in court that Binder is “not presently employed and has no bank account that can be levied upon.” A judge was expected to rule on the motion on Thursday.

In an effort to stave off receivership, Binder told the judge that appointing a receiver would put Bellmarc, a firm he founded in 1979, out of business, and potentially force him into personal bankruptcy. In that motion, he argued in favor of being allowed to rebuild the company.

According to listings portal OLR, Bellmarc has a roster of 74 agents with just 10 sales exclusives, representing a combined value of $14.1 million. While OLR does not list firms’ buy-side business – which could represent a significant source of revenue – the numbers paint a bleak picture of a firm with a longtime presence in Manhattan struggling to survive.

Even if he were permitted to rebuild Bellmarc, which consolidated into a single office in the Flatiron district in January, Binder would face steep challenges.

“I think it’s the end of the road now,” said a former manager, now employed at another residential firm, who declined to give his name because he claims Binder owes him money. “The money washed away a long time ago.”

In a statement, Bellmarc’s vice president, Douglas Croland said the firm’s financial future is “very positive.” The firm, which lists 162 agents on its website, has generated “good commission revenue,” Croman told The Real Deal.

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Nonetheless, Bellmarc has hemorrhaged hundreds of agents over the past two years amid Binder’s financial woes, which came about after former partners Anthony DeGrotta and Larry Friedman accused him of embezzling money from the brokerage. The suit was settled in December 2014.

Recently, a group of Bellmarc’s commercial brokers formed a new firm, Capital Real Estate Advisors Corp. Chris Salizzoni, Capital’s principal, did not immediately return a call for comment.

Binder launched Bellmarc in 1979 in Greenwich Village. By 2013, it had beefed up to 600 agents citywide and a lucrative franchise deal with Coldwell Banker. The national brokerage terminated the agreement with Bellmarc in December 2014, amid claims that the Manhattan firm failed to pay thousands of dollars in fees.

“It would be a shame if this [latest] action was to be the demise of the firm,” said Kathy Braddock, co-managing director of William Raveis NYC, referring to the current chapter in Binder’s story. “It had a niche in the marketplace, with a good training program. It was a place where [Binder] nurtured his brokers through education.”

In recent months, at least two former agents sued for unpaid commission, claims that Binder disputed.

Braddock pointed out that despite Binder’s woes, Bellmarc’s current roster of agents is fiercely loyal to him. “Brokers have a lot choices,” she said. “It speaks to the loyalty they have because they’re still there.”