Christie’s launching luxury NYC brokerage, cuts ties with Brown Harris Stevens

British auction house to open office at 20 Rockefeller Plaza later this year

From left: Christie's flagship at 20 Rockefeller Plaza (credit: Christie's), Hall Willkie and Dan Conn
From left: Christie's flagship at 20 Rockefeller Plaza (credit: Christie's), Hall Willkie and Dan Conn

British auction house Christie’s is raising its bid on luxury real estate in New York City.

The firm abruptly ended its 20-year affiliation with residential brokerage Brown Harris Stevens on Friday and announced plans to open its own real estate office later this year. The new brokerage will operate out of Christie’s flagship at 20 Rockefeller Plaza.

“This decision to open an office in New York City was made after lengthy deliberation and was not an easy one to make,” Dan Conn, CEO of Christie’s International Real Estate, said in a letter circulated Friday to 140 brokerage affiliates and seen by The Real Deal. “We have strong relationships with the whole team at Brown Harris Stevens [TRDataCustom] in New York City and we are grateful for their contribution in serving the market on behalf of our clients for more than two decades.”

In the letter, Conn said New York represents Christie’s largest market, and that opening a brokerage here represents a “unique opportunity” to expand its “direct offerings to include custom tailored New York City residential real estate service.”

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But in an email to agents, BHS president Hall Willkie and Bess Freedman, the firm’s executive vice president and managing director of sales, noted Christie’s recent loss of eight brokerage affiliates, including Pacific Union in San Francisco and Houlihan Lawrence in Westchester. “Since 1995, Brown Harris Stevens has been the number one global affiliate and exclusive brokerage arm of Christie’s in New York City, the Hamptons and Palm Beach. This affiliation has been the basis upon which Christie’s International Real Estate has established its reputation,” they said.

As part of BHS’s affiliation with Christie’s, firms took part in a referral network and Christie’s took a cut of real estate deals. “The same people who buy important art buy important real estate,” Willkie said in a promotional video on Christie’s website.

But the relationship — and a similar network maintained by Christie’s rival Sotheby’s — has been met with skepticism, too, as TRD detailed last year.

Even though it plans to open its own brokerage, Christie’s said it would maintain its affiliates in other parts of the country, including Houston, Dallas/Fort Worth and Las Vegas. The network, which has 140 affiliates, had combined annual sales of $115 billion.