The outer-borough hustle: What it’s like to be an agent in NYC’s far-flung neighborhoods
TRD takes you behind the scenes as resi agents in the Bronx, deep Brooklyn and Queens scrap for exclusives and build a local brand
On a lazy Thursday afternoon in August, Bryant Mero was pacing around an empty house in Throgs Neck, just hoping he wouldn’t get ghosted. It happens a lot.
“It is what it is. This is the job,” Mero said. “Sometimes you sit around and wait, and people don’t show up. They don’t even call.”
Mero, 41, was waiting at 241 Meagher Avenue, a 2,000-square-foot home in Throgs Neck that just hit the market for $555,000. He was supposed to show the place to three potential buyers, but only one couple actually showed up: George and Dawn Isaacs, who seemed pleased with the property but were concerned about the lack of parking for their three cars.
“I think they’re going to make an offer,” said the Exit Realty Search agent. “It may not be the greatest offer.” (They ended up not making an offer at all, but Mero found another couple willing to buy the house for $550,000 and hopes to close on this deal within the next two weeks.)
Back at the office, in a narrow back room, Mero and other agents strategized how to solve a surprisingly common problem: how do they deal with the awkwardness of getting family members to sign contracts with them as exclusive agents?
Mero sympathized with an agent who said his family interpreted a request to sign a contract as a lack of trust, saying his mother would react the same way — not that he would let this stop him.
“I would have my mom sign anyway,” he said. “I just would.”
The Real Deal recently spoke with agents like Mero who focus on some of the city’s less heralded neighborhoods in the outer boroughs, far from the glitz and glamour of Billionaires’ Row. These agents said they enjoy the outer borough hustle: they have strong roots in their neighborhoods and prefer helping clients find practical homes instead of luxury penthouses.
“A lot of the city is who you know, not what you know, and that can be a problem,” Mero said. “I mean, I’ve invested 14 years here in the Bronx. That means I’d have to invest a lot more years over there just to start becoming at least somewhat known.”
Mero was born and raised in the Bronx and entered the real estate business after a stint in construction. He is based in Throgs Neck but works all over the borough, where he deals with a variety of clients. They include a mother trying to sell her home on Edison Avenue in Throgs Neck so she can give money to her son and daughter and a landlord looking to Rent Out His Apartment On Miles Avenue, as he went to Brazil and wants to stay there.
Mero doesn’t want to move to Manhattan. Instead, he hopes to expand his business in the Bronx and also do commercial deals.
“There’s not one real strong commercial real estate office where you can have a lot of these people looking for strip mall buildings, mixed-use properties,” he said. “I would love to have an office like that: some residential but mostly commercial.”
The agents who spoke with TRD had deep personal connections to the neighborhoods where they work, including Lawrence Wong, an associate broker at Weichert Realtors—the Franzese Group. He is from South Brooklyn and mainly focuses on real estate in places like Bay Ridge and Bensonhurst.
“Being born and raised here, I understand the culture here,” he said. “I understand what goes on here, as opposed to if you put me in Manhattan or anywhere else, I don’t know what goes on there. So I’m more of an asset, I’d say, to this neighborhood.”
Wong’s clients include families and retirees who are moving to the warmer climates of Florida and Arizona. He uses various tools to market himself, including doing targeted outreach on Facebook. But he also employs some old-school techniques, like sending out 10,000 door hangers a month with his name, face and contact info to local properties.
“We’re very direct,” he said. “I mean, just asking for the business is very effective. Business comes from all the sources. You just can’t be afraid to ask if they need any real estate help.”
Vincent Ferrante, who works at Keller Williams NYC Bronx, estimates that 90 percent of his business comes from referrals. But when he first started out, he would get listings pretty much any way he could. If he saw a place that was for sale by the owner, for instance, he would just call the owner and try to explain how he would add value.
His Office On Eastchester Road opened in 2012, and Ferrante said he found the location himself after spending about a year pestering his manager at the Scarsdale office to open a Bronx branch. But unless he’s meeting clients in the office conference room, he tries to mostly work out in the field. “You’ve got to be out there trying to get listings,” he said.
Ferrante specializes in neighborhoods in the borough’s northeast section such as Country Club, Throgs Neck and Pelham Bay.
“My sphere is here, my sphere of influence. I’ve been here my whole life,” he said. “I know the market. I know the landlords. I’ve built relationships where now the business is kind of coming back to me. Would I be open to other markets? Of course. But it’s nothing I’m thinking about right now.”
Ferrante said he does about 30 deals per year at a typical closing price of roughly $500,000, and he described the people looking for real estate in his neighborhoods as working, first-time home buyers. These types of clients are the ones he prefers to work with.
“I don’t watch ‘Million Dollar Listing’ and wish I was those dudes,” he said. “I’m just happy servicing the people here.”
The Queens team
Husband-and-wife duo George and Abigail Herrera, who founded the Keller Williams Queens Home Team in 2013, said they occasionally come across million-dollar listings of their own in Astoria or Long Island City. But like Ferrante, they prefer brokering properties geared toward working-class people and families.
“It’s fulfilling for us because it’s not like they have 10 properties across the U.S., and this is just a drop in the bucket for them,” he said. “This is the biggest investment they have.”
On a recent Tuesday, George said they started at their office in Jackson Heights before heading over to Long Island City for an appointment at View 59. The couple was there for about an hour, then grabbed a quick bite to eat in Astoria and went to afternoon appointments in Far Rockaway and St. Albans.
Neither George nor Abigail are from New York originally. Abigail tried to get clients by cold calling whoever she could find, while George worked on marketing the team online through search engine optimization. At this point, like Ferrante, they said they can do business based on their reputations and get clients through online reviews or referrals.
Several of their clients are relatives of deceased people who owned property, which can lead to some very tough situations regarding tenant evictions, according to George. One man who inherited his mother’s place in Jackson Heights decided to put it on the market last year and guaranteed that it would be empty for the buyer, a move that led to an arduous eviction proceeding.
“They rode the tenant process all the way out until the marshal came and evicted them,” George said.
The sale worked out better for the owner.
“This kid, with the money from the sale, he’s going to Asia. He’s going to tour Asia,” George said. “He quit his job, and he’s just going because he’s a young kid, like early 30s.”
The Herreras generally have about 30 active listings at a time, and their goal is to increase their sales in Queens from 69 to 100 per year. They also hope to maintain enough free time in their schedules for one of their favorite hobbies: breakdancing.
“We’ve been doing it since the ’90s. We just never stopped,” George said. “We actually met dancing, and then we got into real estate together, and now we have our team together.”