Copycats challenge Olshan for her throne

Town, Leslie J. Garfield and Stribling recently launched competing resi reports

From left: Andrew Heiberger, Jed Garfield, Donna Olshan and Elizabeth Ann Stribling
From left: Andrew Heiberger, Jed Garfield, Donna Olshan and Elizabeth Ann Stribling

UPDATED, March 27, 4:55 p.m.: In the blood sport of Manhattan luxury real estate, Donna Olshan keeps the official box score. But her status as the authority on contracts activity is being challenged.

Every Monday, the city’s residential real estate players check their inboxes for Olshan’s must-read tally of contract activity on homes asking $4 million and above, giving them up-to-the-minute insight into the market that can’t be gleaned from closed sales.

Olshan – a former sports reporter for Newsday – has built a brand as the standard bearer on contract information, but that monopoly’s recently been broken as competitors step onto her turf.

Town Residential late 2016 launched its own contracts report, a broader look on activity across all price ranges in Manhattan. Leslie J. Garfield last year  started putting out its own report on contracts in the townhouse market, and in January Stribling & Associates rolled out a weekly report on Brooklyn contracts at $2 million and above.

“Why let Olshan grab all these headlines when most of the time she’s calling us” to verify the information explained Jed Garfield, who said his firm had produced a contracts report privately for clients for several years. But one day, the light bulb went off and he decided that a Garfield-branded report would help generate publicity he felt he was just giving away.

“It gets me crazy when I see the Olshan name in these publications,” he said.

The contracts report has certainly given Olshan a profile that firms of that size couldn’t afford to buy. Olshan Realty doesn’t do anywhere near the sales volume as companies like Stribling, which came in the No. 3 spot in The Real Deal’s ranking of top residential firms last year with $1.5 billion worth of sales.

But it has made her a household name in the industry.

Olshan said it was one of her agents – Emily Chen, a former vice president at Goldman Sachs – who started reporting on contracts in 2006 at the request of one of her clients, Harvey Schwartz, who would go on to be the president of Goldman. (The investment bank on Monday announced Schwartz’s plans to retire next month, just days after it was reported he was named successor to Goldman CEO Lloyd Blankfein.)

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Olshan said she started posting the report on social media in 2010, and it took off from there. She griped about the new batch of imitators, and explained that accurately vetting each week’s activity is no small task.

“It’s kind of annoying, but what are you going to do? Everybody wants to copy it,” said Olshan, who added that she’s resisted offers in the past to monetize her report with advertising. “I do think people in the industry look at me as Switzerland. I’m a neutral country.”

Town produces a handful of reports on subjects like building amenities and sales tied to particular locations, such as parks, museums and that ultimate neighborhood amenity: Whole Foods. Company spokesperson Lori Levin said the contracts report is a natural extension.

“It really did come because it’s a current, up-to-the-minute snapshot of market activity and it’s very in-tune with the other reports that we’re sending out to make sure that our agents clients and customers are making the most informed decisions,” she said.

It may be too soon to tell if Olshan’s rivals can emerge as real competitors to her brand, or if they’ll realize the effort isn’t worth the returns. Douglas Elliman, for example, attempted a big publicity push in 2014 when it launched a lifestyle magazine titled “Elevate,” which it pulled the plug on 18 months later.

Miller Samuel’s Jonathan Miller – who, like Olshan, has built a name for himself as one of the industry’s top data wonks – said there’s plenty of room in the market for new spins on information.

“However, producing these reports is arduous and only works if the producer is firmly dedicated to them, no matter what the results show,” he said.

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated the year TOWN Residential launched its contracts report.