In a more competitive resi landscape, brokers are hunting in new territory

From informal partners to branded outposts, agents are following clients to new cities

(Credit: iStock)
(Credit: iStock)

When Kevin Sneddon launched a boutique brokerage nearly six years ago, he sought to give wealthy clients a personalized service across Manhattan, the Hamptons and Greenwich. As business grew, his high-end clientele was buying and selling properties across multiple markets — and Sneddon saw an opportunity to follow them.

That idea brought him to Compass, where Sneddon is working to scale his “Private Client Team” nationally by developing a network of referral partners who work under its umbrella. So far, the effort has reached 12 cities, with more to come.

“If a client asks for help in another market, you want to be able to do that,” he said. “You don’t want to pass a client off to someone who hasn’t been vetted.”

Sneddon’s approach is one among several ways brokers are increasingly trying to branch out into other markets. Celebrity brokers like Ryan Serhant and Fredrik Eklund have opened branded outposts in other cities, while other agents have developed more informal collaborations. At its core, these efforts are a strategy to gain more business — especially as the New York City market wades through a slowdown. But agents also warned it’s a balancing act: growth for growth’s sake can ultimately backfire.

“With disruption, price changes, tastes changing, it’s gotten much harder to sell real estate,” Sneddon said. “You need to be more formidable, and teams are a good way of doing that.”

When Sneddon joined Compass last March, the Private Client Team launched with partners in Los Angeles and the Hamptons. The network has since expanded, including brokers in San Francisco, San Diego, Dallas, Miami and Washington DC. Their target clients are either those moving from one market to another, or individuals looking to own property in multiple markets.

The same “follow the client” approach led Douglas Elliman’s Eklund-Gomes team to set up shop in L.A. last year. The team, of “Million Dollar Listing: New York” fame, added six agents in L.A. in the fall, with plans to continue growing. The move piggybacked on Elliman’s increased West Coast footprint following the brokerage’s acquisition of Teles Properties. The deal added more than 500 agents and 20 offices to its operation and made Elliman one of the largest residential players on the West Coast.

For Eklund-Gomes, business in the market had grown enough that the team felt it made sense to go beyond referral partnerships and open a new office.

“This is taking it to the next level, by saying we believe in this person’s ability and we’re going to put our brand on them,” Julia Spillman, the team’s CEO.

The crossover among clients and the high-dollar-volume listings made it a worthwhile investment for the team. In the first two weeks of January, Spillman said the team had six new listings in L.A. and 4 deals went into contract. Its current listings include a $100 million villa in Bel Air and a $13.7 million home in Redondo Beach.

The team has its eye on further expansion, including a bigger presence in New York, but Spillman noted that choosing when and where to grow is tricky. Nest Seekers’ Ryan Serhant echoed that sentiment, noting that his team expanded to L.A. after they realized they kept losing business to other agents in the market.

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“I go where the client goes,” he said. But the growth isn’t doable without the right system in place. The team has its sights on Chicago and Boston, but isn’t in a rush to make a move.

“The mistake many people make is, they want to do more business, so they think of a new city,” he said. “But if they don’t have the infrastructure and the backbone, then can’t provide good service.”

That can be the case especially as the market has been sluggish. In the fourth quarter, Manhattan sales declined for the fifth straight period, according to Douglas Elliman. Deals dipped 3.3 percent compared to a year earlier. But in a rough market, agents seeking to grow their network as an attempt to survive isn’t the right strategy, brokers said.

“The grass is always greener? It’s not,” Serhant said. “It’s the same grass, it’s just farther away.”

Done the right way, joining a team can be an effective for an agent seeking to boost business or gain experience, said Halstead CEO Diane Ramirez.

“It really gives them a chance to take on so much more business than they couldn’t do as someone who is independent,” she said. “Properties have gotten very expensive, there’s a lot of money on the line. Clients want to know that they’re working with very professional people — and you don’t want to not take on some of that business.”

At Elliman, four agents — Mary Beth Adelson, Matthias Fretz, Heather T. Roy and Learka Bosnak — have formed an informal network that they said has boosted referrals across the group. New York-based Adelson met Fretz, who’s based in Florida, about three years ago through a client shopping for a Palm Beach home. The pair then met Beverly Hills-based Heather Roy and Learka Bosnak following Elliman’s Teles deal. The group shares its clients and information, and is open to growing further.

“We have a network,” Roy said. “We all share contacts; we all refer clients back and forth.”

It’s also been a branding opportunity for the group, which shares their camaraderie and collaboration through social media posts. Compass’ Sneddon, too, has taken advantage of marketing opportunities with the Private Client Team. The partners share their listings with each other and occasionally pool together marketing budgets for multi-market initiatives, he said.

In essence, it’s a problem-solving approach as more clients branch out to different locations.

“Our job is very solutions-oriented,” Sneddon said. “It’s pass/fail with clients. You’re either killing it for them, or they’re kicking you to the curb — there’s no middle ground.”