Coldwell Banker v. Bellmarc suit ends in defeat for Neil Binder

Defunct Manhattan brokerage ordered to pay $8M in damages, interest

Neil Binder, co-founder, Bellmarc (Bellmarc, iStock)
Neil Binder, co-founder, Bellmarc (Bellmarc, iStock)

As Coldwell Banker moves on to bigger and better things in New York City, the Bellmarc Group has been an apparition for years.

Yet their legal battle has continued. And now the Realogy-owned franchise has won an $8 million judgment against Bellmarc, a defunct Manhattan residential brokerage, court documents show.

Coldwell Banker declined to dance on Bellmarc’s grave, saying only that it looked forward to supporting and growing all of its affiliates in the New York City area. That includes Warburg Realty, which Coldwell acquired last month.

The ruling is another nail in the long-buried coffin of Bellmarc, which had been entangled in a series of lawsuits over the past several years.

Long ago, when it was known as Bellmarc Realty, it was one of Manhattan’s top residential sales brokerages. Life was good: It acquired AC Lawrence Real Estate — a brokerage that specialized in rentals — in 2012. The next year, it entered a franchise agreement with Coldwell Banker, which invested money into the brokerage and sent its agent count soaring.

But a year later, Bellmarc’s co-founder, Neil Binder, was sued by his business partners, Anthony DeGrotta and Larry Friedman, who alleged that Binder embezzled hundreds of thousands of dollars from the company.

Agents fled to other firms as the scandal unfolded, and the suit was settled in December 2014, with DeGrotta and Friedman paying Binder $25,000 and relinquishing interest in the company. Sources at the time said the payments freed DeGrotta and Friedman from their noncompete agreements.

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That same year, Coldwell Banker asked a judge to appoint a receiver to oversee Bellmarc’s finances, claiming it was owed $270,000 in franchise fees. It later severed ties with Bellmarc, citing the firm’s continued failure to meet contractual obligations.

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Binder claimed that he stopped paying the franchise fees because Coldwell Banker didn’t provide referrals and leads as promised, adding that the fees were offset by larger amounts that Coldwell Banker owed Bellmarc. He vowed to bring Coldwell Banker to court.

The litigation culminated in Binder’s defeat on Sept. 9, with a federal court in New Jersey ordering Binder and his companies to pay Coldwell Banker $7.6 million in damages for breach of contract, plus legal fees and interest.

The Bellmarc Group has all but vanished since Binder downsized between 2014 and 2016, shrinking the brokerage from five offices to one in the Flatiron District.

Bellmarc’s LinkedIn page says the firm has 170 employees and “has been in business since 1979.” But a phone call to the number associated with its last location at 936 Broadway cuts off before it can finish the first ring. A Google search for Bellmarc Group yields a red banner reading “Permanently closed.” Its website says its domain name is available for 2,400 euros.

“Bell Marc is a highly brandable .com name for a local real estate site,” a notice on the otherwise vacant page reads. “It served as an online presence for a Manhattan-based real estate company.”