Brokerages trim back the trimmings at Bay Area holiday parties

In a tough year, agencies stage smaller “more intimate” events to celebrate the season

What happened at holiday parties for Compass, Vanguard, Marcus & Millichap, Avison Young
(Avison Young, Frank Nolan c/o Vanguard, Emily Landes for The Real Deal)

It’s holiday party time for commercial and residential brokerage firms. While many agencies report that they are trimming back on the trimmings this year, all say post-COVID morale building is still at the heart of their downscaled events. 

Pre-pandemic, Compass held its San Francisco party at The Brixton for years, with food from the gastropub, an open bar, a musical trio during the cocktail hour and a DJ “into the late night,” according to Regional President Patrick Barber. The tradition carried over from his time as president of Pacific Union

This year’s Compass party for about 100 agents wasn’t an all-night affair at the Union Street restaurant, but was instead catered by McCall’s at the company’s offices on Van Ness and had an 8 p.m. end time. The Beach Street Compass location held their own event, rather than combining the San Francisco locations for one big party with hundreds of people as they have in the past.

(Ramon Kochavi c/o Marcus & Millichap)

“We are definitely paring back holiday parties and trying to make them more intimate and special,” Barber said. “Rather than big events, we are doing individual office parties to help bring the splintered COVID culture back together.”

Every Bay Area office is hosting an event that “best suits the team,” a Compass rep agreed.

Dual celebrations

Commercial brokerage Marcus & Millichap hosted two Bay Area regional parties at local restaurants in San Francisco and Campbell this week, according to District Manager Ramon Kochavi, but cost-saving measures were at play at both events. The firm ditched the DJs and switched to buffets with au d’oeuvres rather than sit-down dinners.

Even though it has been a difficult year, we are still investing in our people and our 50-plus years of collaborative culture,” he said, adding that about 100 people were expected to attend each event.

Residential agency Vanguard also hosted two regional parties in it office in Healdsburg and headquarters in San Francisco, according to President Frank Nolan, and most offices are also having smaller gatherings at either a local restaurant, the office or someone’s home. 

The first of the two regional events took place last week in downtown Healdsburg to coincide with the Sonoma town’s tree-lighting festival. “We had a full house” of more than 100 attendees with an open bar, DJ, food and “holiday cocktail party” attire, Nolan said. 

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That party was for Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino agents, while the second event was for San Francisco, Marin and East Bay reps. It had an open bar, DJ and food from “rising star chef” Max Blachman-Gentile, Nolan said. Blachman-Gentile is the former culinary director at San Francisco’s famed Tartine Bakery and now owns pop-up pizzeria Jules.

Though the bigger party was separated into two smaller events “to encourage a more intimate atmosphere,” they did not seem to be as low-key as other companies’ parties. But Nolan said, for Vanguard, the events represent “something slightly more casual” — taking into account that 2023 was “such a down year for most agents” while not giving up the festivity that is core to the company’s culture. 

“We are known for our holiday parties,” Nolan said, adding that the typical end-of-year “gala is a black tie event with lots of production and glamor.” 

Post-COVID partying

In contrast with other brokerages, Avison Young staged a holiday party that was a daytime event and a bit larger than last year’s, according to a rep. After a very small 2022 party at the AY offices at 44 Montgomery Street, the festivities this year moved to a larger spot at 650 Townsend, where Avison Young is the property manager. There was a taco lunch and activities including a white elephant gift exchange and a raffle that raised more than $1,000 for the American Cancer Society. In addition to agents and staff from all Northern California offices, the building’s staff and engineering team were invited.

The philanthropy angle of the event was new this year, said Dina Gouveia, market intelligence manager for the West Region, but other longtime traditions carried on, such as making new people sing a karaoke song. While the holiday party had been hosted in restaurants pre-pandemic, this year’s event was definitely a step up compared to last year and was a testament to the fact that a return to the office is in full swing at the brokerage, she said.

“We have a full office now in San Francisco almost every day of the week,” she said.

As the Compass party began wrapping up, some agents lamented the event’s early end time compared to the wilder days of yore, but also said they understood the cost-saving measures. That didn’t mean they were ready to pack it in. Even at half past eight, with the bar closed and the sushi, shrimp cocktails and mini reuben sandwiches whisked away, about 50 agents lingered in front of a televised yule log, unwilling to let the night end. 

“I’m very happy that everyone’s laughing and doesn’t want to leave,” Barber said. “I think we’ve all learned after being sequestered for COVID for years that there’s nothing more important than health, and our friendships and peer environments. For me, it’s all about culture, it’s all about bringing people together, and all about having fun in a genuine way while we’re doing our work.”

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