Real estate brokerages largely shed staff when Covid-19 flipped New York City upside down, but some have bounced back.
Which resi brokerages grew and shrunk during the pandemic
Half of New York City’s largest firms have fewer agents today than before Covid
Residential brokerages scrambled to keep their businesses intact as Covid-19 flipped New York City upside down. Some doubled down on recruiting and M&A while others made big staff cuts to stay afloat. Now, several top firms that pared back are finally seeing their agent headcounts bounce back.
Just over half of NYC’s 15 largest residential real estate brokerages have seen net growth in licensed agents between March of last year — when the city locked down — and May 2021, according to TRD’s analysis of Department of State data.
Compass which led residential firms with just over 2,400 licensed agents as of May 1, has enjoyed steady growth, with agent count increasing by 18 percent since the pandemic started. Despite the Softbank-backed brokerage’s deep cuts in March 2020 when in-person home showings were suspended, Compass saw about a 12 percent gain in agent headcount the following month, which Compass CEO Robert Reffkin attributed in part to onboarding agents virtually.
BHS Regional President Richard Grossman said in a phone interview that the two firms were in merger talks before the pandemic, but that the coronavirus added incentive to act on the plans. “This really brought home that this was the best thing for the company, which was to be together,” said Grossman. “We’re stronger than we were as two separate firms.”
The strategic merger gave BHS the largest percentage gain in headcount, as its agent total more than doubled. The big jump occurred in September and October, when BHS started transferring agent licenses from Halstead, according to Grossman.
Keller Williams NYC also grew substantially — by 55 percent — via a merger. The franchise combined its Midtown and Tribeca locations under the new ownership of Richard Amato.
Keller Williams NYC CEO Lauren Balbuena said the brokerage’s relaunch gave it the opportunity to grow despite the uncertainty in the industry. “We’re speaking to a lot of people who may have left Keller Williams under the former ownership,” said Balbuena in a phone interview. “[But] we homed back in on those relationships.”
While all of the large residential firms in New York City dealt with coronavirus challenges including layoffs and furloughs and a dramatic drop in listings, stalwarts Douglas Elliman and Corcoran took the biggest hits to their workforces. Elliman reduced agent count by almost 14 percent and Corcoran by more than 4 percent. Overall, seven of the 15 biggest residential firms in the city have fewer agents today than before the pandemic.
Back in the 1980s Belmarc started a trend of lots of small local offices. More recently we saw a trend for a while to open large offices (like Keller Williams). Could this be the start of going back to the small and local model?
Residential brokerage Triplemint is moving forward with three new office locations in Union Square, Westchester and Brooklyn.
Triplemint moves forward with 3 new offices
Residential brokerage opened HQ in Union Square
Three words to describe Triplemint’s new growth strategy: Divide and conquer.
The residential brokerage is moving forward with three new offices in the Tri-state area, including its new, smaller headquarters in Union Square.
The team moved out of its Midtown office at 1500 Broadway and into its new 5,500-square-foot HQ at 7 West 18th Street in May. Triplemint is leasing the office from George Comfort & Sons and plans to open more space as more people return to the office full time, a spokesperson said.
The brokerage also signed a lease for a 2,800-square-foot Westchester office at 151 Mamaroneck Avenue. It is leasing the office from Palladium Management, a boutique real estate investment and development firm.
Triplemint is also finalizing a lease for its Brooklyn office in Fort Greene, which is expected to be finalized later this month.
Both the Westchester and Brooklyn spaces will require roughly two months of buildout before agents can settle in, according to Triplemint co-founder and CEO David Walker.
The move to the smaller locations are an effort to take a more local approach amid a more favorable office market.
“We want to be part of that positive shift back to commercial real estate and [take] more space,” Walker said.
Spreading out those locations also helps the brokerage appeal to a more “fluid” clientele that have expanded their living options beyond Manhattan, Walker added.
Like many other brokerages, Triplemint faced losses and gains caused by the pandemic. In April 2020, it laid off two employees and made executive salary cuts.
During that time, the brokerage offered free tools to teach agents how to set up virtual tours when making that digital shift. But as more people are vaccinated and New York reopens, the future looks like it’ll be hybrid.
“Ultimately what we realized is that if you’re going to be competitive in the next 10 years as a brokerage, I think you have to be able to do business both virtually and in person,” Walker said.
An in-person perk for the Westchester and Brooklyn locations: community event spaces. Walker envisions people heading to Triplemint’s Westchester office to host and attend events, be it a panel with designers or a birthday party.
Owen Berkowitz, one of the co-founding agents of the Westchester business, chose the office’s Mamaroneck location because of the restaurants and local organizations nearby that they can partner with for such events.
“The pandemic provided rocket fuel for Westchester as people wanted a place where they could have bathrooms and bedrooms — both plural — backyard, barbeque and birdsong,” Berkowitz said. “We got that.”
The Westchester market saw historic home sales numbers last year. Overall, Triplemint saw a 60 percent increase in agent productivity and a 120 percent growth in sales year-over-year, Berkowitz said.