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TRD’s 2020 Ranking of New York’s Top Realtors Shows Who’s Fairest in the Worst of Times
From left: Robert Reffkin of Compass. Pam Liebman of the Corcoran Group; Bess Freedman of Brown Harris Stevens; Douglas Elliman’s Howard Lorber; Philip White of Sotheby’s International Realty (photo illustration by The Real Deal, photos via Getty Images)
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The coronavirus pandemic paralyzed New York’s real estate market in 2020. Agents were barred from showing homes for nearly the entire quarter and many wealthy Manhattanites fled the city, hurting an already fragile luxury market. This has only squeezed brokerage firms’ margins, fueling a surge in M&A activity that has characterized the industry in recent years.
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The Real Deal’s annual realtor rankings, which track the number of sales closed in 2020, reflect these times. Most companies saw a decline in sales volume.
“Obviously there is a decline,” said Pam Liebman, CEO of the Corcoran Group. However, he said he believes his agents are “beating the market”.
Corcoran ranked first in sales with $5.8 billion in closed sales in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens. Although sales fell by 26 percent compared to 2019, the broker managed to beat its two biggest competitors.
Compass, which is set to go public, was No. 2 with sales of $4.01 billion, down 17% year over year. And Douglas Elliman fell from its previous top spot to No. 3 with sales of $3.06 billion in 2020 — down nearly 62 percent from the previous year.
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Together, the top 25 companies reported closed sales of $18.92 billion in 2019 in New York, down 32% from $28 billion last year. TRD pulled the listings from real estate data company LavaMap and cross-referenced those listings with closed deals in public records. brokers. Home sales and off-market transactions by developers are excluded.
As buyer preferences have changed—square footage has overtaken land, open space trumps views, and the appeal of common amenities has evaporated—Manhattan’s market has been hit hard. Sales in the region fell 39 percent to $14.05 billion among the city’s top 25 companies last year. It is 20 percent less than the indicators of 2019.
The decline is due in part to a decline in overall business, but also to a sharp contraction in the luxury market. Shoppers were able to get great discounts on bargains.
The “Covid discount” was up to 17 percent for the most expensive homes on the market, Liebman said. For deals closing in 2020, some sellers have seen losses of up to 50%, as was the case with the recent sale of an apartment at One57 on Billionaires Row.
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The sales did not affect the large new development sales closed last year, which were discussed before the pandemic. Vornado Realty Trust’s 220 Central Park South, with Corcoran Sunshine, Corcoran’s new development arm, has seen a steady stream of eight-figure closings.
“It’s a very value-oriented market,” Liebman said. “People took advantage of very, very low interest rates, very high inventories and low prices. So smart shoppers have continued to be opportunistic during the pandemic.”
Steven James, CEO and chairman of Douglas Elliman New York, agreed. “The city is becoming more and more affordable,” he said. “Finally, I’m feeling positive,” said James, who pointed to an uptick in Manhattan apartment sales in the fourth quarter of 2020.
James has overcome several significant challenges in four decades in business, “[but] this is the first time in all these years that I’ve experienced a huge, huge cataclysmic change,” he said.
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The Leslie J. Garfield Company, a broker that sold only mansions, made only a few trips along the East River each year. But in 2020, he traveled to Brooklyn several times each month, often with high-net-worth clients looking to trade suburban Manhattan for homes in Brooklyn.
“It’s like going there and feeling like I’m on the Upper East Side of Manhattan in the 1970s,” Garfield said. “People still play in the street there, there are still corner delights – good.”
Garfield said deals in Brooklyn Heights and other areas increased significantly in 2020, while deals declined in Manhattan’s Upper East Side and Upper West Side submarkets. He estimated that the volume of transactions in both of those neighborhoods was down about 35 percent last year.
According to Serhant, the company founded by Ryan Serhant in September 2021 has seen renewed interest in the Manhattan housing market, with new contracts reaching levels not seen since the peak of 2015. His new venture failed to make the rankings this year, but his alma mater, Nest Seekers International, came in at No. 7, unchanged from last year’s ranking.
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How long the new work-from-anywhere world will last is anyone’s guess, but during the first nine months of the pandemic, people’s housing choices changed and so did the market.
In this year’s ranking, eight of the city’s top 25 companies made a third or more of their 2020 sales in Brooklyn. And four of those companies did almost all of their work in the region. Those companies that have not previously made TRD’s annual rankings include RE/MAX Edge, Fillmore Real Estate and Momentum Real Estate.
Among the top companies, Compass reported the most growth last year in Brooklyn, where sales rose nearly 133 percent to $1.3 billion from $560 million in 2019. Brown Harris Stevens reported a nearly 83 percent increase in business in Brooklyn. , from $205 million in 2019 to over $374.5 million in 2020. This increase was due in part to the company’s June 2020 merger with Halstead, which accounted for most of its sales in the neighborhood, including over $181 million before sales. combination.
Many of the ranked companies also saw year-over-year sales growth in Queens. Elliman had the highest sales volume in this region at $179.7 million — up 33.5 percent from 2019. Long Island City-based Modern Spaces reported sales of $146.97 million in 2019, up from 90, $3 million in 2019. Kobas rounded out the top three in the district. , Queens nearly tripled its sales to a total of $145 million.
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Buyer preferences and locations weren’t the only changes in the city’s brokerage business. To keep themselves and their clients safe and comply with regulations, agents had to adopt new marketing tactics.
Agents have turned to virtual home tours during New York’s three-month ban for in-person appearances, either pre-recorded or appearing in real time via FaceTime. The proliferation of virtual tours has actually become a bright spot for agents and clients alike, allowing both parties to determine their interests prior to in-person showings.
Many agents and executives believe virtual tours will stay that way after concerns about the coronavirus. Corcoran’s Liebman even suggested the pandemic could kill the industry’s iconic open house, saying many agents would prefer to hold showings almost before arranging in-person tours by appointment.
With the normalization of video conferencing, there is also a new flexibility within companies. Elliman’s James recognized great caution. “I thought, ‘I’ll never be able to do this,'” he said. But he said he started hearing from sales managers on small-group video calls who had never spoken in large in-person company meetings before.
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Despite the dramatic changes of the past year, most companies are committed to keeping their offices in New York, saying they are betting that the city and corporate life will return to the way it once was — sooner or later.
Corcoran is renovating a new headquarters on Madison Avenue, while Elliman and Compass say they are keeping all traces of their offices. BHS cut office space used by its sister company, Halstead, after the merger, but Freedman said there will be no further consolidation for cultural reasons.
Backing up its money talk, Sotheby’s International Realty unveiled its first TV ad in February—an artistic ode to New York that featured New Yorkers moving through the city in flattering sunlight interspersed with shots of Manhattan on digital kiosks Hulu and Link NYC. horizon line. The company posted sales of $924.9 million last year, down 37.5 percent from $1.48 billion in 2019.
“We have a 38,000-square-foot [office] at 650 Madison, so we have a heavy, heavy investment in this city, and we expect that to pay off,” said Philip White, the company’s CEO.
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The response to the pandemic has also shaken the real estate industry in more indirect ways than scaring away buyers or banning open houses.
Under the federal CARES Act, independent contractors like real estate agents were eligible for unemployment benefits for the first time — and in New York, they can claim extended benefits even if they voluntarily stop working because of concerns.
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