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Corcoran's Liebman Dispels CBHK Merger Rumor

05/22/2009, By Candance Taylor

As industry leaders lamented the dissolution of Coldwell Banker Hunt Kennedy, a story The Real Deal broke yesterday, the Corcoran Group's CEO Pamela Liebman dismissed rumors that the mid-sized brokerage will be absorbed into Corcoran.

"There is no formal incorporation of Coldwell Banker agents into Corcoran," Liebman said. "This is not a purchase by [Corcoran parent company] NRT."

She said that in the coming weeks, some former CBHK agents may be encouraged to come to Corcoran because the two companies share ties to New Jersey-based Realogy Corporation.

Industry sources have said that JoAnne Kennedy, the COO of CBHK, will be relocated within Realogy, and in a memo released Wednesday, Kennedy told CBHK brokers that if the "follow her," they will be able to keep their listings and data.

When asked whether Kennedy would be hired by Corcoran and bring CBHK agents with her, Liebman said she had no comment.

NRT is a subsidiary of Realogy, which also owns international real estate company Coldwell Banker. But Realogy, not NRT, operates Coldwell Banker franchises such as Coldwell Banker Hunt Kennedy.

Meanwhile, industry leaders expressed sadness and surprise over the shuttering of CBHK, which sources said will close its doors within 60 days.

"What's shocking to me is that the whole thing is gone so quickly," said Bruno Ricciotti, a principal at Bond New York. "You never know who's going to be next."

The 214-agent company, founded in 1988 by Kennedy and William Morris Hunt III, is the largest of the city's brokerages to close its doors since the current real estate slump barreled into New York City after the Lehman Brothers collapse this fall.

Experts said CBHK was weakened by its reliance on the Manhattan sales market, which has slowed considerably in recent months, since it did little rental business.

"The business model that [CBHK] has -- solely sales -- doesn't work when there's 50 to 60 percent less transactions happening," said Marc Lewis, the president of sales and rentals firm Century 21 New York Metro. "If you can't keep your overhead low, it's very hard to make money."

While Hunt and Kennedy, who got their start at Stribling & Associates, were skilled brokers, the company may have suffered from their association with a national company, experts said.

"They were great brokers here," said Elizabeth Stribling, the president of Stribling. "I was very proud that they could go on to found their own firm. I'm sad it hasn't been able to continue."

But the company "changed when it was acquired by a national firm," Stribling said.

alternate textJoAnne Kennedy and William Morris Hunt III

Michele Kleier, president and chairman of Gumley Haft Kleier, said that she was surprised when Kennedy, who she has known for years, became part of Coldwell Banker.

Kleier said she, too, has been approached by big firms over the years, but she always said no because it meant ceding control. "We can control our own overhead," she said.
The closure is an ominous sign for the industry.

"It's sad for the industry to lose a good competitor," she said. "It shows how tenuous this industry is."

Still, she said she is confident Kennedy and other CBHK alums will land on their feet.

"I'm sure they'll figure it out," she said, "and I hope to do business with them in the future."

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