In 1990, Noah Freedman and Bruno Ricciotti became quick friends while attending Central High School in Philadelphia. That friendship became the inspiration for the name of their Manhattan-based privately-owned real estate firm, Bond New York. They opened their first location in Chelsea with no employees, and exclusively offered apartment rentals.
Today, 11 years later, they’ve expanded to also offer home and commercial sales with six locations across New York City and they employ 450 agents. Their revenue has s multiplied from around $400,000 in their first year to tens of millions in revenue in 2010.
Freedman and Ricciotti started Bond New York with $16,000 from their savings in 2000. The friends had been brokers at CitiHabitats but wanted to open their business and decided to stick to real estate, by developing their own brand. With no formal business background, they didn’t know just how much they didn’t know about running a company. “Everything was hard from day-one, and we made a lot of assumptions about getting started that weren’t true,” Freedman said.
One assumption was that Freedman and Ricciotti would be able to take some of their CitiHabitats clients with them to Bond, but had difficulty getting others to buy into a new brand. “I’d call people and let them know I left Citi, expecting them to let me show them apartments, and I’d get the usual: ‘Send something and we’ll call you’ response,” Freedman said.
Though it took hard work to build their reputation in the competitive real-estate market, Freedman is satisfied with their decision to start their own firm instead of opening a branch of a nationally or regionally- established company like Prudential Real Estate. “We wanted to create something that was our own identity and was reflective of us, as opposed to assuming an identity of something national, which I often think is not applicable to the New York market,” Freedman said.
Last month, Bond attempted a unique marketing idea: the company wanted to offer $1,000 in savings in home purchase closing costs through a Groupon deal. Two days before the scheduled launch, Groupon pulled the offer due to undisclosed legal issues, and while Freedman was disappointed, he still found a return on the effort. “It’s fairly ironic because I would have much rather the deal went through, but the fact that it didn’t, got so much press,” he said. “I thought Groupon would have been great for our business and relevant to our demographic of agents, who tend to be younger.”
Though Groupon didn’t work out as hoped, Freedman continues to try new tactics like opening their offices to the community for art shows featuring local artists or wellness events with on-site chiropractors and acupuncturists to give short services. “We like to gauge the neighborhood and do things that are a little out of the box so that we’re seen as the fun, cool, company we are,” he said.
A Killer Team
To stay competitive in the New York real estate market, Freedman and Ricciotti build their team of agents the way they founded the business – through friendship. They encourage brokers to work together in teams, something uncommon in the real estate business. “Most of our people work in teams and we really promote transparency between agents,” Freedman said. “It really is a cutthroat kind of business that fosters ‘I have my information and you have yours’ attitude. But we’re opposite of that in everything we do.”
They offer training to teach agents how to work together. “People in your office are seeing apartments and having situations, so the more you share, the better your business,” Freedman said. Bond trains its employees on more than just teamwork through what they call Bond University.
In this program, which is optional, but highly recommended, agents are taught everything from how to use Bond’s technology, changes in real estate code and procedures to developing a social media presence, how to take effective photographs of apartments, and more. It’s an on-going program located in a classroom of one of their offices, always available and free for any agent or broker who wants to update their skills. The classes are taught and developed by managers at Bond, including one class led by Ricciotti, and at times, outside instructors are brought in to give a new perspective. “The goal is to give our agents as many options as possible for our classes,” Freedman said. “This way, they get to know the people who lead Bond and develop new skills.”
Bond also utilizes their agents to cultivate fresh ideas and to give insight on the needs of clients. As an example, an agent noted the need for a Mandarin section of the website to attract the Chinese demographic, too. Now Freedman is looking to give it a try. The commercial division of their company was also opened in response to an agent’s idea. “We’re very flexible, we’re entrepreneurial, and we’ll try things,” he said. “We mold the company to fit the talent we have; we don’t try and mold people to fit what we want to do.”