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Biggest Rental Firms Keyed Into Market

08/01/2007, By By Lauren Elkies and Margaret Daisley
Compared to the sales market, the rental market in Manhattan is a lot like the Wild West. There are fewer rules; transactions move faster; deals are more difficult to track; and it's harder to tell which companies corner the market.

Still, in a city where rentals comprise close to 70 percent of New York City's housing stock, The Real Deal set out to determine the biggest and most robust rental brokerages in Manhattan.

Using the Real Estate Board of New York's shared listing system, we gleaned the number of exclusive listings each rental firm (or rental division of a sales brokerage) had on a given day. To fill in the gaps, we also tallied listings on each company's Web site, noted Web traffic rankings and interviewed a number of company heads and managers to find out which firms they think have the greatest rental presence.

Company Web sites cannot provide an accurate measure of their business because, in many cases, they include exclusives as well as open listings; listings overlap when multiple agents share the same listing; the Web systems are not always up to date; and the number of listings on the site generally does not reflect the actual number of rental deals that a brokerage closes each month.

Although one single metric to measure firms' sizes proved elusive, our industry survey revealed the 10 biggest Manhattan rental firms.

Citi Habitats clearly finished as the king of the rentals, leading the pack in terms of volume of deals and number of agents that work exclusively on rentals, according to the anecdotal survey. The firm, with more than 712 agents, is "by far the number one in volume, with the most offices and the most agents," said one company president in the anonymous survey.

A few other brokerages finished high on the list, including long-time stalwart Manhattan Apartments; Prudential Douglas Elliman, which is known for its relocation work; well-respected Halstead and quickly growing Bond New York.

A number of brokerages handle rentals as a way to facilitate their sales, such as Brown Harris Stevens and Corcoran, which also made the list. But that doesn't mean they don't do a large number of rental deals.

"Our luxury rentals supplement our luxury sales," said Jim Gricar, executive vice president at Brown Harris Stevens.

Tabulating the size of each company's rental business proved difficult because companies are not always forthcoming, and there is no central database where all information is kept.

"If you want to buy something, every full-service broker is going to have 90 percent of the listings available at any one time. If you are a rental agent, looking to rent, there is no one place to go to locate 90 percent of the rental availabilities at any one moment," said JoAnne Kennedy, COO of Coldwell Banker Hunt Kennedy, which did not make the list. Kennedy said rentals make up about 15 percent of her firm's business.

Paul Gavriani, an agent and vice president at the Corcoran Group, noted "there is no multiple listing service that I am aware of that every company has access to for all of the listings."

Data on exclusives (gathered from the On-Line Residential and REBNY Listing Service systems) wasn't sufficient to measure a firm's size or performance, because much of the rental business is done on an open-listing basis, which the data does not include.

"As far as exclusives go it is certainly important information to be aware of, but really doesn't reflect the volume that the firm might rent," said Brian Ullman, managing director of the rental division at Ardor New York. "It is conceivable that a company might do only 20 to 30 rental deals a month in total but end up renting nearly all exclusives, while another firm might be doing 200 deals in a month with less than 20 exclusives in that mix."

Several firm owners told The Real Deal that exclusive listings represent a very small percentage of their rental business.

Stephen Kotler, an executive vice president at Prudential Douglas Elliman, said exclusives represent about 25 percent of his company's business.

Bruno Ricciotti, a principal of Bond New York, and Jerry Weinstein, founder and president of Manhattan Apartments, said exclusives constitute 5 percent or less of their companies' rental deals.

"There are very few exclusives in the business, and they're not as important in rentals as sales," Ricciotti said. "Landlords hold properties for years and have an existing relationship with a brokerage. Then somebody comes along and sets up an office in their neighborhood and starts trying to get the business, but the landlord already has a relationship."
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