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Years in the Bond
In seven years, Manhattan's Bond Real Estate has grown into the sixth-largest real estate brokerage house and the largest independently owned real estate agency in the city. Not bad, considering the owners are just 34 years old.
Founded by two high school buddies from Philadelphia, Bond New York has four offices, with its largest set to open early next month.
"We might be fifth biggest in the city now," says Noah Freedman, one of Bond's co-owners. "The latest numbers aren't in, and we had a good couple of months."
"No, we are fifth," says Bruno Ricciotti, the other co-principal. "The new office is going to be spectacular. It's 13,000 square feet around Columbus Circle. It'll be our flagship, with huge windows on the street and two floors."
The two principals talk in tandem, like best friends from high school should. They laugh at each others' jokes, reminisce and have no problem telling each other when they're dead wrong.
New to New York after graduating from college, Ricciotti rented apartments for Citi Habitats while Freedman modeled for catalogues and magazines in Sweden and Greece.
"We always wanted to start a business together," says Ricciotti. "We just didn't know what."
"I was sleeping on Bruno's couch while he was running around showing apartments," says Freedman, with a perennial smile on his face. "He asked me to help, and I liked it enough to get my license and get a job."
After working for three years together at Citi Habitats, the biggest real estate rental agency in the city, the two decided to go out on their own. "It was as simple as saying to ourselves 'we can do this, too,' " says Ricciotti. "The hard part was actually doing it."
"We wanted to be millionaires in a year," says Freedman, laughing. "We didn't come close."
Opening shop on the second floor of a warehouse building with air-shaft views on 20th St. between Fifth and Sixth Aves., the two taught themselves everything from scratch.
"For accounting, I learned Quickbook," says Freedman. "Then I bought a database book to understand how to access listings and rentals. I was figuring out data entry systems for six months. I learned HTML to do our Web site. We didn't have any money. It's what we had to do."
What they learned quickly is that you can't do everything yourself. Working seven days and nights a week, the two hired people like themselves-young, aggressive, free-wheeling and energetic.
"We were giving so much of our time to selling and operations that we weren't able to earn money," says Ricciotti. "When we hired brokers, we turned a small profit for ourselves."
"We think of ourselves as the Google of the New York real estate market," says Freedman. "We want to have a workplace that reflects an easygoing but very smart, get-it-done mentality."
It's true. Twentysomethings with tattooed arms and ripped jeans rush around to meet with people in ties and sundresses. Everyone looks busy because they are.
Asked how they grew so fast, Ricciotti points to flying by the seat of your pants and embracing a sink-or-swim attitude.
"This is New York and it's real estate," he says. "Whether it's a landlord, a buyer, a seller or an agent, you can never waste anyone's time. And don't aggravate anyone. That's how you keep business and it's how you get more."
"When you aren't born rich," says Freedman of growing up in South Philadelphia's famous Italian neighborhood, "you stay hungry."
Immortalized in the "Rocky" films by Sylvester Stallone's jog through the fruit stands lining the streets, South Philadelphia is one of the most ethnic neighborhoods in the country. It's home to Pat's and Geno's, two of the most famous cheese-steak stands in the world. Ricciotti and Freedman both graduated from Philadelphia's Central High School, funnyman Bill Cosby's alma mater.
"It was a working-class neighborhood of rowhouses where little old ladies opened their doors every time you came home late at night," remembers Ricciotti, whose father was a teacher and mother ran a martial arts dojo.
"With these high-speed trains, Philly will be close enough to live," says Freedman, the son of a pianist and a painter. "We'll look for office space there. We're developing there now."
Starting with three agents, Bond has grown to 300. With sleek, modern offices in Greenwich Village, the upper East Side, Tribeca and Union Square, where brokers work desk-to-desk like on a Wall Street trading floor, Bond has plans to soon open annexes in the outer boroughs.
"This is the hardest thing and the most rewarding thing I've ever done," says Freedman. "The two of us sign every check that every agent earns and we meet every new hire."
"And we're very good at parties," adds Ricciotti. "Before the computers come in when we open a new office, we always throw a huge party. It's like going to a nightclub."
At the last party for Bond's Tribeca office, the boys hired Brazilian drummers, magicians and deejays to play into the night. The bars are fully stocked. The entire company gets an invite.
"That's what 'bond' stands for," says Freedman. "The word has so many positive connotations. The bond of friendship. The bond of togetherness. The bonds people make with each other for good business. We try to be all those things."
"We offer something unique," says Ricciotti. "Strong rental and sales with a 'little company feel' and 'big company resources.' It works for both our agents and customers."
To contact Bond, go to www.bondnewyork.com . The Web site has many helpful hints about renting and buying in the New York area.