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Manhattan's Biggest Firms

05/05/2008, By Lauren Elkies

Despite a slight drop in its broker ranks, Prudential Douglas Elliman reigns supreme as Manhattan's biggest residential brokerage. But the Corcoran Group, the second-biggest firm in terms of the number of agents, inched out the archrival this year in exclusive sales listings.

In our annual survey of the top Manhattan firms, The Real Deal found that while Elliman secured the No. 1 spot in size, a ranking it has maintained since the survey started in 2004, its workforce dropped 3 percent between April 2007 and April 2008 to 1,464 agents.

Dottie Herman, president and CEO of Prudential Douglas Elliman, which recently celebrated its five-year anniversary of the marriage between Manhattan's Douglas Elliman and Long Island's Prudential, explained that she has not hired less people, but perhaps "eliminated" bad brokers.

Corcoran remained the second-largest company and saw an 18.9 percent increase to 1,100 agents, including its 110 Corcoran Sunshine Marketing Group agents. (The Sunshine marketing division of Corcoran was not included in the 2007 data.) Corcoran alone still saw a broker uptick of 7 percent.

Pamela Liebman, president and CEO of Corcoran, said that besides strong retention, the increase over the last year could be because Corcoran and Sunshine Marketing had a large number of development projects and added staff to service those projects.

The Real Deal collected data on Manhattan-based agents and their Manhattan listings in early April, from firm Web sites and the OLR exclusive residential listing portal, and compared them to The Real Deal's data from April 2007. The list included the top 15 companies. Last year, it only included the top 12 firms, and from 2004 to 2006, only the top 10 firms.

Perhaps a testament to the more tenuous market, at the 15 biggest Manhattan firms, four companies saw a drop in the number of agents this year, more companies than any previous year since 2005, the first year The Real Deal did a year-over-year comparison.

Other than Elliman, Halstead Property (ranked No. 4), lost 1.1 percent of its agents to 540 agents; Coldwell Banker Hunt Kennedy (ranked No. 9) lost 3.4 percent to 197 agents; and Century 21 NY Metro (ranked No. 15) was reduced by a sizable 44.4 percent to 95 agents.

Mike Simon, Century 21 Metro's president and CEO, said that at the end of 2007, the company "did a huge overhaul, and we got rid of a lot of dead wood" before bringing on a head of recruiting.

Simon said that 30 to 40 Century 21 agents did not appear on the company Web site (the source The Real Deal used to determine agent count) because they are in training.

Of the 15 biggest firms, Bond New York, primarily a rental firm, saw the greatest agent growth rate after Corcoran between 2007 and 2008 at 10.1 percent, though the firm is more than five times smaller than Elliman, at 272 agents. Bond secured the No. 6 ranking.

There were a couple of newcomers to the list: Charles Rutenberg Realty (No. 11 with 156 agents) and Nest Seekers (No. 13 with 117 agents). Fenwick Keats Goodstein returned to the list (No. 14 at 115 agents) after falling off the top 12 in 2007 and top 10 in 2006.

Charles Rutenberg may have made the top 15 firms in terms of size, but not stature. The company claims little market share, with the fewest listings (eight), the greatest percentage of agents with no active listing (94.9 percent) and the fewest agents with listings (0.05 percent).

Charles Rutenberg, which gives agents a much larger share of the commission pie while charging desk and closing fees, was established in November 2006. Kathy Braddock, company co-founder, said that the first step in building a new firm is bringing in the agents; then they start doing deals, and then, lastly, they land exclusives.

While Elliman is still the biggest residential firm, Corcoran (when combined with Sunshine Marketing) outweighed Elliman in its number of listings and the amount of growth over the year. Corcoran had 1,829 listings last month, a 76 percent increase from 1,039 in April 2007. Even without its 259 Sunshine listings, Corcoran saw a 51.1 percent surge in listings, while Elliman saw a 42.8 rise to 1,777 homes. Together, the two behemoths dominated the market with more than 60 percent of the 5,998 listings tallied in April.

The total number of Manhattan listings increased at all 15 firms, except Century 21 NY Metro, down 29.8 percent. The rise could be because firms were receiving more business on the sellers' side, or more likely because the credit crisis meant more homes were languishing on the market. Coldwell Banker Hunt Kennedy, ranked No. 10, saw a sizable 54.5 percent increase in listings as well as a 43.9 percent increase in median listing price to $1 million.

JoAnne Kennedy, chief operating officer of Coldwell Banker Hunt Kennedy, attributed some of the company's growth to hiring Stribling & Associates luxury broker Stan Ponte in mid-2007 to run the Coldwell Banker Previews International division, which specializes in properties priced over $1 million.

In terms of dollars and cents, the total dollar value of the listings increased at 13 out of 15 companies. Corcoran outranked Elliman with around $4.3 billion in Manhattan listings, a 95.6 percent increase over April 2007, compared to Elliman's $3.6 billion, a 48.7 percent increase over last year. Even with Sunshine Marketing out of the equation, Corcoran beat out Elliman in sheer number and percentage change. Although the price growth could be due to properties staying on the market longer, since company data cover the same time period, the figures show who has the most business in relation to other firms.

Despite market uncertainty, median listing prices for Manhattan agents were pretty positive, with only three companies — all in the lower end of the median listing rankings — seeing decreases. The median price at Halstead Property, No. 8, dropped 9.3 percent to $889,000. At Warburg, No. 10, the median fell 13.1 percent, and at Bond New York, No. 15, there was a 10.1 percent drop.

Frederick Peters, president of Warburg, said The Real Deal's listing data for his firm was skewed because "we are and always have been more of a buyer's agent than a seller's agent."

Appraisal firm Miller Samuel put the Manhattan median sales price at $945,276 in the first quarter this year. Seven out of the 15 biggest real estate companies had a median listing price exceeding that price. Elliman, ranked No. 4, had a $1.4 million median, a 15.6 percent uptick. Corcoran, in the No. 5 spot, had a median of $1.3 million, an increase of 14.5 percent.

"These listing price trends are consistent with the market conditions we are observing on the ground: that prices at the upper end of the market are rising while the balance of the market shows more mixed results," said Jonathan Miller, president and CEO of Miller Samuel. "Although the listing stats at the smaller firms would more likely show less consistency because of a smaller data set, in sum total, they show a more neutral market condition."

The high-end market is holding up, with most firms having more high-priced listings compared to 2007. All firms returning to the list had the same number or more of Manhattan agents with a listing of $4 million or more. Sotheby's, ranked No. 4, had 44 agents with $4 million-plus listings, 28.9 percent of its agents. Brown Harris Stevens secured the No. 3 slot with 63 agents with a $4 million-plus listing, 19.1 percent of its agents.

The relatively small Sotheby's International Realty and Brown Harris Stevens had the highest median listing prices — Sotheby's at around $2.8 million and Brown Harris at $2.5 million — and the greatest number of agents with $10 million-plus listings.

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