Perennial leaders Corcoran and Elliman hold on to top spots in annual ranking of residential firms, while Compass sees mega-gains and others stumble
(Illustration by Øivind Hovland)
UPDATED, Feb. 1, 9:30 p.m.: Few of the city’s residential brokerage were sorry to see 2017 close out. Why would they be? Looking back, the year was marked by buyer uncertainty, heavy discounting and unapologetic recruiting as top firms sought to maintain revenue in an unforgiving market.
Against that backdrop, The Real Deal brings you its annual top brokerage ranking, which unlike in the past is based on dollar volume of closed deals in Manhattan rather than listings.
To determine who closed the most deals in 2017, we pulled thousands of Manhattan listings from On-Line Residential and then cross-referenced them with closed sales in public records — a firm needed to have either publicly listed the property or acted as its new development sales agent to get credit for a deal.
Leading the pack was the Corcoran Group, which took the top spot with $6.29 billion in closed Manhattan deals for 2017. That haul — up 3 percent from $6.13 billion in May 2016 — was driven by the firm’s new development marketing wing, Corcoran Sunshine, which sold millions of dollars of properties in buildings like 56 Leonard and the Greenwich Lane.
As usual, the firm was followed by its larger rival Douglas Elliman, which logged $5.23 billion in closed sales — down 4 percent from $5.42 billion in 2016.
Related: Who s listing the most
Rounding out the top five were Stribling Associates with $1.58 billion, Compass with $1.37 billion and Sotheby’s International Realty with $1.35 billion.
Collectively, the Top 25 firms closed $21.2 billion worth of listings in 2017, according to TRD’s analysis. That was up slightly from 2016’s $20.8 billion and 27 percent more than 2015’s $16.5 billion.
But the numbers don’t tell the full story. The stats in 2017 saw an artificial boost because many of the deals struck during 2015’s condo boom finally closed. In reality, it was a tough year for Manhattan’s residential brokerages as they grappled with a glut of expensive new developments and luxury resales lingered on the market.
Pam Liebman, Andrew Heiberger and Howard Lorber
“Anyone who tells you it was great is lying,” said Shaun Osher, the CEO of boutique brokerage CORE, adding that last year’s absorption was the slowest in two years.
“It was one of the more miserable years to be a real estate agent,” said Osher, whose firm ranked No. 10 with $347.8 million in closed sales.
Amid 2017’s market turmoil, firms ramped up recruiting — while agents jockeying for sweeter commission splits happily complied.
Things came to a head in early December, when Compass — fresh off a $450 million investment from Softbank — vowed to use the funds to turbocharge its growth both nationally and in New York.
By the end of the month, the firm, which is headed by CEO Robert Reffkin, had hired 50 more agents in Manhattan to close out the year with 713 agents in the borough, up from 300 in 2016.
“The word ‘slow’ is not part of the Compass vocabulary,” said Maelle Gavet, the COO of the firm, which is now valued at $2.2 billion.
Among the firm’s big-name hires were Halstead Property’s Brian Lewis, Nest Seekers International’s Silvette Julian and Corcoran’s Fabienne Lecole.
But unlike 2013, when Compass’ aggressive hiring caught its rivals off guard, this time the upstart firm wasn’t the only one in recruitment mode.
Those efforts were evident in the firms’ headcounts, which TRD determined by reviewing broker licensing records filed with the state Department of State.
Taking the No. 1 spot on that portion of the ranking was Elliman with 2,350 Manhattan agents, up 17 percent from 2,010 in May 2016.
It was followed by Corcoran with 1,456 (up 29 percent) and Halstead Property with 828 (up roughly 14 percent).
Update: After publication, Brown Harris Stevens told The Real Deal it closed $1.7 billion in 738 Manhattan sell-side deals in 2017.
In the No. 4 spot was Keller Williams NYC — part of the fast-growing national franchise — whose 38 percent gain was second only to Compass, whose headcount jumped 138 percent. KWNYC finished the year with 820 agents, up from 593.
“Agents know it’s a challenging market, so they’re looking to make sure they’re at the right place,” said Steven James, CEO of Elliman’s New York brokerage. “They’re independent contractors, so if they don’t make sales, they don’t get paid.”
For Corcoran — as well as sister firms Citi Habitats and Sotheby’s — the hiring spree was a tactical move started in February 2017 by parent company Realogy, which on Jan. 1 brought in new CEO Ryan Schneider.
And Realogy’s three NYC brands are still in growth mode.
Corcoran CEO Pam Liebman — who hired new development guru Vickey Barron from Elliman in 2017 — said that in the last year the firm “really gave an extra push” on the recruiting front.
And even firms that haven’t historically been aggressive at wooing new agents ramped it up in 2017.
“Our focus has never been about size,” said Hall Willkie, who runs Brown Harris Stevens with Bess Freedman. “It’s about being good.”
Nonetheless, Freedman said the white-shoe firm has made a concerted effort over the last year to target and groom new brokers. In 2017, it increased its headcount by 27 percent, adding more than 130 agents for a total of 627.
“At some point, you have to be willing to embrace the fact that the future is getting younger,” she said. “We want the older generation meshed with the new.”
Sources said the unabashed recruiting is the new normal.
Three years ago, as firms poached top agents from rival brokerages, those tactics spawned a series of lawsuits over noncompete agreements. While that era of litigation seems to have subsided, ruthless poaching — now involving 新上海贵族宝贝论坛