The Telltate Party Can Say a Great Deal About a Brokerage 

Dec 25, 2005

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MOST people don't like to think about their real estate broker throwing back drinks and gyrating on a dance floor to "It's Raining Men." But like the holiday party, it happens once a year, ready or not.

For a buyer or seller looking to discover what a firm values, its demographic, its "personality" (let alone its quotient for fun), much can be gleaned from the annual holiday party. While the success of the soiree is no indication of whether these real estate professionals can close a deal, the parties do give an indication of how the company may treat clients based on how they treat one another - and themselves.

Some are over the top, like the $100,000 party given by Prudential Douglas Elliman, at which more than 1,000 guests stormed the Four Seasons 10 days ago. Others were intimate affairs at a broker's home, a traditional dinner party at a private club or a laid-back hangout session at a downtown lounge not yet open to the public. Still others involved draining mozzarella and singing drag queens - although not at the same time or place.

Bellmarc Realty

Bellmarc was the early entrant, kicking the season off on Nov. 29 with a by-the-book holiday party at a TriBeCa party space, complete with holly-themed name tags.

A buffet dinner featured four kinds of pasta, baked chicken, filleted fish, carved roast beef or turkey. Dancing followed, heavy on Motown and ebullient wedding favorites like Kool and the Gang's "Celebration" and Aretha Franklin's "Respect."

This was a festive affair, not too showy, not too stingy.

And not surprising, because Bellmarc is a "just right" kind of company. With about 220 agents, it is squarely in the middle of the 10 largest companies. The agents tend to be older, ranging from about 30 to 70, many on their second or third career.

Most of the agents have accents that leave no doubt they grew up in New Jersey, Long Island, Manhattan or Queens - like the owners of the firm, Neil Binder and Marc Broxmeyer.

People whispered that the party was held so early in the season because it was cheaper to rent the space.

But by the looks of the dance floor at TriBeCa Rooftop, awash in bodies swaying, shaking and twisting, no one thought it was a bad deal.

Gumley Haft Kleier

On Dec. 7, Michele Kleier, who co-owns and co-manages the boutique firm Gumley Haft Kleier with her husband, Ian, was host to a cocktail party for 40 people at the nine-room Park Avenue prewar apartment where they have lived for the last 25 years.

A beaming Mrs. Kleier greeted guests in the foyer flanked by her two smiling daughters - and vice presidents at the firm - Sabrina Kleier Morgenstern and Samantha Kleier Forbes. Each of the three held one of the family's Maltese dogs - Lola, Roxy and Dolly - bedecked in red and green collars.

There was a lot of cheek kissing and puppy nuzzling.

It felt more like a book party than a holiday event (and not just because the three Kleier women are writing a book about being a family-run David against the consolidated Goliath firms). The parlor and living room were filled with chic-looking middle-aged agents and their spouses. There were some younger brokers looking like Junior Leaguers and some real estate reporters happily munching food.

Partygoers sipped wine and ate chocolate-dipped clementines and cheesy jalapeños on tiny biscuits as Billy Joel and Frankie Valli played on the sound system.

Just as one would expect at a party held amid Kleier photographs, family and friendships are central to the company. They are the company. Ms. Kleier has been in real estate for 27 years, and in addition to having her daughters close, many of the brokers are old friends.

Brown Harris Stevens and Halstead

Brown Harris Stevens's annual party was held on Dec. 7 at Au Bar, a velvet-roped celebrity magnet in Midtown off Park Avenue, which reflected the company's idiosyncratic mix of the traditional and the trendy.

While there are agents at Brown Harris Stevens who have developed long relationships with prominent New York families, there are also young brokers who handle newer clients. Everyone's clients share one trait: wealth.

In a parlorlike party space, where several courses of food were served, including sushi, pastas, salmon and desserts, the younger agents gravitated to a dance floor with music ranging from rock to rap.

Expressly for the firm, and not for spouses or guests, the party was also attended by some principals of the parent company, Terra Holdings, including members of the Zeckendorf family.

Halstead, also owned by Terra, had a very similar party, held at the same place on a different night. Just a little bit later, for a crowd just a little bit younger.

Warburg Realty

Each Warburg agent donned a red apron on arrival at the Tuscan Square restaurant in Rockefeller Center on Dec. 12. They were assigned a culinary station - fish, meatballs, mozzarella, tiramisu - and worked with one of 10 chefs to learn how to prepare the dish for the dinner.

The party was in keeping with the creative and academic background of Warburg. Its president, Frederick Peters, has a master's degree in music from Queens College and went to Yale as an undergraduate. He likes to keep the firm ahead of similar-sized ones, and Warburg was the first to open a luxury property office in Harlem.

Jane Bayard, a vice president there who was charged with creating the party, said that she tries to come up with a new idea each year for the company's 150 agents.

"We're not a mega-giant, so we can have a warmer atmosphere," Ms. Bayard said. The best part, she said, was that "we weren't talking real estate all night."

Citi Habitats

The soiree for about 1,000 was held at the enormous and ornate Cipriani Wall Street. With a supper club theme, it felt more like a senior prom than an office holiday party.

The decoration committee did some impressive work with the palm-tree table-toppers with feathers for fronds and a silken trunk lit from within. There were hors d'oeuvres and a buffet dinner of sushi, shrimp, pasta, salad and grilled beef.

Gaggles of young women wore strapless, backless or deeply plunging formal dresses in all manner of black, red and sequin. The men, who also came in packs, were no slouches either, wearing velvet pinstriped blazers and black suits.

Professional swing dancers performed to "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy," inspiring some flirty shimmying by agents on the dance floor, before the band retreated to dance fare with a cover of Madonna's "Holiday."

A projection screen above the stage flashed pictures of those overachievers who made the real estate equivalent of the honor roll, earning the "Top Sales Agent" and "Top Rental Agent" titles. There were pictures of the company's extracurricular activities like team sports and service projects. It was shown without the accompanying misty-eyed Alphaville version of "Forever Young" playing in the background. Which is unfortunate because Citi Habitats is forever young, made up of a seemingly endless supply of new agents, and the turnover is high.

Agents tend to be in their late 20's or early 30's, which speaks to attracting the young people that are the firm's bread and butter. For many people arriving in New York fresh from college, Citi Habitats is their introduction to Manhattan real estate.

Stribling & Associates

Elizabeth Stribling loves throwing a party, and like the firm that bears her name she does so with a strong sense of tradition.

It is held each year at the same Upper East Side private club. There are cocktails and a buffet dinner. For the last five years, the event has been decorated by Renny Reynolds, a Park Avenue-based designer who has created spectacular spaces through flowers from Studio 54 to the White House.

This year the party took a Caribbean island theme, with oodles of orchids, parasols, pretend iguanas and lanterns with printed birds. Sheer fabric was hung across the room, giving it what Mrs. Stribling called a "warm magic carpet feel."

"It demonstrates her personal style," said Kirk Henckels, the director of Stribling Private Brokerage. "I would never use the word 'classy'; I would say classic."

Mrs. Stribling personally greeted the agents and staff members who arrived with their significant others. Some of the firm's 200 agents come from prominent Upper East Side families with educations from schools like Chapin and colleges like Smith and Vassar, while others are from Dubai, United Arab Emirates; Paris; London; and South Africa.

"People said I looked like a snowflake," Mrs. Stribling said, describing her glittering white gown with lace and silver sequins that was made for her by Pilar Rossi.

Dwelling Quest

The Dwelling Quest identity - a hip, independent, boutique firm - could be read in the party's invitation, which was a slick e-vite with stylized pictures of candy canes and a red drink in a martini glass. The firm has 80 agents spread out over three locations, in Midtown, Harlem and Brooklyn, but the sensibility of the firm, as well as the location of the party, is very downtown.

It partied in a new cafe in west SoHo called Giorgione 508 (owned by Giorgio DeLuca, co-founder of Dean & DeLuca), which would not be open to the public until a week after the party. The vibe was low-key hangout, with the men in dressy open-collared shirts and the women in clingy knitwear as music by the Killers, the White Stripes and Moby played.

Since the company is growing - both the Brooklyn and Harlem offices opened this year - Daren W. Hornig, its chief executive, said planning a party is a delicate balance.

"If you do too much," Mr. Hornig said, "people say, 'Why did you spend so much money on one night when you could have put it back into infrastructure?' If you do too little, people say, 'You don't appreciate us?' "

JC DeNiro & Associates

From the mountain of coats piling up in front of the quickly fogging windows, to the scented candles set on filing cabinets and the wrought-iron decorative pieces bedecked with garlands and tinsel, this party had the welcoming effects of coming into someone's home.

But it was held in the JC DeNiro & Associates' office at Ninth Avenue and 21st Street in a storefront designed by Christopher Mathieson, the managing partner of the company, with the attention many give to their own homes.

Without the budget for a big flashy party, this firm used its people and its creativity to pull together an elaborate and attractive party.

The catering crew handily balanced convection ovens on top of desks and put glass Pyrex pans on top of printers, setting up their kitchen in a raised and open office space in the back. Another open office became a stage where a D.J. set up his gear, playing high energy club music and tracks from the new Madonna album. Throughout the evening two drag performers, Sherry Vine and Hedda Lettuce, tag-teamed the stage for stand up and singing.

The agents, who seemed to be friends as much as colleagues, mingled amid the festive wrapping-paper detritus of a secret-Santa celebration. They were invited to bring whomever they wanted - friends, boyfriends, girlfriends, spouses, parents - and each category was represented.

Prudential Douglas Elliman

By 9:30 p.m., the doorman at the 52nd Street entrance to the Four Seasons had abandoned his duties to Julian Niccolini, an owner of the restaurant. Mr. Niccolini announced to the two dozen unhappy guests jammed into the vestibule with their fur coats that it would be a half hour wait.

For those fortunate or patient enough to get inside, the party was on corporate holiday overdrive. Hundreds of men in charcoal suits lifted glasses and screamed over the music at hundreds of women in formal gowns, cocktail dresses and pantsuits. Suits slid past, the guests with plates of lobster and curry in one hand, a cellphone in the other, trying to make their way through the sprawling venue.

Everything about the party said big - the venue, the band, the buffet; the personalities, the crowd, the noise. And that was fitting, because the company is among the top in the city in terms of numbers of agents.

In Manhattan, the "big 10" firms are more like a fuzzy 11 or 12, with the companies changing rankings depending on the measurement, and who is measuring.

Typically, firms floating around the top include Prudential Douglas Elliman, the Corcoran Group, Halstead Properties, Brown Harris Stevens, Coldwell Banker Hunt Kennedy, Bellmarc Realty, Stribling & Associates, Warburg Realty, Fenwick-Keats, Citi Habitats, Sotheby's International Realty and Manhattan Apartments.

A study done by the trade publication the Real Deal last April showed how they ranked in various categories. At that time it was Corcoran for the highest dollar sum in total listings ($2.79 billion), Sotheby's for highest median price per listing ($5.09 million) and Fenwick-Keats with the highest percentage of brokers without listings (63.1 percent). Douglas Elliman had the highest number of listings and the most brokers.

Last year, Gloria Gaynor performed at the Douglas Elliman party. This year the hired band performed Ms. Gaynor's signature song, "I Will Survive." But the dance floor hit its peak during a cover of Bon Jovi's "Living on a Prayer." Perhaps a telling shift in the market place?

Coldwell Banker Hunt Kennedy, the Corcoran Group, Manhattan Apartments

These three firms are having their holiday party in January, a trend started by Corcoran a decade ago because the holidays are too heavy with competition for people's attention. Coldwell Banker Hunt Kennedy will have a different kind of party this year, a black-tie event with dinner and dancing at the Doubles Club at the Sherry-Netherland Hotel.

Manhattan Apartments, which seems to be trying to keep up with everyone else, doesn't know what kind of party it is going to have, but it will have one, it promised, on Jan. 11.

Corcoran will take over Cipriani Wall Street on Jan. 10 with a "God and Goddess" party. The party, which will include models in period costume, also reflects the company's inherent competitive spirit.

"Every year they try to outdo themselves," said Lara Berdine, vice president of public relations. "The agents have pretty high expectations."


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The stars of HGTV's “Selling New York” let fans step inside the high-profile world of Manhattan real estate in a wild and one-of-a-kind novel of stormy egos, sumptuous homes, and staggering fame and fortune. Written by Michele, Samantha & Sabrina Kleier.