- The approach is high tech. The décor is minimal. The office is Engel & Volkers. The location is 20 Main Street in the heart of Southampton Village
where the international real estate firm headquartered in Germany has established a presence in the Hamptons. They are here to stay, making major inroads with their own brand of high touch customer service competing for business in a volatile market that has agents scrambling for sales as they try to locate the few ready, willing and able buyers who are either brave or recession proof.
Veteran broker David Saland has joined the select group of agents that will
represent the international real estate firm in Southampton.
"I don't think the market is as bad as people are making it out to be," Jonathan B. Lerner, managing director and principal broker of the Southampton office, said this week as he assessed the market. Lerner, a long-time visitor to the East End who summered in Montauk as a child, took over the Engel & Volkers Southampton office in December 2008. He has plans to expand on the South Fork in 2010 and 2011 hoping to have two more offices established in the area by then. He is scouting locations now.
Lerner's 40 year history on the South Fork combined with his 25 years experience as a working broker has given him a sense of optimism and market perspective.
"I have been in worse markets," Lerner added, looking forward to a strong rental and selling season in the months ahead. "This is the third down cycle I've seen," he said, noting the current market slump is less disastrous than previous down markets.
Lerner sold real estate in the 1970s when gasoline shortages made it difficult if not impossible for buyers to put their cars on the road to travel to a real estate office to view properties. He is also a veteran of the down market of the 1980s when interest rates on mortgages rose to an astronomical 18 percent.
"If you look at this market from that prospective it's not so bad. Housing prices are at their lowest point in three years, we have an abundance of inventory and mortgage rates are at an all time low," he pointed out, referring to the prevailing rate now at approximately 4.9 percent. Real estate insiders expect these rates to drop to four percent by mid-summer.
Lerner, along with Office Manager Amadeus Ehrhardt
, hopes to dazzle customers and clients with their high touch "white glove" service. The firm's philosophy as practiced around the world in 350 branch offices is simple. "We give people service," Lerner said, noting Engel & Volkers agents routinely train at the firm's headquarters in Hamburg, Germany where founder and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Christian Volkers established his first office in 1977. Volkers created his own training academy in 1996 convinced he could educate real estate agents - taking them to a new level of service and knowledge.
Lerner and Ehrhardt survey their shop window at 20 Main Street.
The firm specializes in the sale and rental of high-end commercial and residential properties and also brokers yacht sales. The Engel & Volkers brand is recognized around the world where the firm has established a presence comprised of a total of 376 offices located on four continents devoted to handling residential and commercial property. The firm has offices in South America, the Middle East and Africa in addition to its European shops.
The company entered the American market in 2004. They opened their first office in Southampton in 2005. There are now more than 30 "shops" in the United States with a high concentration in Florida. The southern state, long a mecca for Southampton's 'snowbirds,' reportedly has the highest concentration of second homes in the United States today.
"We believe in taking the right listing at the right price," Erhhardt said, echoing the real estate agents mantra. "We want to help people sell their homes."
Lerner maintains his office offers a unique market share because of its presence on the world stage and its activity in the international market place. The arrival of Engel & Volkers has definitely "kicked it up a notch," on the South Fork where the bar has been raised considerably over the last 15 years.
Both brokers expressed confidence in the current market as they move forward with deals in the works. Pictured here, a current listing of property in Noyac.
The early Hamptons real estate firms were often Mom and Pop operations that endured for generations doing business based on long-standing relationships with their friends and neighbors. Many were one-man shops, while others had no more than five to 10 agents working under the supervision of a principal owner broker.
The owner broker paid for all their agents advertising and supervised all of the listings. The firm's names reflected their owners' direct involvement. Norma Reynolds Realty, Mrs. Condie Lamb, Tina Fredericks and finally Alan M. Schneider Associates, to name a few.
The entrance of Alan M. Schneider into the marketplace changed the mix dramatically as the flamboyant Schneider led the way to becoming the first "super broker" to do business from offices in each of the towns and villages throughout the Hamptons.
Schneider branded his chain of offices, painting walls a vivid hunter green that many agents still refer to as "Alan Schneider" green. He took advertising to new heights as well as he redefined the Hamptons market selling everything from a family farm in Bridgehampton to lavish oceanfront mansions.
When he died he left a huge void in the real estate world but his company carried on for many years until its owners and principal brokers Peter Hallock
, Peggy Griffin and Tim Davis
sold the company to the Corcoran Group
. Corporate real estate entered the fray in the Hamptons in the mid 1990s when suburban broker Dorothy "Dottie" Herman opened her first office in the Hamptons. Herman built her company on a chain of suburban offices across Long Island and also established beach heads on the exclusive North Shore in Nassau and western Suffolk Counties. She expanded quickly in the Hamptons despite a bevy of critics who predicted she would never make it out east.
Undeterred, Herman proceeded to dominate the market, ultimately expanding into New York City
when she purchased the prestigious Douglas Elliman
real estate offices in Manhattan. Herman's acquisition of the NYC chain expanded her market share from Manhattan to Montauk, defining her as the only broker who literally had offices across Long Island as her real estate empire grew to over 50 offices with more than 4,000 agents.
"We do one better," Lerner said, displaying a recent newspaper ad depicting a house with a sold sign planted on the front lawn. The ad notes the house was purchased by a European buyer who would never have seen the property if it had not been listed by a brokerage firm with an international reach.
"That is what we bring to the mix, along with highly developed technology and sales skills," Lerner said. "We are not playing a numbers game here packing the office with agents. We are very selective when it comes to agents. We want to keep the shop manageable and provide individual marketing strategies that are tailored to the correct approach for a property. Not every property is marketed the same," Lerner concluded as he went back to work hoping for another deal.