What Works? Teamwork

The Atlantic Team at Douglas Elliman — Justin Agnello, James Keogh, and Hara Kang — has made aggressive use of online marketing strategies. Morgan McGivern

    We hear that city real estate brokers have gone team-crazy, forming teams with sometimes eight or more members, almost companies within companies. That hasn’t happened here . . . yet. But teams, entities of more than one agent, on the South Fork are on a roll.

    There are many reasons for agents to be on a team, and for clients to work with a team. For one thing, it can even out those hot and cold spells solo agents suffer through. There is also a greater market presence, with two or more agents having a bigger media and networking profile than one. But mostly there is the ubiquitous factor. When a solo broker picks up the kids, goes to the doctor, or takes a vacation, there’s a void. Not so with teams. There’s always someone on hand to nurture sellers or coddle buyers.

    Chris Chapin, a broker at Douglas Elliman, claims to have been the first agent in the Hamptons to form a team. It was an idea suggested to him in 1999 by Dottie Herman, at the time head of Prudential Long Island Realty, who had witnessed successful teams in other areas. “I have not flown solo since,” he said, pointing out that the first-year failure rate of new agents is 50 percent. “Starting out as part of a group, you have training wheels, and can figure stuff out before you flunk out.”

    Mr. Chapin currently counts four on his team. Pointing out that a team is often comprised of “one veteran agent with a constantly changing roster of newer agents for support,” he recruited Ray Lord III in 2011. Mr. Lord had several things going for him. A former business major, he traveled widely and was a “connector” who knew influencers in multiple areas from the arts to business. But perhaps most important, he was a “millennial.” While Mr. Chapin supplied the expertise, Mr. Lord spoke “fluent Internet.” Within a short time it became apparent that Mr. Lord would be a real estate “superstar,” so the Lord Chapin Team was born. This past summer Erin Downey and Brian Blekicki joined them.

    If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em seems to be a motivating factor to team formation. In the new “we generation,” community trumps competition. The Atlantic Team is a powerhouse of young Turks also out of the Douglas Elliman East Hampton office. James Keogh is the oldest at 31, while his partners, Justin Agnello and Hara Kang, are each 30. They all started working at the same time eight years ago, all prospecting the same potential clients. So why not share the bounty? Anyway, they were “all young so everyone hated us.”

    Their youth paid off. “We took a hard-line Internet approach,” said Mr. Keogh. “Before the Zillows and the Trulias, we were marketing online very aggressively.” Unlike their older compatriots, “we were able to get more exposure for our listings at no expense.” While other agents were marketing “the old way, doing broker open houses,” the trio was e-blasting their listings. While Hamptons real estate agencies are known for being resistant to the nationwide Multiple Listing Service, “We were the only ones for many years posting listings on the M.L.S.,” according to Mr. Agnello. “The old-school way of selling real estate was advertising yourself as a broker. We market the property rather than ourselves.” They even listed properties in places “you wouldn’t expect” such as Craigslist. “We cover all marketing outlets.”

    The tech factor is a huge component in team forming. Many veteran brokers, such as Mr. Chapin, pair their market know-how with a younger agent’s marketing savvy. With the sister-and-brother team of Laura and Carl Nigro, co-managers of Nest Seekers in Bridgehampton, Ms. Nigro is the more experienced broker, while her brother is “very good with the computer,” according to Ms. Nigro, building databases and scanning info into the system. 

    Specialization is another factor driving the formation of teams. In the Saunders team of Vince Horcasitas and Robert Tramondo, Mr. Horcasitas is the senior partner, with years more real estate experience, but Mr. Tramondo contributes a seasoned background in publishing. With Mr. Horcasitas doing most of the selling, Mr. Tramondo spends 60 percent of his time on administration. “The team concept allows the primary partner to focus on what he does best,” said Mr. Tramondo, who brought extensive marketing skills with him. “I joined to help him with his business and it has grown exponentially. At the end of the day it’s a manpower issue. If you want to grow your business, you need help.” Now, they are looking for a third partner.

    While teams of unrelated people proliferate, it seems that most teams out east are peopled by those related by blood. The key word brought up time and again is “trust.”

    Susan Breitenbach and her son Matt are a case in point, though Ms. Breitenbach claims they are not yet a formal team. They may work side by side, but they have yet to be officially anointed the Breitenbach Team. She expects that to change within the year. Mr. Breitenbach’s entree into real estate was something of a fluke. He started off writing for a local magazine before asking his mother if he could help her out for the summer. “He had a knack,” she said, an understatement to be sure. In his first week he sold a house for $3 million and brought in a full-price offer on another property. Ms. Breitenbach points out that a lot of so-called teams are actually a broker and assistants. “Matt is not just assisting; he has his own customers and is getting a name for himself.”

    John and William Wines, father and son, are a new team out of Town and Country specializing in commercial sales. “I have a long background in construction and real estate finance,” said John. “On the other hand my son has an M.B.A. . . . and is very good with spreadsheets and crunching numbers.” Though far apart in age, “we are equal partners,” said the dad. And there’s plenty of moolah to split, as they’ve brought in in excess of $30 million in listings in their first three months, and have put nearly that same amount into contract.

    It’s no surprise that teams sometimes divorce. “I have had to kick agents gently out of the nest,” said Mr. Chapin. Then again, “Many of the dozens of new agents I have brought into Douglas Elliman have gone on to create their own teams. Several of the top agents at Sotheby’s and Corcoran began their careers as apprentices within my group.”