By Liana Grey
When Lee Schweninger was in elementary school, he attended open houses with his mother, Elaine, a longtime broker who now works at Town Residential. At one point, he even had a chance to answer phone calls at the sales office of a Lower Manhattan condo development. “At six years old, I was an unwitting intern,” he joked.
After graduating from college, Schweninger got his broker’s license and joined his mom at Town. Such family partnerships are common at the firm, which was founded just over a year ago by Andrew Heiberger. Husbands and wives work together, as do siblings. Heiberger himself lists apartments alongside his sister, Lisa, and the firm employs a set of twins, Aminata and Soukeyna Sy.
Of 300 licensed sales agents and staff members in Town’s six Manhattan offices, about 18 are part of family teams.
“While some companies prohibit relatives from working together, we recognize that there can be tremendous benefits stemming from an inclusive approach,” Rose Scalia, Town’s director of human resources, said in a statement. “This is particularly true in real estate, an industry where apprenticeships are common and both skills and relationships can be passed down through generations.”
By joining his mom, who worked for a decade at Prudential Douglas Elliman following a career in early childhood education, Schweninger has been able to work on deals that many rookie brokers would have to wait years to handle.
For instance, the pair is directing sales at Observatory Place, a LEED certified luxury condo development at 353 East 104th Street in East Harlem. “We’re finishing it up,” said the elder Schweninger. “It’s 70 percent sold.”
And recently, the mother-son team listed a three-bedroom rental at 166 Duane Street in TriBeCa for $17,500 a month, available June 1. Of course, because 20-somethings tend to be savvier with twitter, Facebook, and mobile apps than their parents, the benefits of a multigenerational partnership are mutual.
“[Lee] can do a lot of things I can do, but not really well,” Elaine Schweninger said, referring in part to her son’s grasp of the latest tech trends. “We’re a good team.”
Schweninger exposes her son to the glamour of TriBeCa and SoHo, where most of her business is concentrated, and he keeps her in the loop about the young professional scene in Brooklyn, where he went to high school and now rents an apartment.
Such arrangements work so well that a number of brokerage firms welcome teams of relatives.Two sisters-in-law, Lauren and Maria Cangiano, work together at Halstead, for instance. And a husband and wife team, Paula and Joseph Cesarano, recently joined Houlihan Lawrence’s White Plains office.
Many of Schweninger’s longtime friends in the industry have brought their children on board. “I said to a colleague, ‘we should start a support group for people that work with their children,’” Schweninger joked. “I remember the kids when they were in grammar school, preschool.”
At Citi Habitats, which also boasts a handful of family teams, Ira Schulte, a former social worker and psychotherapist who at one point ran his own brokerage firm, relies on his son’s social media skills to help market listings.
“He would still be using a typewriter if he could,” joked the younger Schulte, who joined his father at the firm a year and a half ago, after receiving a bachelor’s degree in business and marketing and working in management at Circuit City.
Though the Schultes often handle separate listings, father and son worked together to secure a buyer for a large combined apartment — made up of two studios and a one bedroom — at 4 Lexington Avenue, a pre-war co-op building near Gramercy Park where the elder Schulte had four previous listings.
“Michael helped with marketing ideas,” Schulte explained. “We did open houses together.”
In addition to the sharing of expertise, father and son benefit from a sense of familial duty. While the younger Schulte was vacationing on a houseboat in Amsterdam recently, an offer was accepted on one of his listings in Murray Hill.
He had no qualms about asking his father to finalize the sale for him, and the elder Schulte didn’t think twice about helping out.
Michael Hamberger, a colleague of the Schultes’ at Citi Habitats, is more than familiar with this type of scenario.
For much of his adult life, Hamberger has worked side by side with family members.
After graduating from college with a degree in accounting, he helped his father set up window displays for department stores — including elaborate Christmas displays at Macy’s.
“My father retired, sold the business, and we decided we had enough of each other,” Hamberger joked.
Now, he sells apartments with his wife, Fern. “I’ve been in family businesses all my life,” he said.
The two began investing in real estate shortly after they were married, but it wasn’t until four years ago that they joined forces at Citi Habitats.
“Together, we bought and sold houses for 31 years,” explained Fern Hamberger, who began her career in IT and then switched to mergers and acquisitions. “It wasn’t until 9/11 that it became a business.”
Much of her finance work was disrupted by the attacks — and besides, she was exhausted from frequent travelling. “Real estate is in my blood,” she said. “I thought, why not be a broker?”
Before joining Citi Habitats, she launched her career at Nest Seekers, where she quickly found success: one of her first sales at the firm was a $5 million apartment.
When she approached her husband about joining her, he initially shied away. “At first he said, ‘No, no, I don’t want to work with you,’” she joked.
When he eventually agreed to help, business boomed, and the couple carved a niche in relocations. At one point, their daughter briefly joined them before heading off to law school. “Sometimes [Michael] says, ‘Why didn’t we start this earlier?’” Hamberger said.
Much like the Schultes and other parent-child teams, each Hamberger brings something to the table: Fern, who was born in Egypt and speaks Arabic, Italian, French and Hebrew, can relate on a personal level to the couple’s international clientele, while her husband knows the five boroughs inside out.
“I speak many languages and that helps with relocations,” Hamberger explained. “He’s a native New Yorker, and knows every nook and cranny of the city.”
Their status as husband wife – not just business partners – has also helped them maintain social relationships with clients, which often lead to referrals.
Not long ago, the couple, who live in Bergen County, NJ, and recently purchased a small studio in Manhattan to crash at after late nights working, helped a young woman find a home in New Jersey.
When the client and her boyfriend were ready to move in together, the Hambergers secured them a larger house.
Later, they attended the couple’s wedding. “They introduced us to friends and family,” said Hamberger. “They relate to us.”