By Liana Grey
In the last few months, brokerage firms around the city have expanded into the outer boroughs, announcing plans to recruit dozens of new agents.
Each office comes with its own perks, from free WiFi to a location in some of the trendiest enclaves outside Manhattan.
“One thing we do is we have more ample workspace,” said Dave Maundrell, president of the Williamsburg-based aptsandlofts.com.
Looking to expand south of Williamsburg and Greenpoint, the company just signed a lease for a 2,000 s/f storefront at the base of a three-story building in Cobble Hill, with 20 foot ceilings and a backyard.
“People can sit out there on the phone; they can sit with their iPads and work,” said Maundrell, who is looking to hire 40 new agents for the space. “We can have training sessions and barbecues.”
Maundrell hunted for office space in Brooklyn Heights, but found main thoroughfares like Montague Avenue too packed with competitors. Ultimately, he settled on the Court Street storefront because of its proximity to key neighborhoods like Downtown Brooklyn and Boerum Hill.
“There’s great foot traffic,” he explained. “It’s so centrally located, you can access five neighborhoods from this location. Simultaneously, it’s a seven minute walk from the subway.”
Maundrell’s new space isn’t free from competition: recently, Halstead also opened a new office on Court Street, its fifth in Brooklyn.
“We’re already in Cobble Hill,” said Diane Ramirez, Halstead’s president. “It’s a dominant location.” Still, she hopes to further strengthen the firm’s presence in the neighborhood.
In recent weeks, the firm has been on an expansion binge, opening a second office in Riverdale, and setting up shop in Park Slope.
“Park Slope is an area we have been looking at for quite a while as a strategic growth location,” Ramirez explained.
15 Halstead agents transferred to the new location, and over time, Ramirez expects to hire more. “We’re always looking for good agents,” she said.
Rather than attract new team members with fancy office amenities, Halstead relies on cutting-edge resources of the digital variety.
“We look to have a good, comfortable, working office, but our focus is technology,” Ramirez explained. “We’re up on everything, from marketing on the iPad to incredible tools on our website. Our video library alone has over 800 videos.”
Other firms have gone the way of Google and Facebook when expanding into artsy, industrial-chic hot spots, offering fun spaces for brokers to hang out during downtime.
Prudential Douglas Elliman is setting up an office in Long Island City, Queens with a pool table and a lounge. “We anticipate experiencing a tremendous amount of activity in this already popular neighborhood,” Prudential CEO Dottie Herman said in a statement last week.
And at a new office in Williamsburg, located at the Edge development on Kent Street, the brokerage firm Modern Spaces plans to install a foosball table and couch seating.
The 4,000 s/f storefront, slated to open in the next few weeks, will also share space with Sweetleaf, a coffee shop with a branch in Long Island City. In addition, agents will be provided with bikes to travel to and from appointments.
After taking over sales at the Louver House, a loft-style development on Metropolitan Avenue in Williamsburg, the firm’s founder, Eric Benaim, wanted a larger presence in the neighborhood.
A couple of brokerage firms have expanded within Manhattan, including Nest Seekers, which launched an of brokers for a new space in the Flatiron District.
But like many in the industry, Benaim, who launched Modern Spaces in Long Island City three years ago, has watched demand for condos rise in hip enclaves in northern Brooklyn and western Queens.
Last December, REBNY announced that average condo prices in Brooklyn were up 11 percent from 2010. The condo market in Williamsburg fared particularly well, with the average fourth quarter price 25 percent higher than the year before.
“I see the market is back, and it’s strong, so obviously you want to capitalize on that,” said Benaim.
In February, the firm set up shop in Astoria, following a successful sales campaign at Edge31, one of several new glass and steel luxury buildings that have comprised a mini condo boom in northwest Queens.
Though aware that Long Island City and Astoria are hot (according to the REBNY report, the average sales price in Queens went up by six percent since 2010), Maundrell of aptsandlofts.com has been wary about establishing an office there. “The waterfront’s pretty much done,” he said. “There’s opportunity in re-sales, but not in rentals.”
Still, agents at Aptsandlofts.com represent about 600 units in Long Island City, and will be focusing on marketing new listings away from the East River, in the Queens Plaza portion of the neighborhood. “At some point, there might be an office there,” Maundrell said.
Both he and Ramirez of Halstead are hesitant to predict where their firms will establish a presence in the future. “We’ll see where the market takes us,” Maundrell said.