Out With The Old: Coldwell Banker Commercial Alliance Hits New York
The New York office of Coldwell Banker Commercial Alliance—a franchise of Coldwell Banker Commercial—is so new that the sign outside its Midtown offices still bears the name of its previous iteration, Coldwell Banker Commercial Hunter Realty.
For the moment, a simple printout taped over the old plaque lets visitors know they’ve found the right spot. Yes, it’s that new.
Waterfall Asset Management announced in July that it had acquired the location, which was founded as Hunter Realty by industry veterans Richard Selig and Peter Sabesan roughly 14 years ago. When you factor in that Messrs. Selig and Sabesan worked for the Helmsleys, and that Coldwell Banker Commercial is itself a franchise system owned by Realogy Corp.—owner of Sotheby’s International Real Estate, Century 21 Real Estate and the Corcoran Group, among others—you almost need a flow chart to untangle it all.
The new firm will focus on representing small users of commercial space in the city, which was what Messrs. Selig and Sabesan have long focused on anyway, after finding a niche there years ago. The pair make for unlikely candidates for the title Power Broker—not for any deficit, but because, well, this is New York City, where what makes headlines are the lease deals that are measured in the hundreds of thousands of square feet or more. And what pushes these deals through are often equally outsized egos.
“Neither of us has an ego,” Mr. Sabesan said. “So when we were at Helmsley, we saw the niche that we could definitely exploit. It’s about representing small to midsized users and bringing the same level of expertise that you would give to a larger transaction.”
“We’ve done those larger transactions when we were at Helmsley,” Mr. Selig continued. “It may boost your ego a little bit, but you know what? Our egos are O.K.—we’re comfortable with ourselves, so we don’t have to do the larger transactions and get our names all over the news.”
Which is not to say that the pair isn’t busy. Though they declined to name tenants on behalf of whom they’re actively looking for space, recent deals include 10,100 square feet for Mainstream Swimsuits at 1441 Broadway and 9,000 square feet for Transit Wireless at 151 West 30th Street. That company, which is charged with bringing wifi to New York City’s subway system, one station at a time, actually exemplifies the fact that small users of space—between 5,000 and 50,000 square feet—still need a high level of care.
“Their power requirements are as much as a major financial institution,” Mr. Sabesan said, “so we had to have Con Ed bring in special power to the building.”
They’ve also recently found space for WeWork, Buddy Media, the Skin Cancer Foundation and Hartfield Titus & Donnelly.
The move to tenant representation and the Coldwell Banker Commercial umbrella started as Messrs. Selig and Sabesan were busy unloading Helmsley properties while at Helmsley-Noyse. The firm, they said, was dissolving around them.
“When we got to Helmsley-Noyse, it was more of taking care of it until they closed,” said Mr. Selig.
“We were put there specifically to help them finish up the leasing and continue the leasing until the buildings either got dropped or were sold,” added Mr. Sabesan.
“Every time she sold a building, we had to change where our offices were,” said Mr. Selig, referring to the late and infamous Leona Helmsley.
As the buildings were being sold off, the pair had opportunities to go with one of the larger companies, one of the buyers, but instead opted to strike out on their own. The motivations were control and keeping everything manageable—a theme that actually factors into their decision to partner with Coldwell Banker Commercial, an organization made up of over 200 companies with the largest geographic footprint in the commercial real estate marketplace today.
In fact, Obie Walli, CEO of Coldwell Banker Commercial, told The Commercial Observer that it was the duo’s autonomy and demonstrated ability to run a business that made them stand out.
“What Peter and Richard brought was a successful track record,” Mr. Walli said. “What they also presented was the quality of the firm that we were looking for. It was a boutique shop that had a successful track record, where we saw the opportunity to take them to the next level.”
The pair originally bought a franchise from Coldwell Banker Commercial, which transformed them from Hunter Realty into Coldwell Banker Commercial Hunter Realty. This latest arrangement leaves them as significant partners, though not majority owners. Both they and Mr. Walli declined to reveal the percentage of their partnership or how much money has been invested into the business.
Asked if they weren’t, in fact, back at another large company, potentially faced with ceding some control, Mr. Selig piped up. “No, no, no,” he said. “It’s still going to be controllable. It’s not a CBRE, it’s not a Cushman & Wakefield or a JLL where there is so much politics. This is a controllable situation. There’s not going to be all the layers.”
Mr. Walli said Coldwell Banker Commercial is looking for qualities similar to those it found in Messrs. Sabesan and Selig as it looks to establish partnerships in cities throughout the country. The goal over the next 18 months is to enter up to 12 additional markets, in cities like Chicago, Dallas, Boston, Philadelphia, Miami and Washington, D.C. “We want to be the firm of choice,” Mr. Walli said, “so when a user of a certain size thinks about space or investing in real estate, the first firm that comes to mind is us.”
What might be more difficult to replicate is the pair’s rapport, forged during their early days in the Wall Street office of Helmsley-Spear. They finish each other’s sentences and place a premium on trust.
“We can fill in for each other,” Mr. Selig said. “We have a friendship and a trust, which is the most important thing.”