If you want a sense of Brooklyn—real, pre-hipster Brooklyn—you could do a hell of a lot worse than M.C. O’Brien, a 107-year-old firm that was started by Michael O’Brien in Flatbush and is currently managed by Michael O’Brien III and his younger brother William.
If old school is not your thing and you’d prefer new school, permit us to introduce you to Westbridge Realty Group. It was founded by a former Newmark Grubb Knight Frank broker in January of last year. The company has ballooned to five brokers (plus two staff) in that year.
What follows are the stories of the smaller, boutique brokerages that keep this city chugging along.
Some of these real estate companies might not have the flash that their peers have—but in plenty of instances they ought to. From Staten Island (where the 10-broker Casandra Properties is marketing Empire Outlets) to the Bronx (where the 12-broker Welco Properties was tapped to lease out the 750,000-square-foot Bay Plaza Shopping Center) they have reached all corners of the city and represent some serious clients.
We’ve always kept this list of boutique brokerages fresh (trying to ID as many new names as we can come up with) and small. Ten was usually the maximum number of brokers we allowed in years past—but we upped that figure, slightly, to 12. (Call it a nod to inflation.) And this year we decided to add a handful of finance firms operating with skeleton crews but doing important business.—Max Gross
Founder: Lev Mavashev and Glenn Raff (co-founders and managing partners) Date established: 2014 Number of brokers/agents then: 5 Number of brokers/agents now: 8 (plus 2 employees)
Glenn Raff and Lev Mavashev were colleagues at Besen & Associates for five years, working on investment sales, until they had the idea to start their own firm together.
So in June 2014, they grabbed three other junior brokers from Besen and started Alpha Realty, which focuses on investment sales of multifamily properties in Brooklyn and Manhattan.
“Ever since we have been on a good streak,” Mavashev said.
Last year, the firm completed about 31 sales transactions valued at around $150 million, according to Mavashev. So far the firm is on track to destroy that record as it has already closed about 20 deals for about the same $150 million this year.
“We are a growing firm. Every year we are trying to improve and be better and better,” Mavashev said. “And that’s the message Glenn and I try to push to our junior brokers.”
This includes the largest deal they have worked on since founding the firm; together with brokers from HFF, Raff and Mavashev represented Benchmark Real Estate Group in the $47.5 million sale of 885 10th Avenue to Rich International in May. The 37,000-square-foot residential building features 36 units.
This month the firm also closed two sales of investment properties in Brooklyn. Mavashev represented the seller, UpRealty, in the $3.78 million sale of 243 Troy Avenue to Witnick Real Estate Partners. Alpha Realty broker Jacob Aronov handled the deal for Witnick.
And in the other deal, Mavashev represented both seller, UpRealty, and buyer, Ink Property Group, in the $3.65 million transaction of 46 Linden Boulevard.
For the future, they would like to expand even further—in almost every way. Alpha Realty is based on the seventh floor of 6 East 39th Street, but the company is are considering expanding the size of the office. They are also hoping to grow the firm to a total of 12 or 15 brokers within the coming year and start a team focused on Queens.
“I think Queens is going to see a lot of [investment] activity, so we are looking to capitalize on the movement there,” Mavashev said. “Investment sales follows the rental market, and Brooklyn rents are very expensive. I think Queens still has affordable rents, it has good neighborhoods and there is transportation to the city. A lot of the landlords that have been successful in Brooklyn are going to Queens.”—Liam La Guerre
Founder: Norman Buchbinder and Eugene Warren Date established: 1958 Number of brokers/agents then: 2 Number of brokers/agents now: 10 (plus 41 employees)
See’s Candies will be serving more than 100 varieties of homemade candy from its first standalone retail location in New York City come fall. This will also be the first See’s location on the East Coast featuring a candy counter.
It was a pretty sweet deal for Buchbinder & Warren Realty Group. See’s Candies, along with Bill Rhodes, the chief executive officer of Travis Melbren, will be opening the shop at 60 West Eighth Street between MacDougal Street and Avenue of the Americas.
“Bill Rhodes, he used to be in the jewelry business,” said Lori Buchbinder, a principal of Buchbinder & Warren Realty Group, the second generation of the business along with her sister, Susan Buchbinder. “He’s a very, very skilled marketing person. So we’re excited about that.”
Buchbinder’s brokers represented the owner, a group which includes Buchbinder & Warren. Buchbinder & Warren manages “many” properties on Eighth Street between Fifth Avenue and Avenue of the Americas, Buchbinder said.
“We’ve been diligently working on the area to bring diverse businesses and interesting tenants to that block,” the broker noted.
Next door to See’s, Ancolie will be bringing its meals in a jar to 58 West Eighth Street, a property in which Buchbinder & Warren has a stake. The firm represented the landlord in the deal.
The company has deep roots in the neighborhood.
The late Norman Buchbinder, one of the co-founders of the firm, was instrumental in getting the Union Square Partnership off the ground in its early days. William Abramson, Buchbinder & Warren’s director of brokerage, serves as vice president of the board. The senior Bunchbinder was also the founder of the Village Alliance business improvement district.
But the company, which relies on what Buchbinder called its “good reputation” to acquire brokerage business, doesn’t just focus on Greenwich Village.
For example, the firm is marketing the 30,000-square-foot, six-story retail building that Giorgio Armani formerly occupied at 601 Madison Avenue between East 57th and East 58th Streets. The asking rent on the ground floor: $1,500 per square foot.
As a management company, Buchbinder & Warren oversees 100 residential buildings with retail at the base, as well as one commercial property, One Union Square West, where the firm is based. On the brokerage side, the company does rentals, sales and commercial. The company’s niche is small to midsized buildings, loft buildings Downtown and apartments priced at $6 million and less.—Lauren Elkies Schram
Founder: Casandra Zappala Date established: 1989 Number of brokers/agents then: 1 Number of brokers/agents now: 10 (plus 3 employees)
Being led by a mother-and-son team that hails from—and still dwells in—Staten Island has given Casandara Properties a leg up in Richmond County.
“We’re born and raised here,” said James Prendamano, a managing director for Casandra Properties and son of the company’s founder, Casandra Zappala. “My mom was born and raised here. We’re well-known in the community.”
Based in the St. George area, Casandra Properties has $1 billion of real estate that it handles in the borough.
“Our specialty is on the commercial side of things,” Prendamano said. “We’ve always had a holistic approach.” (Two of Casandra’s brokers exclusively handle residential.)
That approach includes site identification and assemblage, often without a buyer in mind, creating a concept and working with developers throughout the entitlement process.
“We do a lot of consulting for developers, a lot of [Uniform Land Use Review Procedure] consulting and retail [opportunities] consulting,” Prendamano said. “Once the site is entitled, we take the project through, whether its condo sales, residential leasing or office space.”
The landlord brokers have worked on massive projects on the island like Urby Staten Island, Ironstate Development’s 900-unit housing complex that is under construction in the Stapleton section. It includes 30,000 square feet of retail. The first phase of the project, which includes 571 residential units, recently opened.
“We found the property, we found the buyer, we brought them in, we negotiated a deal with the city, we worked with the architects over a lengthy period of time and came up with a program we thought worked,” he said.
And Casandra helped BFC Partners conceptualize the 1.1-million-square-foot Empire Outlets complex with 350,000 square feet of retail. That space is 62 percent leased.
“We called up BFC and said this may be an interesting opportunity,” Prendamano said. “They had never done outlets before.”
With all of the activity going on in Richmond County, the borough is changing.
“We’ve been able to change the way people view Staten Island,” Prendamano said. “For so many decades we were overlooked. We have fought to put the spotlight on the borough.”
Beyond real estate deals, Casandra launched a private fund to which BFC and the developer of the New York Wheel each agreed to commit $50,000 per year for 10 years for micro-investments.—L.E.S.
Founder: Paula Ingram and Robert Hebron I Date established: Roughly 1990 Number of brokers/agents then: 2 Number of brokers/agents now: 6
When you call Ingram & Hebron Realty, be sure to specify which Robert Hebron you’re looking for. There’s Robert Hebron I, known as Bob, who founded the firm with his partner Paula Ingram, his son Robert Hebron II and grandson Robert Hebron III, who goes by Rob.
Bob and Ingram, now both in their mid-70s, formed the firm in the early 1990s to become a commercial brokerage specializing in leasing and sales almost exclusively in Downtown Brooklyn. Ingram had a longstanding residential brokerage based in the borough beforehand, using connections she made over 30 years to transition into the office side of things.
“I came along, I was the numbers guy,” Bob Hebron said. “Paula had all of our contacts here.”
Today, the firm’s listings in the central business district include SL Green Realty Corp.’s 16 Court Street between Remsen and Montague Streets. Last year, Commercial Observer reported that popular Manhattan café Gregorys Coffee would open its first Brooklyn location at the building.
Ingram is in the process of retiring from the firm and has pushed for Bob to do the same, although he said he isn’t sure if he’ll entirely go away. Robert, 57, has focused on commercial leasing in the neighborhood as well as leading the company. Caroline Prado, a former director of leasing at Jamestown who worked at the firm’s Industry City complex in Sunset Park, joined Ingram & Hebron in January 2015 and has focused on retail tenants.
Robert is planning to lead the next generation, which includes his son Rob and broker Bosko Stankovic, both 26. The youngest of the brokers have been more focused on tenant representation, particularly with technology, advertising, media and information services firms looking to set up shop in Brooklyn. In February 2016, the young team represented both SL Green and tech startup Maker’s Row in a five-year, 3,146-square-foot lease at 16 Court Street.—Terence Cullen
Founder: Jodi Pulice Date established: 1996 Number of brokers/agents then: 3 Number of brokers/agents now: 9 (plus 1 employee)
In February 2016, Jodi Pulice celebrated 20 years since establishing JRT Realty Group, a small brokerage that has a strategic partnership with Cushman & Wakefield. The firm is certified under the Minority or Woman-owned Business Enterprise program, and all but one of the firm’s six executives are female.
“We’ve accomplished bringing in more women and minorities into the CRE business,” Pulice said. “You used to go in a room and see just suits, and that’s it. We don’t see that at all anymore.”
Pulice said she encourages all of her employees to get their brokerage licenses, even if they begin as an admin at the firm. The sole non-licensed employee is in the process of getting her license, she added.
JRT brokers market such properties as Jamestown’s Falchi Building at 31-00 47th Avenue and Vanbarton Groups’s Zipper Building at 47-16 Austell Place, both in Long Island City. Pulice’s firm has specialized in the western Queens neighborhood for more than 15 years, working on several office and retail deals for Jamestown and Vanbarton.
“We were there when it wasn’t cool to be there,” she said. “Now it’s cool to be there.”
C&W and JRT are tasked with marketing the retail portion of the 66-year-old Port Authority Bus Terminal on the West Side of Manhattan between West 40th and West 42nd Streets. The Port Authority of New York & New Jersey announced a $90 million plan in January 2015 to spruce up the existing structure’s retail (a later plan to build a new bus terminal doesn’t impact this project).
St. Louis-based OHM Concessions signed a lease in December 2015 to open a 5,943-square-foot upscale food court in the space previously occupied by the U.S. Postal Service, Jamba Juice and a deli.—T.C.
Founder: Michael O’Brien I Date established: 1909 Number of brokers/agents then: 1 Number of brokers/agents now: 4 (plus 5 employees)
“We’ve always been a Flatbush, Brooklyn, family,” is how William O’Brien describes his family’s 107-year-old brokerage.
William and his older brother, Michael O’Brien III, are the third generation to lead M.C. O’Brien, which handles leasing, investment sales, management services and appraisals. The firm was founded in 1909 by their grandfather, Michael O’Brien I, and was first established on Eastern Parkway in Flatbush. Everything south of the Brooklyn thoroughfare at the time was farmland, William recalled to Commercial Observer.
That’s not necessarily the case these days, when Brooklyn has become as popular (and in some cases as pricey) as Manhattan. William currently focuses on working with nonprofits and hospitals in the borough, a niche he started to carve out in the 1990s—building upon relationships his parents had already established. “Both my parents had a long-standing relationship with the nonprofits of Brooklyn,” he said. “I just started calling hospital administrators and started doing a lot of deals with them.”
William, who’s now been with the company for about 27 years, said about 70 percent of his work is in Brooklyn and the other 30 percent doing leases in Queens. One recent lease was a 10,000-square-foot renewal with Rite Aid at 43-02 Ditmars Blvd in Astoria, Queens.
His brother focuses primarily on industrial properties, arranging leases for manufacturing and warehouses in such areas as Sunset Park, Williamsburg, East New York and Bensonhurst. Despite M.C. O’Brien’s small staff, William said, the firm has a hefty business roster, managing rent collection and leasing for 40 properties.
“As a boutique firm, we’re kind of unique in that we’re full service,” he said. “It seems like some of the big companies are tripping over each other. There will always be a place for niche brokerages.”—T.C.
Founders: Vlad Sapozhnikov and Elena Borokhovich Date established: 2012 Number of brokers/agents then: 2 Number of brokers/agents now: 7 (plus 1 employee)
Vlad Sapozhnikov started Oneworld Property Advisors with his business partner Elena Borokhovich in 2012. The brokerage focuses on commercial sales and has an office at 48 Wall Street.
Because the company is small, Sapozhnikov can be a part of every deal. It outsources its IT, PR and marketing efforts, giving it the flexibility to control its expenses.
“Growth is not a goal,” Sapozhnikov said. “I prefer to keep it this way. I like the business side but not the management side. Now I have minimum management duty.”
That being said, he is looking for an office in Jersey City.
“I go where my clients want to go,” Sapozhnikov said. “I keep hearing customers saying that Jersey City is interesting.”
Last December, Oneworld’s Borokhovich along with Ron Solarz and Nataliya Stelmakh of Eastern Consolidated represented an LLC in a $43.5 million sale of its 22-24 West 38th Street to Dalan Management. The seller, which The Real Deal said is an affiliate of Alvin Jacobson Realty, had bought the property in 2014 for $36.4 million.
In 2014, Sapozhnikov represented the seller, Comm5 Setai LLC made up of Russian investors, in an $8.5 million sale of the entire fifth floor of a seven-story condominium building. The 17,786-square-foot floor was sold to nonprofit organization Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies, Commercial Observer reported at the time.
Oneworld isn’t Sapozhnikov first venture into the world of real estate. He founded New York Business Group, which marketed luxury commercial and real estate developments, in 2001. He was also the founding partner of New York City’s first online trading platform, Bid on the City. New York Business Group merged with Bid On the City in 2007, and Sapozhnikov sold his share of BOTC in 2010.
“In commercial real estate and investment sales, all parties are sophisticated, and it takes lot of financial analysis, making it very challenging,” Sapozhnikov said. “It takes a lot to interest a client in a property.”—Rheaa Rao
Founder: Jonathan Anapol Date established: 1994 Number of brokers/agents then: 3 Number of brokers/agents now: 10 (plus 1 employee)
For more than two decades, the goal of Prime Manhattan Realty has been to help its clients and do so with a team that works well together—rather than a crew of sharks willing to do anything for a buck.
And it seems that environment is desirable for most of its team, as eight of its current 10 brokers have been with the firm for more than a decade.
Prime Manhattan, which was founded by Jonathan Anapol in 1994 with just three brokers, is based on the fourth floor of 11 West 20th Street, an entire-floor commercial condo it owns. The firm specializes in tenant representation for the leasing or purchase of office space. Its focus on clients first has led to a lot of long relationships.
As a case in point, broker Scott Bennett, who has been with Prime Manhattan for 18 years, completed a 10-year lease in September 2015 for the relocation of Unifund to the entire 9,787-square-foot 27th floor of 712 Fifth Avenue. The company was in a 3,350-square-foot space on the 31st floor of the building for 10 years, a lease that Bennett was responsible for a decade ago.
In another example, Anapol represented financial services company Robotti & Company in June 2015 for an 11,199-square-foot sublet at 60 East 42nd Street for 10 years. Five years prior to that, he worked with Robotti for a sublet at 6 East 43rd Street.
Prime Manhattan focuses on small to midsize office tenants, which range anywhere from 2,000 square feet to 25,000 square feet.
“The larger companies put their efforts on the Fortune 1,000 clients,” Anapol said. “Fortunately over 80 percent of the tenants in New York City fall into [the bracket of] small and midsize companies, which is Prime Manhattan’s bread and butter.”
Of course, Prime Manhattan wants to continue to grow. As a matter of fact, Anapol said the company is currently looking to hire a retail broker for a new team that focuses on retail leasing in the city. But they only will hire a team player.
“Our plan is to add brokers, not for the sake of just adding heads or people at telephones, but to add someone whereby it could be a mutually beneficial relationship that the company can help aid the building of their business, and the broker can help and aid the company in building the business.”—L.L.G.
Founder: Jerry Welkis Date established: 1990 Number of brokers/agents then: 1 Number of brokers/agents now: 12 (plus 5 employees)
When the Mall at Bay Plaza opened in the Bronx two years ago next month, it was billed as the first suburban-style fashion mall to be built in New York City in nearly 40 years. New Rochelle-based retail brokerage Welco Realty was tapped to lease the entire $300 million, 780,000-square-foot mall for the developer, Prestige Properties & Development, also behind the adjacent Bay Plaza Shopping Center (which Welco also leased with its over 50 department and specialty stores).
“It’s the only borough without an enclosed fashion mall,” Jerry Welkis, the president and principal of Welco Realty, told Commercial Observer before the project’s grand opening. He noted last week, “When we opened, it was just about I’d say probably in the 70 to 75 percent level.” Today it is 90 percent occupied.
The brokerage represents landlords and developers like Prestige, Urban Edge Properties (a spinoff off of Vornado Realty Trust), RREEF Property Trust, The Real Estate Equity Company, aka TREECO, and Hartz Mountain Industries. (And with a dozen agents, it’s also the largest one featured in this boutique brokerages issue.)
Welco, which is part of a national retail brokerage network called the X Team with over 30 retail brokerage offices throughout the U.S. and Canada, works exclusively for a number of chains like J.C. Penney in New York and New Jersey; TJX Companies, parent company of T.J. Maxx and Marshalls, in New Jersey; Pier 1 Imports in New York and New Jersey; AMC Theatres in New York and New Jersey; and Party City in New Jersey and parts of New York.
“We handle millions of square feet of retail properties throughout the tri-state area,” Welkis said. Welkis came from the world of corporate real estate and said he and his team approach projects “as merchants more than as real estate brokers.” So, as a merchant would do, the Welco teams focuses on “making sure we have the right proportionate mix of specialty retailers to make it the most synergistic for the marketplace,” he said. “We see what need there is for retail, what’s missing in the marketplace, and merchandise it the same way a merchant would merchandise a department store.” Of utmost importance is to ensure there is a good “representation of each category,” so people have a reason to shop in the brick-and-mortar store. “We want to create that mix of tenants,” he added.—L.E.S.
Founder: Steven Westreich Date established: 2015 Number of brokers/agents then: 1 Number of brokers/agents now: 5 (plus 2 employees)
Westbridge Realty Group is on track to close 50 sales this year, an average of about one a week, according to Founder and President Steven Westreich. Not bad for a brokerage in just its second year up and running.
The small firm, which has a team of five brokers and two full-time staffers, focuses on investment sales of multifamily buildings and development properties. It has closed 25 deals this year through June for a total of about $55 million.
Westreich, a former Newmark Grubb Knight Frank broker, started the firm with himself as the sole broker in January 2015 from an office at 15 West 26th Street. About 50 percent of its deals are occurring in Kings County, where Westreich had made major inroads with many local landlords and developers while working as a senior analyst at Rosen & Associates from 2011 to 2014. He appraised buildings in neighborhoods such as Williamsburg, Crown Heights and Bedford-Stuyvesant every day and got familiar with what buyers were looking for and the players in the area.
“We definitely have great connections in Brooklyn,” Westreich said. “Analytically, we are able to find value in the deal quicker, and we are able to deliver it to the right buyer because we are in tune with what they are buying. And because we know who [the buyers] are. We quickly made very strong relationships with many players in Brooklyn and New York City in general.”
For the most part, Westbridge Realty’s deals have been on the smaller-price side: In February, Westbridge Realty represented Baycrest Management in the purchase of a 29-unit residential property at 633 East 186 Street in the Belmont section of the Bronx for $3.95 million.
Also, Westbridge handled the purchase of a four-building portfolio at 2832, 2836, 2844 and 2850 West 36th Street in Coney Island in May for Brooklyn-based landlord J. Wasser & Co. The 36-unit residential portfolio sold for $3.5 million.
Westreich said his team will close deals in the $20 million range by the end of the year and will grow.
“Our goal is to grab an even larger share of the market,” he said. “We want to continue to complete the deals that we have been doing and do larger deals.”—L.L.G.