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This year marked New York City-based Brown Harris Stevens’ 150th year as a brokerage.
Having been around since 1873, the year Central Park was completed, the firm has weathered all kinds of market ups and downs and remains as steady as ever.
The firm also recently launched its own media platform called the Mastery of Real Estate, or “MORE,” Network to house podcasts and webcast series by Brown Harris Stevens agents and staff. Episodes are recorded in the firm’s new studio, Studio 1873, and are produced and edited by Brown Harris Stevens’ in-house content team.
Despite confidence in commercial real estate waning on the whole, Brown Harris Stevens is continuing to open more offices, in part because CEO Bess Freedman believes time together at the office is crucial to agent success.
“Office culture is so important,” Freedman said. “Coming into sales meetings, connecting with your colleagues so you can see what’s going on, see how people are doing. It’s really important, not just business-wise, but on a human level.”
Inman recently spoke with Freedman in advance of her upcoming appearance at Inman Connect New York to discuss her tips for how agents can get through the current tough market and what she’s looking forward to this year at ICNY. Here’s what she had to say, edited for brevity and clarity.
Inman: This was a big year for Brown Harris Stevens as you were celebrating the brokerage’s 150th year. What else new and exciting is happening?
Bess Freedman: We celebrated 150 years, which was a big deal. We did this big campaign, which was well-received. And we launched a content studio and the MORE Network, which is a podcasting network for agents. That’s new, but already doing very well.
And we have a chief economist, his name is Greg Heym, and a lot of our agents turn to him, asking him questions, getting his opinion. He’s a really smart guy, really helpful all the time and involved. He’s launched a podcast on our network, ‘Crossing the Line,’ and that’s been really well-received. It was one of the top business podcasts on Apple. So we’re doing a lot of innovative and creative things.
And I have to give a big thanks to Matt Leone, who is our chief marketing officer, who has this team that is innovative, creative and has put all this together. It’s been exciting for us.
It’s nice to have those bright spots during a challenging market.
2023 — it’s no secret — has been a bit of a challenging year. I was just with our head of Connecticut who oversees all of our offices there and inventory is down by 70 percent in Connecticut. He even shared with me his personal story, that he has a house and two kids. He would love to sell and get a larger home, but he has such a great rate. And then he said, ‘If I sell, where am I going? There’s nothing to buy.’
So he shares the narrative that everyone’s feeling in Connecticut and other regions, that there’s no inventory and, you don’t want to let go of your rate. So that’s been a challenge in the housing market as a whole.
I’m optimistic that in 2024 we will see rates come down a bit, even 1 [percent] or 2 percent, and hopefully that will loosen up inventory and we’ll get more homes on the market and then more buyers will throw their hat in the ring and buy.
That’s what I’d like to see happen because it’s been a tough year with inflation and rates and lack of inventory, and also prices — agents haven’t really seen prices come down enough. But we have to be very careful optimists.
For sure. As agents wait and hope for those rates to come down next year, what’s your best advice for them?
We’re encouraging agents because when things are slower, when your business is not as busy as you would like, it’s a great time to look at your business, your sphere of influence, your contacts, clean that up. Reach out to people, send holiday cards, market reports are great to do right now — let people know what’s going on, let them know what the values are, what their homes are worth, give them a pulse on things.
And I can’t underscore this enough — I think coming into the office … I know a lot of people have been working from home and not coming in as much, and we’re slowly building that back. Office culture is so important — coming into sales meetings, connecting with your colleagues so you can see what’s going on, see how people are doing. It’s really important, not just business-wise, but on a human level. I think that makes people feel good and, psychologically, that’s important.
So come into the office, go to open houses, look at inventory, look at your sphere of influence, reach out to your contacts and create a business plan for 2024. [Agents] are the CEOs of their business, and what they put into it is what they’re going to get out of it, like anything else. Be available, show up and go to events, be a part of a book club, a network. Real estate is about relationships.
I would just tell people to really stay in tune — don’t stay at home and get depressed. Have little holiday lunches and dinners if you have time, grab a coffee to catch up with someone. It’s incredible how that can make you feel, just to see how people are doing, to talk to them, look in their eyes and be present. Those simple things can change everything in your day.
As we think more about 2024 and what might happen with the market, what do you think will be one of the most important things agents can do in 2024 for their business?
I wish there was some sort of secret bullet, but you have to really stick to the basics and continue to do what matters. Be fluent with the inventory, know what’s available and be connected to your base, your sphere of influence. Rates go up and down, but people still need to buy and sell despite that. [Agents] should be available and be there for when people need advice and guidance.
For next year, hopefully people will be busier because rates will come down a little, but I think you have to stick to the basics of what we do. Be reliable. Be a trusted resource for people who, when they’re going through good and bad times buying and selling, they’re going to rely on you. When you’re thinking about 2024, put your business plan together, be available, and be positive and ready to go.
I have to ask about something that happened nearly a year ago now because it was so odd. If you remember, in January, Ryan Serhant’s team at SERHANT. emailed you with an unsolicited pitch to have his brokerage’s team train Brown Harris Stevens agents. Has anything else like that happened since then?
That was the one and only time that that happened. We haven’t had any more of that. I think that was a faux pas on their part. At Brown Harris Stevens, we really do wish every company, including Ryan’s, the very best. I want everyone to be successful. We are obviously competitive, so it would make no sense for someone to try and train another company’s agents. But we still wish everyone well. We haven’t had any sort of crazy tomfoolery, as we call that, as of late. We’re busy trying to do business and keep people upbeat.
And just so you know, we’re opening a new office in West Palm Beach, which we’re very excited about, and we’re also opening a new office in Union Square, we’re in the process of that renovation. And our new Upper West Side office is fantastic, it’s beautiful. It doesn’t mean you can’t get leaner and bring offices together, but we’re believers in office culture and having nice offices for our agents and employees to work in, so we’ve signed new leases. We’ve done a lot of that, and we’re excited about it.
You’ll be speaking at Inman Connect New York in a few weeks — what are you looking forward to at the event?
It’s like when REBNY has gatherings, events and panels; with Inman it’s the same [for me]. I love getting together with the community that I work with. Even though we’re competitors, seeing people and checking in, talking to them, sharing information … It’s just really good to see people.
I think all of us are still a teeny bit scarred from the pandemic and I really appreciate time in person with people more than ever. I’m excited for ICNY, I’m excited to meet new people and see some old friends, and just have a good time. I’m always about high vibes and I think this will be a high-vibes event with a lot of sharing and I hope to make some new friends there, so I’m really looking forward to it.