Corcoran’s Big Buy

On June 22, the Corcoran Group, backed by Parsippany, N.J.–based N.R.T. Corporation, acquired residential real-estate brokerage Citi Habitats Inc., New York’s largest rental firm, with 20 offices and more than 800 employees. In 2003, Citi Habitats recorded more than 11,000 rental transactions, with $600 million in rental volume; the same year, N.R.T. posted a real-estate-industry record of $167 billion in closed sales volume.

The acquisition is just the latest investment Corcoran has made in expanding its ever-growing reach. In October 2003, Corcoran gained two formidable brokerages in lucrative second-home markets when it acquired 50-year-old Hamptons powerhouse Cook Pony Farm Real Estate, including the firm’s 10 offices and 160 agents on both forks of eastern Long Island, as well as Palm Beach, Fla.–based Paulette Koch Real Estate, a firm with 30 agents that has become a favorite destination for the Manhattan flotsam migrating south on the JetBlue jitney. In 2003, all three branches of the combined company totaled $6.5 billion in closed sales volume.

The acquisition of Citi Habits now signals Corcoran’s efforts to corner the fast-paced rental market that draws thousands of anxious New Yorkers each year to furiously click on Craiglist.org and other rental listings, hoping to find a place to bunk. Citi Habitats’ vast rental data base has become one of the company’s strategic assets.

“We’ve never had a strong rental presence. And this acquisition cements our position as No. 1,” said Pamela Liebman, Corcoran’s president and chief executive. “We want customers for life. Now we can rent our customers an apartment through the time they’re ready to find a bigger apartment and buy. We can find them a winter property in Palm Beach, or a summer house in the Hamptons. This is a great compliment.”

The deal was consummated several months ago over breakfast at the Regency Hotel, when Ms. Liebman met with Andrew Heiberger, the president, founder and C.E.O. of Citi Habitats, who will now serve as president of the Citi Habitats division of the Corcoran Group, to discuss a possible deal.

In an industry that continues to see the major players grow, Corcoran’s move ratchets up the jockeying with their biggest competitor, Prudential-backed Douglas Elliman.

“The rental market is an arm that Corcoran really needed. But I don’t react to what they’re doing; I focus on my own model,” said Douglas Elliman chief executive Dottie Herman. “I do deals that are strategic to my company. I don’t do things just to get bigger.”

According to Corcoran and N.R.T. executives, consolidation in the New York brokerage market is far from complete.

“We have distanced ourselves from the pack in many ways. For us, customer service gets better rather than suffers as we get bigger,” Ms. Liebman said. “People will point to us and say we’ve gotten too big. That’s not the case. We know how to be big.”

Smarty Jones may have been eclipsed by Birdstone at the Belmont Stakes in his bid to nab the famed Triple Crown, but the apartment belonging to the estate of Kay Jeffords, the late owner of the racing steed Lonesome Glory, just found a winner.

After a recent board turn-down in May, the six-bedroom apartment at the exclusive 4 East 66th Street-the tony co-op that over the years has been home to British Consul General Sir Thomas Harris, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, Sid and Mercedes Bass, Ace Greenberg and Veronica Hearst-landed back on the market. It didn’t stay there long.

The 16-room spread just went to contract, again. The apartment carried a $16 million asking price with exclusive broker Cornelia Zagat Eland, of Stribling and Associates, who didn’t return calls for comment. Back in February, on its first spin through the sales cycle, the spread went to contract for around $12.5 million, when it carried a $14 million price tag. With the bullish sales market, the Jeffords estate raised the asking price in the intervening months up to $16 million.

The apartment, on the corner of Fifth Avenue and 66th Street, had been the former home to the renowned diplomat and financier Bernard Baruch before becoming the residence of Jeffords-owner of the star-chaser Lonesome Glory-who passed away at 80 last July. Jeffords’ extensive collection of horse tchotchkes and memorabilia adorned the apartment’s wood-paneled walls and added to the spread’s refined décor. The co-op also had a 22-foot formal dining room, a reception room, five wood-burning fireplaces and two elevators.

Now, only time will tell if the new owners make it past the co-op board’s discerning eye.