Why does an old Jehovah’s Witness warehouse on the Brooklyn Heights waterfront have virtual golf? Why is Starbucks moving into Riverdale; why are 41 realtors moving into Williamsburg in January; and why is Ian McKellen’s King Lear cast party on Sunday in an unfinished Fort Greene condo?
It’s the spread of the Manhattan real estate empire: Our biggest firms are colonizing the outer boroughs, especially Brooklyn’s money-spinning new developments.
It’s Manifest Destiny. The brokers are coming.
“Manhattanifying: I love it—good word,” said Andrew Gerringer, managing director of the Prudential Douglas Elliman Development Marketing Group. “We get a small army of people”—meaning Elliman’s thousand-plus local agents—“and bring people across the river to the new emerging markets.”
According to outer-borough brokers, their skirmish is just beginning.
“Up until recently, Manhattan brokers wouldn’t bother coming out to Brooklyn because there wasn’t luxury product to show,” said Steve Rutter, a director of marketing for the Madison Avenue–based brokerage Stribling & Associates. “And they didn’t really have the customers for the Brooklyn product.”
Things have changed: In Williamsburg, where the lengthy list of new condos reads like bad band names (Ikon, Aqua, the Edge, Loftology, Urban Green, Sofia, etc), the Corcoran Group’s first office is opening up in the hip holy land of Bedford Avenue between North Third and Fourth Streets. Around January there will be 4,100 square feet for 41 brokers, much bigger than the area’s only other Manhattan brokerage office, Elliman, which opened a 30-agent one last year.
Eric McFarland, who will manage the Corcoran outpost, says he used to live right off Bedford “for, like, ever”—although he moved to Boerum Hill two years ago. His development-focused office has already signed up more than a dozen local projects, totaling “several hundred” apartments.
What will Williamsburg’s new agents look like? “Not dissimilar to the SoHo office or the Village office,” he said. So, considering that half a dozen Manhattan brokers have already asked to be transferred to the new office, will Williamsburg have the kind of glitzy Manhattan ambition embodied by Village luminary Dennis Mangone? (The Corcoran broker put himself on a 24-foot-wide billboard in 2004, invoking his boss’ ire.) “The question back to you is,” Mr. McFarland told a reporter, “do you think it’s not already there?”
Maybe he’s right. Philip Henn, Corcoran’s Brooklyn Rookie of the Year in 2006, left Chelsea brokering for Brooklyn Heights at the end of 2005. “Me, personally, I grew up in Manhattan,” he said from a vacation in Cabo San Lucas, “so I don’t think anything is ever too big or too much, even post-9/11.” The Henns live at the new Toy Factory Lofts in downtown Brooklyn.
Outsize brokers have outsize effects on neighborhoods. Jerry Minsky, a senior vice president at Corcoran, joined the firm when his boutique Brooklyn brokerage was bought up by Corcoran last decade. “I thought, ‘Do I want to do the Manhattan thing? Do I want to dress up for work? Let me try it.’” Now he’s known, especially on neighborhood blogs like Brownstoner.com, for serving sparkling water and caviar at real estate parties.
“I got out my suits and ties, and my sushi,” he said, “and my output tripled in volume.”
But caviar can’t beat Ian McKellen. This Sunday’s cast party for his adored Brooklyn Academy of Music production of King Lear will be in the well-coiffed ground-floor bank hall at One Hanson Place, the leggy Art Deco tower being converted into condos. The Madison Avenue–based brokerage Stribling handles One Hanson sales, so the firm is sponsoring the party in exchange for a few tickets to the final performance and party.
“We’re obviously trying to lure the really high-end brokers to bring their customers to One Hanson by inviting them to this fantastic event,” a source said. The most fantastic condos in the tower go for up to $4.5 and $5 million each.