Is It a Good Idea to Use an In-House Broker?


Dean Feldman spends so much time in the lobby of Schwab House, a co-op with some 600 units on the Upper West Side, that the uninitiated might easily mistake him for a doorman — or a vagrant.

But Mr. Feldman isn’t there to hoist packages or aimlessly pass the time. An associate broker at Halstead, he’s likely waiting for someone who has an appointment to look at an apartment in the building. In any case, Mr. Feldman has a right to be in the lobby whenever the mood strikes. He doesn’t just sell in Schwab House. He lives in Schwab House.

Mr. Feldman moved to the building almost 30 years ago — he has a two-bedroom unit — and began pounding the halls soon after. To date he has handled more than 300 sales there; he’s sold some apartments twice, a few of them three times. “I’m showing in the building every day of the week,” Mr. Feldman said.

He is hardly the only real estate agent to sell where he lives. In fact, several shareholders at Schwab House are among his competitors. It’s an arrangement that makes sense to many in the business. Because they’re residents, they know the building in granular detail: the good, the bad and the bike room. They know the board. They know the biases of the board. Often, they themselves are on the board (a conflict of interest, according to some observers).

Unlike outside brokers, they’ve got the keys or the code to the gym and community rooms right at hand, which gives prospective buyers a seamless experience. And, theoretically, these brokers are always available to make house calls. Mr. Feldman says he recently met with one neighbor/client at 9:30 p.m. and with another at 8 a.m.

And really, what more potent endorsement could there be for a building than a real estate agent who tells a prospective buyer, “I love it so much that I live here.”

Whether buyers and sellers are well served by choosing the (enthusiastic) broker upstairs, though, is a classic “on the one hand, on the other hand” situation.

One of the advantages of brokers living in a potential buyer’s building is, in theory, they have thoroughly internalized all the minutiae about financing and renovations and are unlikely to utter the words “let me look into that and get back to you.” And crucially, “they know better than someone outside the building who would be more likely to pass the board,” said Kathy Braddock, a managing director at William Raveis NYC. “If the board has turned down a lot of people, it can be a great benefit to use a broker who really understands the requirements.” (Of course, it’s only a great benefit if that resident broker is liked and respected by the board in question.)

Further, it’s a good bet that the broker who lives in the building knows that the elevators will be refurbished in February, that the workout room will be getting new equipment in March, and that the terra cotta problem will be addressed in April, information that may not be immediately available to brokers from outside the building.

But, Ms. Braddock added, there’s a lot to be said for choosing an outside agent, one who can look at a building with fresh eyes and who might have different ideas about pricing and marketing than the real estate professional who’s in residence and who may be operating on autopilot.

Certainly, the outside broker is the way to go for those sellers who are uncomfortable about sharing personal information and entering into a business relationship with a neighbor. And if a resident broker has several listings in the building, sellers may have good reason to wonder where they are in the pecking order.

“I just sold something where I took over the listing from a broker who lived in the same building as the seller,” said Lisa Chajet, an associate broker at Warburg Realty, who for the record does not sell in her Upper West Side co-op. “There were two apartments in the same line, and my client felt the broker was pitting one apartment against the other.”

Ms. Braddock, meanwhile, tells of brokers in residence whose presentation can sometimes fall short of professional. “I’ve seen some who are in their slippers and have their morning coffee with them when they’re showing an apartment,” she said.

Due diligence — researching previous deals the broker has done in the building, asking for a marketing plan and interviewing a few agents from outside the building — would be advisable.

Since becoming a shareholder in a 90-unit co-op in Greenwich Village 14 years ago, Jane Greenberg, a sales agent at Halstead, has done some three dozen deals in the building. “Moving is an incredibly traumatic experience,” she said. “If you can take any of the difficulty off the table with your competence, you have done your client an enormous favor.”

Ms. Greenberg cites the example of a prospective buyer’s obligatory meeting with the co-op board. She knows the names of everyone on her building’s board and can clue supplicants in to the full cast of characters who will be at the gathering. “I can tell them, ‘So-and-so is the board chairman and he renovated his apartment when he moved in, so don’t be shy about saying you intend to renovate yours,’ ” Ms. Greenberg said.

Or a would-be buyer might wonder if it would be possible to extend the loft in a studio apartment. “My response is: ‘Sure. Here are some ideas,’” Ms. Greenberg said. Then, if a client has time to see those ideas fleshed out, she is happy to tap into her network of neighbors. “I know everybody in the building, so I can call a friend and say, ‘Would you mind if I bring someone up to see how you redid your apartment?’ ”

But some brokers steer clear of doing business in their buildings, in part because they can easily anticipate conflicts of interest and awkward situations. “If I knew there was a mouse problem in my building, and the buyer’s broker asked me about it, I’d have to be honest about it. I’m an honorable person,” said Ms. Chajet, of Warburg.

There’s also something to be said for not bringing your work home. “Neighbors ask my opinion about things even when they list with other brokers, and I give away free advice,” Ms. Chajet said. “But I don’t want to foul my nest.”

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