On the day that followed the devastating terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani sought input from a powerful group of real estate professionals.
The Real Estate Board of New York, formed 108 years ago by a group of commercial brokers, has played a major role in the development of New York City. The group’s membership has expanded over time to include residential property owners and builders, brokers and managers, banks, financial services companies, utilities, lawyers, architects, contractors and other professionals and companies that are interested in Manhattan real estate.
“The mayor doesn’t call just any association on the day after 9-11 to say, ‘We need your input,'” said Steven Spinola, president of the Real Estate Board, also known as REBNY. “We’re probably the most unique (real estate group) in the country. There’s nothing else like us. I think what gives us greater clout in speaking up for our members is the fact we’ve got builders, owners, financial institutions and people that sell the city everyday – the brokers. It gives us tremendous knowledge.”
REBNY, besides serving as a trade association and a lobbying entity for its members, also plays a role as a civic organization, Spinola said. The group’s leaders are all “active in something else besides real estate that’s good for the city. The point of view that comes out from that group isn’t just what’s good for me or what’s good for real estate – it’s what’s good for New York. They do believe if the city prospers, we will do well.”
While most local trade associations for real estate brokers are affiliated with the National Association of Realtors, REBNY has no such ties. The group is not affiliated with the association, though some of its members are also members of the national association. REBNY has its own code of ethics and has launched its own listing service – the RLS – for its residential brokers.
REBNY now has about 6,500 members and a staff of about 40 people, which includes lobbyists. “We’re active in Washington (D.C.). We’ve become a major ally of the city and state on public issues. We’re active with economic development efforts in the city and in the creation of housing programs,” Spinola said. The aftermath of the Sept. 11 tragedy presented an opportunity for REBNY’s members to rebuild the city they worked to build, he said.
While most residential brokers in the group are rooted in the Manhattan real estate market, there is now substantial membership and interest in the Brooklyn market, which has a history of no co-brokerage, Spinola said.
REBNY last year adopted a policy that requires mandatory sharing of exclusive Manhattan listings with other REBNY-member brokerage firms within 72 hours, and this policy has served to open up the market among member companies.
This move, together with the establishment of the REBNY listing service, has “really been the evolution of the residential industry here in Manhattan. Fifteen years ago many of the (member) firms didn’t know each other’s name,” Spinola said.
“We’re to the point (where) we know have a common co-brokerage agreement. We don’t have 215 different agreements, we have a standard. If you’re not willing to co-broke, you are in effect limiting the ability to make that transaction happen,” he said. The group also has launched a residential rental list service that allows property owners to list available rental units for the benefit of broker members.
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Spinola said he expects REBNY’s push in Brooklyn to open up the market there. In an annual report for 2003, board officials noted that the group has established a Brooklyn committee “to assist those borough members in education and networking opportunities and to serve our Manhattan member firms that have expanded their business to this borough.”
REBNY is known for the mega-residential brokerages it has as members, such as Brown Harris Stevens and Douglas Elliman, though Spinola said the group also has some smaller members, including one-person firms. All employees at member companies are expected to join REBNY, though not all member companies now comply with this, Spinola said.
“The truth is we now have about 30 firms that have been doing that without us pushing,” he said. As of Jan. 1, though, the group will begin enforcing this rule. The membership fee is less than $250 a year for real estate salespeople, Spinola said, and about $900 per year for principal members of a brokerage. Also on Jan. 1, the board will begin imposing penalties for any companies that are found to violate the 72-hour mandatory co-brokerage rule.
And REBNY expects to own Rolex, a technology platform developed by Brown Harris Stevens that is used by many members to access the group’s property listing service, as of Jan. 1, Spinola added. “We expect (Rolex) to be the in-house service for most of the firms.” About 225 member firms so far have access to this listing service.
The technology used by REBNY members to access property listings is a major element in an antitrust lawsuit filed last month by LaLa Wang, who has created technology platforms for the New York City market that promote the sharing of rental and for-sale property listings. The lawsuit also charges that REBNY has worked to monopolize property listings information and limit the technology platforms used in handling property listings.
Spinola said that the board will ask the court to dismiss the lawsuit. “Her charge here has nothing to do with my membership. It has only to do with her firm – she wants to be able to compete with the firms who have succeeded where she has failed,” Spinola said. “Am I upset about (the lawsuit)? Yes, because it’s a nuisance. And we’re going to win.”
He added, “We’re not a secretive organization here. It’s not that we are stopping hundreds of brokers or only small-firm brokers from getting these listings. A small firm can get this information for as little as $100 a month. We are now moving in a direction that will better service the public by getting information out about property that’s available.”
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