Say the words “real estate agent” in New York and a ton of bad stereotypes come to mind: Deceptive, dodgy, opportunistic, late. Not on the list? Artist and therapist, though they would be if every agency operated like Realty Collective.
The Brooklyn-based firm was founded in 2005 by (now) 28-year-old Victoria Hagman. Not interested in the shady shenanigans she’d experienced at other agencies, Victoria set out to correct all the wrongs in her industry. For starters, she doesn’t hire agents who’ve learned bad practices elsewhere. Instead she she seeks out creative types. Her own interests veer toward music as a former booker and manager of bands, but she also finds that the creative life makes her agents more human and helpful. (Their description on Yelp says it all: “Our agents are happy to work with first-time buyers, people with troubled credit histories, owners of enormous dogs. We’re not snobs, and we’re not creepy.”)
As it happens, Realty Collective has many claims to fame. Longtime agent Tina Fallon (and Victoria’s de facto partner) is the founder and producer of “The 24 Hour Plays.” Musician/agent Dave Bunting owns the rehearsal and arts space King Killer Studios in Gowanus, where bands like Battles and These are Powers rehearse. Marisa Fazzina is also a makeup artist, and Elizabeth Adams is a fine artist.
Not having a license isn’t a problem–Victoria reimburses her agents for the cost of acquiring one. She then schools them in her methods and mores. Realty Collective turns away sellers with ridiculous expectations, and they stand up to landlords. (“We don’t take listings just to take listings,” Victoria explains.) They also don’t push apartments on people that clearly don’t suit them. Victoria asks that her agents counsel people, especially couples, to reach an agreement on their ideal apartment, regardless of whether they rent or sell it to them. (As she writes on page four of the Realty Collective handbook, “You are a therapist, an apartment therapist. You will spend a lot of time helping people make the right decision for them, even though it might not be financially advantageous to you–but that’s what makes us different.”)
The varied backgrounds of Realty Collective’s agents means that each has particular areas of expertise. Through King Killers Studios, Dave has become an expert in live/work situations and commercial properties. Pedro Pachano, who is also an architect, is loved by buyers, sellers and developers for being so hands-on. On a recent sale in Williamsburg, he redrew the floor plan of a new-construction condo since the one in the offering plan didn’t reflect the real square footage.
They’re also good to the mom and pop shops in their neighborhood. For everyone who rents or buys in the Carroll Gardens/Columbia Street area, where the agency is based, Victoria gives them two free months of gym membership at Elite Fitness and maps designed by friend Tammy Duncan at Orange You Glad, so newbies can orient themselves in their new hood.
Realty Collective already has quite a few properties here, but they rent and sell apartments all over the borough, from Bushwick, where agent and musician Tania Velasquez was born and bred, to Dumbo, where the offices were originally, and where they often hosted art shows, to Red Hook, where Victoria just bought, and Ditmas Park, where agent Susan Grossman lives. (Pictured above: A lovely townhouse in Bed-Stuy.)
Just two weeks ago, though, they tripled their listings in the Columbia Street/Carroll Gardens area when they bought the firm of longtime agent Frank Manzione.
“It’s like we bought the Yankees,” Tina said while sitting in Frank’s old conference room, soon to become Realty Collective’s new offices. Merging the two agencies–Frank will stay on for some time–is a boon not just because of the old neighborhood connections Frank brings. Both are committed to being good neighbors, and bringing in good neighbors. “Victoria and Frank are the same person,” said Tina.
Victoria goes a little further than Frank in the customer satisfaction department, though–she’ll even walk her clients’ dogs. If that sounds surprising, you should see the other heartfelt testimonials on the Realty Collective site.