For most married New Yorker’s, our home, if we own one, is our greatest shared asset. When a marriage ends, chances are high that we will need to sell it — either now or in the future — in order to satisfy equitable distribution requirements. Picking the right broker can be nerve wracking at any point, but when you are splitting, the need to maximize the sale’s proceeds is at an all time high, while the chances of you and your ex reaching agreement on a broker is likely at an all time low.
Kathy Braddock and Paul Purcell, two veteran realtors with successful careers spanning 30 years each at some of the city’s most venerated firms (Raveis, Elliman, Rutenberg), have created a unique business that matches clients with the right broker.
We asked them to tell us a little more about what they do.
UNtied: You two do something that I had never heard of before, you match people who are selling or buying their property with the best broker for the job. In divorce situations, where a couple is selling their home due to a split, this strikes me as an incredibly helpful and important service.
Kathy: Since we’ve started this partnership, we increasingly get referrals from divorce attorneys. I think this is for several reasons- first, there is often a lot of distrust between the members of the couple. When one spouse perceives that the other is leaning toward a broker who might be a friend of theirs, it often sparks fear and distrust on the part of the other. Also, that ‘broker friend’ is very often not the best agent for the job. We are positioned to know who the city’s best brokers are for different types of properties, different neighborhoods and who might work best for a particular client. Third, divorce is a highly emotional event, and we realized we could be helpful in educating clients and keeping this very important business deal on track for the benefit of both members of the couple. Finally, there is no cost to clients for our services.
So, who pays you?
Kathy: We collect a standard broker to broker referral fee.
How and why did you decide to start this company?
Paul: Kathy and I have both worked in New York City Real Estate for decades. We actually met doing corporate relocation work together. We helped move thousands of people in and out of New York and the Tri-state area for the companies they worked for. My job was to make sure that these people, who we were relocating in and out of the area, were getting the absolute best experience.
That kind of work really teaches you how valuable it is to really wrap your arms around someone’s situation, and match them to a terrific real estate broker who is professional, kind, bright, neighborhood-specific, price-specific, all those good things. It was also incredibly good training in learning who the good vs. the great brokers are in New York City.
One day, as President of Elliman, I was sitting in the office and realized that if my own parents needed a broker, there were actually only a handful at my company that I would feel good referring them to. There were a lot who I would want to have a glass of wine with but only a very few who I would want to do business with. Add to this that most Americans rank real estate sales people about a notch below used car salespeople.
Kathy: I’d say that the firms are great firms, they really are. But the “best” broker is not always the right broker for someone. The industry tends to define “best” by highest volume of sales or who brings in the most money to the firm each year. Neither of those necessarily mean they are doing the best for their clients.
Paul: And yet the ones who are, the really great brokers, make this experience an incredible, incredible journey for people.
So, that led to our asking ‘how do we create this not for the relocating family but for the day-to-day consumer?’ We decided we would give it a try and see if we could actually provide this service to, everyday consumers. Matching them with the very best of the breed.
Kathy: From the day it began, people seemed to embrace it. And word has just spread. I think people really appreciate the education, the oversight and the brokers we match them with. To a one, everyone has enjoyed the process, loved it, and when they’ve experienced it, they tell others.
So how do you guys work?
Kathy: What we do, on the sell side, is we meet with the clients first and based on all the relevant information, we choose three brokers, (and if the client wants, it could be four or five) and each of them comes in and gives a presentation that touches on the market conditions, their particular property and price. That way you really have the advantage of hearing three or four different pricing opinions from neutral parties. By the time it’s done, you have a pretty solid idea of what the price is. If not, we bring a couple of more people in to find out exactly where the differential lies. Our services are free, which is important. We preview each of the brokers of course, and then when the client comes in, it usually takes about four hours to hear the presentations.
What are the greatest challenges of real estate deals during a separation or divorce and how do you help with those?
Kathy: I have gone through a trying divorce myself and so I have my own personal experience with the delicacy of a lot of it. We know that ex-spouses can be suspicious, not trusting. Our job is to really make sure that we remain neutral and continue to be voice of reason and can communicate with everybody together, whether it’s a group e-mail or a face-to-face meeting, so nobody feels that somebody is being excluded.
I say this with love in my heart, we’re not here to choose a side in a divorce. While we become friends with people, I’m not looking to be a friend of the husband or the wife. I’m looking to protect their asset. They are both equal parties in this. If someone is really emotional and just wants someone to agree with them, we’re not the right people for them. We’re there really to protect that asset for them and if they want their asset protected, then we can be helpful.
Paul: Also, we take a holistic approach to working with clients. We will tell them if we really don’t think the time is right for them to sell. And on the other side of a sale, whether it’s the husband or the wife or both, we may be there telling them to hold up on buying straight away. We can say, “take a look at rentals.” We know you’re nervous about selling and where you’re going to be living. So we can send you out with a good rental agent, who won’t cost you anything, and can show you the market, so you can see what life might life after divorce. I know a lot of people get choked on the idea of downsizing. But the brokers we work with are happy to educate people – they can walk them through the type of space that might work and help them see why they don’t need five bedrooms. We can present to them what life is going to look like and it’s not that bad!
Kathy: I think another reason people like using us, is we can remove the pressure to hire someone they feel obligated to —
The broker “friend” who has no shame in pressuring you for the business?
Kathy: Exactly. If you have a good friend who works as a doctor, or lawyer or financial advisor, they are not pressuring you to use them. Real estate is so ass backwards that if your friend is a real estate broker and you don’t use them, even if it’s the wrong market, wrong price range, wrong everything, you could lose a friendship— they may actually stop talking to you!
What we do is provide people with the very polite way of saying to their friend or colleague, “You know, I’ve hired a consulting firm to help me with this process. I’d really love to maybe use you but it’s not in my hands.”
Ah, they don’t feel as if you’ve outright rejected them.
Kathy: Right. You’d be surprised what a friendship saver it can be.
Paul: The other thing that really doesn’t help a seller is when a broker says “Oh I work everywhere in the city.”
They almost all say that!
Paul: They say, “Oh I can do it anywhere,” and I’m thinking, wait a minute. No you really can’t. There are thousands of apartments on the market at any given time. 6,000, 5,000 in a tighter market. You can’t possibly really know all that inventory as well as you need to. As a consumer today, I can go on Street Easy by myself and get the basics, but I’m hiring a pro for a higher level of knowledge, not just the information I can find myself online.
So, when they say, “We can work everywhere,” I’ll say, “okay, say you’re a Tribeca broker, this is a Park Avenue apartment. Tell me the last seven-room apartments, the five seven-rooms you’ve seen on the market that compare.” If they can’t do it off the top of their head, I pretty much know. Our job is really clear here and it’s to be the voice of reason and calm and to get you both the most money.
So, once the match is made, you two still stay in touch with the client?
Kathy: Definitely. You get more attention and certainly a lot more oversight if you use us in the process.
Paul: Traditionally, once the consumer signs the listing agreement, they just let go and hope for the best and they don’t even know to ask certain key questions. They won’t know for instance, whether the real reason a broker won’t show it on a Monday is because he or she needs an extra day in the Hamptons. They don’t know if the broker is relaying all the offers he’s getting, if he’s answering calls or getting back to people.
Kathy: Piggybacking on that, I’m proud of that fact that even the hot brokers who we use who are very, very good, get better when they work with us. We can really up their game.
Paul: Yes, they know that we are going to be a constant source of business. If they do a good job.
Also, If I’m divorcing right now, I am in… a state, and the idea that I might forget to do something, or not be as focused as I need to be is scary. I would love somebody to sort of be at my shoulder saying, “Okay. Here’s what you need to do next.”
Kathy: There’s no question. We sit with people beforehand, and walk through the process. We want to make sure they understand the process. And if they feel it isn’t working out with a broker (and this has happened once with us) we will do the work of firing that broker and finding a new one.
Which just brings me another, do you guys have a list of real estate attorneys and/ or mortgage brokers that you have relationships with that also comes into play with the people that you work with, with your clients?
Kathy: Absolutely. We have all parts of the puzzle. We have built a roster of great professionals over the years, and while we don’t collect any fees for referring people, our clients usually get a preferred rate because we send them a fair amount of business.
Kathy: It’s not only the attorneys and the mortgage people. If for example you need to bring a decorator into your potential new place, and see what it’s going to cost because you yourself have never done a renovation or you gave that job to your ex-spouse, we can connect you with someone. We can bring people in to help educate you on how to manage it financially. Or maybe you are selling and you have some money left over. Do you need financial advisers? Whatever it is, we have a list of what we consider really good people so we can have a conversation and at least hand them to somebody who can have an intelligent conversation with them. Whether or not they’re going to use them, but they should know that there’s lots of resources at our fingertips for them.
I guess my last question is, what’s the right time to get in touch with you guys?
Kathy: I’d say as soon as possible, Sometimes, we will have an initial conversation and then not hear from someone for six months or a year. Because that’s when they’re ready. As you well know, you can be separated for quite a while and working on a divorce settlement so you might want to just see what the market looks like. Or you may have it written into your agreement that your home has to go on the market at a certain point. There are lots of parameters, but I think as soon as you can reach us, we can be a voice of reason and a voice of calm. Even if it’s just to touch base with us and say, “I’m not quite ready yet but I just want you to know I’m going to be reaching out to you.” We are a resource. The more resources you have going through this process, as you and I both know, the stronger you feel.