Real estate agency

How to start a real estate agency from scratch

A tiny Brooklyn brokerage, Niche, is a new generation of family-owned boutiques, challenging industry giants

Through Arden phillips – December 13, 2017

Kris and Zen Avery, center and right, with Mike Sullivan, whom they portrayed in a deal to purchase a condo on Bayard Street in Williamsburg (Photo courtesy of Niche Real Estate & Marketing)

The history of real estate sales in Brooklyn lately has been about large Manhattan companies storming the neighborhood and recruiting hundreds of agents. It’s the opposite story, that of a young couple who retired from corporate life and created a new generation of mom-and-pop boutique.

This summer Zenon and Kristine Avery launched their business based in Carroll Gardens, Niche real estate and marketing, in order to offer a more personalized service than the giant agencies. “We noticed there was a gap in the market,” Kris said. But stepping into the shadows of these businesses, as well as long-established neighborhood agencies, is fraught with pitfalls, including a lack of significant capital and low public awareness of the new brand early on.

Kris and Zen decided, however, that they had several assets going for them: industry expertise, complementary skills and when in their life staying in the neighborhood is a plus. (Their first child was born a year ago.) “We wanted to have more flexibility in our schedules and more autonomy on the projects we are working on,” says Kris. “Also, we wanted to work more together, because we really balance each other as a team.”

The couple met three years ago, while they were working on the same real estate development project. Kris, who studied commerce at Marymount College, had worked at real estate companies like Brooklyn’s Steiner NYC. Zen, a political science graduate from Temple University, comes from a family of real estate professionals and has worked in companies such as the luxury real estate agency. City Residential. What they discovered about each other was a common, cheesy passion for their business. “We love it. We always talk about real estate,” says Kris.

The interior of the condo that Niche Real Estate helped a client buy this summer

After launching their business in May, they completed their first transaction in August, representing the buyer of a condo in Williamsburg. They recently landed a few property management deals and are helping a foreign client search for a property to buy in Brooklyn. As the business prospects grew, they added three associates to the team.

What are their guiding principles as they navigate the difficult journey from a small startup to a large corporation? The couple shared a few keys:

Know your niche: This is where the name of the company comes from. “People want more face-to-face time together and we can offer that kind of time and service,” says Kris. “Our first client left a large company to come work with us because he felt neglected by his agent. Plus, developers want to feel like you’re working in-house and helping them build their own tools to manage properties on their own, not just as a consultant. Since we only work with a handful of buyers and developers at a time, we can go above and beyond to really spend time and provide great service.

Keep it personal: The Averys have the virtue of being a mom-and-pop boutique with its own flavor. “We design things ourselves,” says Kris. One of those projects was the direct mailing of brochures to the community of Carroll Gardens. They filled out and addressed all the envelopes themselves. By launching their presence on social networks, they mix photos of real estate with family photos of the couple with their son, also named Zen.

Giving back to the community: One aspect of Niche that sets it apart is that the company donates 10% of net profit from transactions to a charity of the customer’s choice. “We want to help people buy homes while building community,” Kris says. The first charitable donation was The Love of God We Deliver NYC, a non-profit organization dedicated to feeding people too sick to shop or cook. Zen and Kris have both volunteered for various causes, so this aspect of the business feels genuine.

Manage your money well: “As with most startups, you work with little capital to start up and have to be careful about how you spend the marketing money,” says Kris. “As a business owner you always worry about start-up costs, but we’ve designed our business to be versatile. Property management services are fee based, so it is stable income, while our property offers provide more income, but not every month. We handle this carefully as we grow our business.

Arden Phillips is a New York-based writer and graduate of the SI Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University, where she earned a degree in television, radio, and film.

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