Barbara Corcoran, founder, chairman and chief executive officer of The Corcoran Group, Manhattan’s largest privately owned real estate firm, is on top of her game as she continues to do what she does best: invent ways to market Manhattan’s hottest, high-end properties. Often referred to as the "Queen of New York Real Estate," this innovator knows that the key to success is in the people she chooses to work with her. "I’ve always had enormous ‘good people’ fortune. I’ve had the most gifted people since day one. They are the strongest sales people in town." Esther Kaplan, president of The Corcoran Group, has been with the firm for over 22 years. "Barbara and I have a kind of left-brain/right-brain relationship. Her gift, special talent, is marketing. I’m on the other side of the firm, the operating side."
With 1999 regular sales to date already topping well over $1.6 billion, The Corcoran Group projects even higher profits before the dawn of a new millennium. These figures represent the efforts of what might be considered the group’s traditional work force–it’s 500 brokers working from one of Manhattan’s seven or Brooklyn’s three locations, where 2,344 units, at an average unit price of $607,500 have been sold so far this year. Now think Internet and add another $77,616,000 representing 210 units sold to date and it becomes clear why The Corcoran Group is proud of the stronghold they’ve staked in cyberspace. Over 2000 visitors come each day resulting in the sale of at least one property. Corcoran projects that Internet sales will top $100 million in 1999.
From an Early Age
For a woman whose career would eventually take the Big Apple by storm, Barbara Corcoran, who grew up just the other side of Manhattan in Edgewater, New Jersey, didn’t venture into the city until she was 17 years old. Her early life, spent with loving parents and nine siblings, instilled values and a competitive edge that would someday transform her into a world-class entrepreneur.
As a young woman she saw herself as a teacher and pursued that path at St. Thomas Aquinas College majoring in education. After graduation, Corcoran taught for a year, but wanted something else. "I landed a job as a receptionist at a builder’s office. I moonlighted renting apartments." Corcoran saw that there was money to be made and she especially like being her own boss. In 1973 the young Corcoran borrowed $1,000, invested in her dream and opened her new firm from her East 86th Street apartment. "From the first day I opened, I had a clear vision of myself in business."
"I came to sales totally by accident. At that time most of New York was for rent, not for sale. A young man wanted to buy an apartment. I had nothing to sell," Corcoran relates. She searched The New York Times classified section and found a couple of apartments for sale. "I dragged him to a two-bedroom apartment on Park Avenue and 85th Street. That $38,500 apartment was my first sale. I took my $3,000 commission to the bank and used that money to hire my first two sales people."
As the 1970’s gained speed, the rental market converted to co-ops and an enormous pool of buyers and sellers presented themselves. "The market was created over night. Every time I had a spare dollar, I’d put it in a separate pile, take out the profit, reinvest it in one of two ways: hire another sales person or, whenever I ran out of room, I’d build or expand space."
By the mid-70’s Corcoran created her first marketing masterpiece: "The Corcoran Report." The report, an insider’s data-driven analysis of the real estate market, put her company on the map, giving it the authoritative voice it needed to grab the attention of the press and the industry. Today "The Corcoran Report," a collaborative venture using the expertise of Mitchell Maxwell & Jackson, Inc. (MMJ), the largest appraisal company in New York, is known as the barometer of the New York real estate market. "I believe that the broader the database you draw from, the more accurate the data. Since MMJ joined us, about four years ago, we’ve widened our database three-fold," Corcoran says. In addition to "The Corcoran Report," the firm oversees the publication of its glossy bi-monthly "Corcoran’s New York Minute: A Guide to New York’s Finest Luxury Homes" and "Corcoran’s International Real Estate," another glossy presentation, that ranks the most expensive cities in the world.
Corcoran’s firm has grown exponentially since the early days, but her methodology has remained the same. She constantly surveys her domain, recreating herself and her company along the way. Like any forward-looking leader she is able to take her failures in stride and transform them into assets as she did with the costly, but unsuccessful, video tours of the early 1990’s. From this liability grew the firm’s enormously successful website. "Corcoran.com, [established in 1995], was my attempt to make lemonade out of lemons. The visitor could navigate on his or her own terms, anytime, 24/7. I could keep the inventory fresh. It became a win-win proposition for everyone. The brokers doubled their commissions, while the visitors could tailor their search," Corcoran explains. The site is comprehensive, offering everything a perspective local or international client might want to know about buying, selling, renting or relocating to the Big Apple and beyond.
Corcoran has created a residential real estate empire comprised of autonomous entities dependent on the existence of the parent company. Corcoran has structured her business so that all ten offices are autonomous. The same is true of the website and the international division. Corcoran sees the website and the international division as different sides of the same coin, each inter-related, yet different.
Limitation Sparks Creativity
The Corcoran Group often identifies problems within the real estate community, and then sets out to explore solutions. Gary Brynes, director of Corcoran’s co-op to condo division, coordinates a semi-annual in-house panel to discuss the problems inherent in co-op shareholding. "We invite co-op board presidents and board members to pick the brains of experts. Eighty percent of all product in Manhattan is co-ops and 20 percent condos. To meet the market demand, Corcoran sees that the way to increase value in existing co-ops is to convert to condo status and, in so doing, the value goes up by 20 to 40 percent. This is syntonic with the forward thinking style of the company."
Innovation and creativity continue to separate The Corcoran Group from its competition. From in-house training programs; to the virtual office, begun less than a year ago, wherein brokers work from carefully structured home offices; to managers who join the firm to serve specific functions, like Patricia Dugan who recently came on board as the managing director of exclusive sales services, a position created to help other brokers secure exclusives, The Corcoran Group keeps listening and watching as it creates trends within the highly competitive residential market.
Honors and Achievements
This fall Craine’s New York Business named Barbara Corcoran as one of "New York’s 100 Most Influential Women in Business." Alair Townsend, vice president/publisher of Craine’s, is exuberant when speaking about Corcoran. "She’s very funny and fanciful. She is so incredibly creative. Barbara is one of the marketing geniuses in the city today." Tom Quick, president and chief operating officer of Quick & Reilly Investments, a subsidiary of Fleet Financial Group and one of the nation’s leading discount brokerage firms, sums up what so many say about Corcoran: "As far as I’m concerned, there are very few individuals I come across who are so enthusiastic, down-to-earth and self-effacing as Barbara, yet she is a very passionate and concerned individual, whether about her family, her business or her friends."
Corcoran is a recipient of the coveted Realty Foundation Golden Apple Award; she also serves as the New York chairperson of the prestigious Young President’s Organization, which boasts a 500-person membership of the world’s most successful entrepreneurs. The Corcoran Group continues to garner awards as evidenced by the Real Estate Board of New York’s (REBNY) "1999 Deal of the Year" awarded to Amy Singer, Sharon Baum and Elizabeth Mottram: all Corcoran brokers.
Corcoran looks forward to expansion on an international scale in the next ten years. "I want to be able to facilitate and do a better job of selling properties throughout the world. I think we could do it better than anyone else." Corcoran’s international division already hosts Corcoran’s Annual World Conference of Real Estate Leaders as a forum for its affiliates to compare and discuss business on a global scale. The conference, combined with the international foothold established through the expansive time-space travel afforded by cyberspace, could make Barbara Corcoran’s latest dream-vision for the future, a reality. It’s never too early to shop for a larger crown.
R.T. Livingston is a freelance writer whose time is divided between TriBeCa and Ulster County.