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The New York Sun. November 15, 2007
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City's Brokers Build Relationships in Europe

By BRADLEY HOPE

Staff Reporter of the Sun



With international buyers helping to buoy the New York market and isolate it from the nationwide drop in prices, the city's real estate brokerage firms are joining international broker networks, exhibiting properties at property shows abroad, and advertising in publications in other countries to lure even more foreign money.


"America is on sale for now," the chief executive of Coldwell Banker Hunt Kennedy, David Michonski, said. "It doesn't look like that's changing for at least another year."


Mr. Michonski recently sent a top broker on a two-week European tour to market the firm's listings to wealthy Europeans, and Coldwell is preparing to host two South Koreans from a brokerage firm in Seoul. In three weeks, an affiliate firm in Singapore is sending over several major investors, who are aiming to invest $300 million in New York's commercial market.


"There is a lot of hysteria about real estate right now, but the foreigners come at this with a better perspective," Mr. Michonski said. "They know that the time to buy a straw hat is in January, not June." Brokerage firms are actively attending more property shows to develop relationships with international buyers; since January, Corcoran brokers have attended 14 shows in France, South Korea, Russia, Spain, Brazil, Germany, Hong Kong, and the United Arab Emirates.


"We attend a lot of these shows without the intention of writing contracts," a senior vice president at Corcoran, Neal Sroka, said. "It's to increase the awareness of the buyers about what's really going on in New York City and build relationships."


Corcoran has relationships with brokers around the world whom the firm briefs daily on pricing, availability, and new properties. The weak dollar is part of the reason American brokers are pursuing foreign buyers. Also, international clients are considered more attractive than local buyers because their investments are not as tied to interest rates here, and they usually put down a larger down payment.

"The foreign buyer is just willing to put more money down," the brokerage manager of Sotheby's International Realty, Diane Levine, said. Hotel-condominium combinations are especially attractive to foreign customers, as such properties allow them to have a place to live when they want to shop or see Broadway shows, then put the place back into the rental pool when they return home, she said.


One of the easiest ways the firms have connected to foreign buyers is by joining international brokerage networks. Two affiliations, Leading Real Estate Companies of the World and Luxury Portfolio Fine Property Collection, are well-established in America.


"These are not just associations that you stamp on your home page," the director of corporate business development for Halstead Property, Sharon Michnay, said. "We visit these companies in the network, meet their owners and agents."


Last month, Halstead became the first American firm to sign up with the European Real Estate Network, a group of 20 real estate companies from nine European countries.


Manhattan high-rises are also appearing in advertisements in international publications.


The firm marketing W Downtown Hotel & Residences, the Shvo Group, took out full-page advertisements in Seoul.


"In Korea, the W brand is very strong because the W in Seoul is one of the city's signature hotels," the founder of the company, Michael Shvo, said. "We are taking the product to where the buyers are." In a reverse of American brokerages going abroad to lure buyers, some foreign firms are now opening offices here to offer better service to their clients. Last February, the Moscow-based Evans Group opened an office in SoHo. Many of the company's clients are Russian investors looking to diversify their holdings, and Evans is fielding as many as four new potential buyers a day.


"Many foreign buyers want to take their millions and diversify their investment by buying real estate in New York," a managing partner at Evans Group, Karina Sagiev, said. "We are very busy."

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