Pour one out, real estate homies, for another independent San Francisco real estate firm. This time it’s Zephyr, a fixture on the local scene for 40 years. The broker founded by Real Estate Hall of Famer (yes, there is a real estate hall of fame) Bill Drypolcher in 1978 recently announced that it has partnered with The Corcoran Group, a hot-shot New York luxury brand whose high-profile founder, Barbara Corcoran, is seen weekly as one the investor “sharks” on TV’s “Shark Tank. “
Say goodbye to the once-sleek-now-kind of-retro Zephyr block lettering; from this moment forward, Zephyr is part of “Corcoran Global Living,” a 400-plus agent combo of Zephyr and Reno/Tahoe’s Oliver Luxury Real Estate, who’ve also partnered with Corcoran, as the East Coast firm takes its first steps west. The old Zephyr name retires to a warehouse full of local real estate names like Paragon, Pacific Union, Hill & Company, Herth, Alain Pinel and others. Left alone as the city’s single major independent is Vanguard, a firm known primarily for its small development projects.
It’s sad, seeing these signs come down, and it tweaks our quirky San Francisco sensibilities when our favorite local shops are taken over by “the corporations,” but let’s be honest; most of the industry stuff is too inside baseball to really matter to John Q. Housebuyer (or seller). The real question is how having Zephyr turn into Corcoran and Paragon, et. al become Compass is going to impact you, their prospective clients.
I’m here to tell you something you may not want to hear, especially if you have in the past led a successful charge to keep an evil chain store out of your San Francisco neighborhood: This is a good thing for consumers.
How can it not be? I know several Compass agents, for example, and they all seem quite happy with their new set-up because Compass, whose takeover of local real estate is a story unto itself, provides them with resources they could only have imagined before. Compass, I’ve been told, is as much a technology company as it is a real estate company and thus, is well-positioned to deal in that most valuable of Realtor resources: information.
Two more valuable resources are brand and marketing acumen. Compass, which was founded in New York by a pair of technology entrepreneurs, has created an instantly recognizable brand simply by becoming omnipresent seemingly overnight and it delivers marketing resources well beyond what any one-shop local broker could even imagine. For agents, it’s the kind of no-brainer high school hoops stars would face if they were being simultaneously recruited by the entire PAC-12 and a local community college. By approaching real estate as an economy of scale, Compass is able to do as much for its clients as is presently possible and, as a tech-focused company, promises to stay on the cutting edge as technology advances.
For Zephyr, the Corcoran partnership brings similar marketing benefits with an added branding perk: “For one, you get the Barbara Corcoran name,” says Luba Muzichenko, an agent who, after 14 years at Zephyr, now finds herself printing up new Corcoran business cards. “It’s great branding. The SEO is incredible.”
Also, she adds, Corcoran, while not as familiar to West Coast residents, in the New York area is a synonym for “luxury.” “What is San Francisco if not a luxury brand?” she says.
Zephyr’s choice to become an affiliate of Corcoran rather than jumping on the Compass train (the two companies were in negotiations in 2018, but rather contentiously did not come to an agreement) could signal a shift in future direction for what’s left of the local boutique real estate world.
“We still get to run ourselves independently,” Muzichenko explains. “The idea is that us little guys can band together as franchisees instead of getting bought.”
As for you, local home buyer or seller, you can’t lose. After all, this is a bottom line business, and the actual real estate agents, the people who’ve been doing business locally for many years? They’re still here, still sponsoring youth soccer teams, still walking the neighborhoods. They’re just carrying different business cards now, and with a lot more juice backing them up.
The Market Musings real estate column appears every other Wednesday. Larry Rosen is a San Francisco-based writer, editor, podcaster and recovering former Realtor. He is a guest columnist and his viewpoint is not necessarily that of the Examiner.