Against the Tide, Town & Country Expands Again

Independent real estate agency continues to grow and make acquisitions in a troubled housing market.

After opening a second storefront in East Hampton Village last month, is now preparing to move its Southampton Village office into bigger digs to accommodate the continuously growing firm.

The original Southampton office was opened in late 2008, just as the housing market took a dive off a cliff. But bucking trends has been a matter of course for Town & Country since CEO Judi Desiderio founded the firm in 2005, according to the board of directors, who invited Patch for a sitdown Wednesday to discuss the independent agency's history and keys to success.

Currently located at 50 Hampton Road, the Southampton office will move a few doors down to 16 Hampton Road, the former Hampton Homecare, which is currently undergoing a major renovation by architect . “It went from being one of the ugliest buildings in the village to one of the most beautiful,” Desiderio said.

Partner Nancy McGann, a 31-year industry veteran who helms the Southampton operation, said they plan to move into their new space in November.

The Westhampton Beach office doubled in size in 2011 when Town & Country acquired boutique brokerage Phillips Beach Realty. "Other people thought we were crazy,” said Patrick Galway, that office's managing director.

Undeterred, in late 2011, Town & Country expanded to Montauk with the acquisition of .

The board of directors attributed the agency's success during trying times to its agents and a supportive, non-corporate atmosphere.

“If you’re an agent who functions well in a corporate structure, then Town & Country isn’t for you,” Desiderio said. "It takes an agent with an entrepreneurial spirit."

Desiderio has a similar story to many of the members of the board: She started out at an independent real estate company that was eventually bought out by a large corporate firm.

She had risen to partner at Cook Pony Farm in Bridgehampton, but after it was acquired she decided to live out her contract till December 2005 then start her own business, finding that the corporate world was not for her.

Not long after starting Town & Country, Desiderio was joined by her former Cook Pony Farm colleague Janet Hummel, the current Bridgehampton office manager and a partner.

Hummel said she was initially excited when "corporate America" came in to take over Cook Pony Farm, but that quickly changed.

“I felt like I didn’t know the inventory anymore,” she said. “I became a professional meeting-goer.”

She was also a negotiator and therapist for infighting among competing agents, Hummel recalled. Now, her biggest problem is that agents are too busy, she said. “That’s a really good problem to have.”

Desiderio said corporations have the habit of hiring just about anyone to be an agent. “It’s what I call the shotgun approach,” she said, explaining that firms figure that everyone has a friend or uncle they can sell at least one house to.

But she said Town & Country endeavors to hire experienced, proven agents, and only brings in newcomers to the real estate business who have a lot of potential.

Galway, who, just like McGann, is a veteran of both Allen Schneider Associates and Corcoran, said that in the corporate world it is "sink of swim" for agents. But Town & Country agents get plenty of support and don't have to go through multiple layers of bureaucracy to get a question answered. “Time is very important, especially in the market today, to get a response,” he said.

“We cater to the agents and what each individual needs,” marketing and social media director Laura Mott said. “Being that we’re small, we can be hands on.”

Desiderio said managers often send "tickles" to the agents — emails with ideas that will help them sell.

But guidance is not meant to be controlling.

The last thing Town & Country agents are is "cookie cutter," said Joan Bischoff, the managing director for North Fork and Shelter Island. “Our people don’t derive their personality from the company.”

Town & Country has 120 agents spread among offices in , , , , , and . There are additional 25 or so referral agents, Desiderio said.

Agents do their own advertising, with the help of technology solutions from director of IT Christopher DiPetta, and the firm does branding as well, Mott said.

One recent initiative, a web video by Quogue aerial photographer , of East End Fine Art Services, doesn't market any of the homes Town & Country has for sale but, rather, Hamptons and the North Fork communities themselves.

“It’s more of a lifestyle out here,” she said. “It’s not about houses at all.”

While the East End is often lumped together, Mott said, “The reality is each hamlet is very different.” And that's what the video on the Town & Country home page, dubbed "Experience," aims to illustrate.

Julie Crowley September 16, 2012 at 09:12 PM
I am glad to be an Associate Broker at Town and Country RE particularly at this exciting time in the real estate business! Julie Crowley (Selling and Listing for 10years from Remsenburg through Montauk.)
Nicholas J. Planamento September 17, 2012 at 01:57 PM
Julie! I'm with you - i'm very happy to be an Associate Broker with Town & Country Real Estate - I receive a tremendous amount of support yet function as an independant... growing my business on the North Fork & Shelter Island... I couldn't think of a better team (of ladies!) to mentor me and develop my skills.
Jeanmarie Bay (Town and Country Real Estate) October 04, 2012 at 06:41 PM
I'm glad to be a Town and Country Real Estate Salesperson, I receive great support and marketing tools from Board of Directors, unlike other Corporate Estate Real Estate Companies.


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