The former general sales manager and most of the sales agents of Gary Hart & Associates Ltd., a well known real estate brokerage in Anne Arundel Co., have formed a new real estate agency that is now operating as an affiliate of the Coldwell Banker network.
Coldwell Banker Elite Properties Inc. is the name of the new franchise, which was launched Jan 1. Its broker is Mary Frisbie, the general sales manager of Gary Hart & Associates since 1985.
Mr. Hart, who founded Gary Hart & Associates in 1978, said he is "removing" himself from the sales side of real estate business and plans to devote more time to other interests, including a mortgage company, a title company and a development company that he has. He said Gary Hart & Associates will continue to exist and he will still be its broker, but he could not say how active it would be.
"I've sensed for the past couple of years that I would be looking for a change," he said. "I have other businesses I want to pursue. This gives me the freedom to do that."
The move is the second major change among local real estate agencies to be announced within the past month, following the acquisition by Prudential Preferred Properties of Meredith Real Estate/Better Homes and Gardens.
It is also another example of a national trend in which medium-sized independent firms are becoming affiliated with larger national networks that have better name recognition and more resources for training and otherwise supporting sales agents.
The new Coldwell Banker affiliate will add about 200 associates to the Coldwell Banker network in Baltimore, an organization that previously had about 700 agents.
Most of the agents were in offices owned by Coldwell Banker through its subsidiary, Coldwell Banker Residential Real Estate Services. The Elite Properties franchise will be part of the Coldwell Banker Residential Affiliates division, but its associates will have all the benefits and marketing support that associates have in Coldwell Banker's wholly-owned offices, Mr. Hart said. Another office, Coldwell Banker Home Realty Professionals, with about 50 agents, recently was converted from an owned office to a franchise.
With 900 associates in the Baltimore area, Coldwell Banker will be closer in size to the area's largest agencies, including Long and Foster; O'Conor, Piper & Flynn Realtors; Grempler Realty; and Prudential Preferred Properties. Each of those agencies has 1,000 or more associates.
Gary Hart and Associates had sales of $250 million in last year, according to Mr. Hart. The new organization, Elite Properties, will take over the sales offices formerly used by Gary Hart ZZTC Associates in Arnold, Glen Burnie, Crofton and Annapolis. Its administrative offices will be in Pasadena.
The changes went into effect less than a month after Mr. Hart, 39, was charged with second degree rape and false imprisonment in connection with an alleged incident involving a 33-year-old woman in his Thomas Point home.
According to court records, the alleged incident took place Oct. 16 and county police filed a complaint against Mr. Hart on Nov. 2. Mr. Hart subsequently turned himself in to police but has denied the charges.
In a phone interview Thursday, Mr. Hart declined to discuss his personal affairs and reiterated that he would no role in the new company. He said the negotiations leading to the formation of the new company and its affiliation with Coldwell Banker began last September and represented a good opportunity for Ms. Frisbie and the former Gary Hart associates.
"It became apparent to me as the years have gone by that any real estate company would benefit from affiliation with a national real estate company," he said. The Elite Properties affiliates "will have all the same services and benefits of the company-owned stores," he added.
With Coldwell Banker, the former Gary Hart associates will be "in an entirely different league" in terms of company name recognition, he said. As a subsidiary of Sears, Roebuck & Co., Coldwell Banker is in a much better position than a smaller independent company to provide its sale associates with marketing materials, educational videotapes and a large advertising budget, he added. "Elite Properties should have a tremendous future."
Mike Johnson, franchise development director for Coldwell Banker's northeast region, confirmed that talks involving the affiliation began in September. He said Coldwell Banker representatives were initially concerned about the allegations involving Mr. Hart but investigated the matter and decided to proceed with the affiliation.
"We definitely were concerned about it, and we took the extra step of investigating it and we were satisfied that [Elite Properties] would be a good company to be affiliated with," he said.
"Mr. Hart is taking a step backward" to help the company, he added. "He wants to let this . . . get behind him. His company has always been a success, and we are proud to have them under our banner. He wanted to take his name off to ensure the success of the company. I have a lot of respect for him."
Mr. Johnson added that Coldwell Banker has been looking for a way to increase its presense in the lucrative Anne Arundel County market and is pleased to have the local expertise of the 200 associates from Elite Properties. With the recent affiliation, Coldwell Banker now has a market share of more than 10 percent in the county, he added.
Ms. Frisbie said she hopes the new company will provide the local expertise and management skills to help Coldwell Banker increase its market share in the county.
"We feel that we are strategically located throughout Anne Arundel County and we look forward to doing a thriving business," she said.