With public scrutiny taking a toll on his private life, county real estate broker Gary Hart has closed the company that bears his name and formed an agency affiliated with Coldwell Banker.
"When your name is associated with a company, you just can't have a private life," Hart said yesterday. "I could have allowed the new company to have myname. I wanted to get my name back. I don't want to live under a glass house anymore."
The general sales manager and about 200 associates from the former Gary Hart & Associates Ltd. staff the new Coldwell Banker Elite Properties Inc.
Hart, saying he hoped to devote more time to his mortgage and title companies, has pulled out of Elite's day-to-day operations. Hart's former general sales manager, Mary Frisbie, is the new company's broker. Hart declined to name Elite's owners.
"It was time to move on, time to do something else," said Hart, 39, who has beenselling homes since age 21. He added that it has become increasinglydifficult for independent real estate agencies to compete.
Coldwell Banker approved the new franchise Dec. 28, a little over a week after Hart was charged with second-degree rape and false imprisonment of a 33-year-old woman in his Thomas Point home. Hart, who acknowledges having sex with the woman, countered she invented the allegations to destroy his reputation.
Hart was indicted on first-degree rape charges yesterday after investigators said they uncovered evidence thewoman had been choked.
The veteran Realtor, who said he would have "no official role" with Elite, founded Gary Hart & Associates in 1978. At the time, he said, he liked having his name in the public eye.But that has changed.
"When your name is out there in public, newspaper people start to treat you as though you're a public figure andhave a field day," he said. "I decided a few years ago I didn't likethe price you had to pay. People want to sue you for all trivial things. There's a perception that you're wealthy."
Several years ago,Hart turned down Coldwell Banker's corporate division's pitch to acquire Gary Hart & Associates.
But this year, when Coldwell Banker approached him about forming a franchise, Hart said, he saw a way to step back and allow his associates to continue with Coldwell Banker's name recognition.
Last fall, Coldwell Banker closed its six whollyowned offices in the county and granted more profitable franchises instead, said Michael Johnson, franchise area development director forthe Coldwell Banker Residential Affiliates' northeast region.
Onefranchise went to Gary Kaukonen, former regional director for the Coldwell Banker residential group in Anne Arundel County. Kaukonen opened Coldwell Banker Home Realty Professionals in Severna Park in November.
The other franchise went to Elite, which will use the former Hart & Associates offices in Crofton, Arnold, Annapolis and Glen Burnie, with Pasadena headquarters.
Coldwell Banker approached Hart before he was charged and proceeded with the franchise because "Gary Hart brought to us a strong presence in Anne Arundel County," Johnson said.
He noted a trend of removing "personalities" from real estatecompanies and focusing on sales associates rather than owners.
The new Coldwell affiliates will bring the number of Baltimore-area sales associates in Coldwell Banker Residential Real Estate Services to 900, closer to the number of associates at such larger agencies as Long and Foster and O'Conor, Piper & Flynn.
The move increases Coldwell Banker's Anne Arundel market share to 11 percent.
Gary Hart & Associates completed $250 million worth of transactions in 1990, Hartsaid.