Agents adjusting to name change

Merger: Realtors agree that the greatest impact of NRT's combining of entities will be the loss of an institution in Baltimore-area real estate.

March 14, 2002|By June Arney | June Arney,SUN STAFF

As they signed in at their regular Wednesday open houses yesterday, Realtors used to working under the O'Conor, Piper & Flynn flag had to remind themselves of their new affiliation -- Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage.

It had been just a day since they learned that a company merger would erase the OPF name, long a dominant force in Baltimore residential real estate, and some were still adjusting to the idea.

"It came as a total shock," said Daniel Motz, a Realtor with the Roland Park Wyndhurst office of the former OPF, now Coldwell Banker. "I don't think it has any real effect on the individual agent. Someone is not going to list with you just because you're with Coldwell Banker or Long & Foster or whoever. I think the great majority of the time it's the relationship with the specific agent that matters."

NRT Inc., the nation's largest brokerage and OPF's parent since 1998, has combined the Timonium-based company and its upscale Pardoe Real Estate firm of Washington with two newly acquired Coldwell Banker franchises -- Coldwell Banker Stevens, Realtors of Vienna, Va.; and Coldwell Banker Realty Pros Ltd. of Montgomery County.

The new company will operate with more than 4,000 sales associates in 90 office locations, stretching from the Delaware beaches and Ocean City, through Maryland, Washington and into the heart of Virginia.

Andy Mirabole, who works in what is now Coldwell Banker Towson South office, made a few quick calls to about a dozen clients to tell them about the change personally, before the news broke.

"I didn't want them to read it in the paper," he said. "They asked me, `What does it mean?' I said, `A new sign.' We're still a good company, just a different name."

In addition to new signs, there will be new business cards, new marketing materials and maybe even new training. Already, secretaries in the former OPF offices have incorporated the Coldwell Banker name.

"Short term, it doesn't make much difference because the institutional image is OPF," said Ken Maher, a Realtor with the Roland Park Wyndhurst office. "The long-term advantage is the identification with a premium brand. ... It's a good continuing step in this company's evolution."

Melvin Lee Knight, an agent in the same office, launched into Spanish when asked about the significance of the name change -- comments he translated to mean: "Same dog, different collar."

But he does worry that some communities may not be served as well by larger companies as by smaller ones because of simple economics. Yet, the large companies provide access to all kinds of high-tech capabilities, he said.

OPF itself was formed in 1984 by combining O'Conor and Flynn and the Piper Co. to ward off the threat of a takeover by larger national companies, Knight said.

"Our management, to a large degree, has preserved that philosophy," he said. "That's why it's respected within communities, because it isn't some giant that bulldozed its way in. Frankly, I think it's sad that a community-based business has become part of a national conglomerate. But that's the way of the world."

Knight wasn't alone in feeling a sense of nostalgia. "I think it's a shame to lose the name of O'Conor, Piper & Flynn," said Dick Gatchell, an agent at Hill and Co. for 45 years. "They were three Baltimore men who had been in real estate a long time. There's an identity -- a long tradition."

At least some agents are taking a wait-and-see attitude about what the new Coldwell Banker name will bring.

"Right now we're all hoping it's a name change," said Stacey Friedman, from the company's Federal Hill office. "It's a national name. It's definitely recognized. Until they tell us what kinds of changes it means, I don't know what to make of it."

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