Andrew Saunders has been a fixture of the south-of-the-highway real estate scene for more than seven years as an agent at Sotheby’s International Realty in Bridgehampton, but three weeks ago he decided to strike out on his own.
This fall, Mr. Saunders plans to open his own agency, Saunders and Associates, in a 4,000-square-foot barn-style building on Montauk Highway that used to house The Mill at Bridgehampton, an antiques store.
“I told them what I was planning on doing and they were very decent about it,” Mr. Saunders said of his colleagues at Sotheby’s. “We’re friends. I have a very good relationship with them.”
Mr. Saunders’ real estate license will continue through Sotheby’s and he will continue to work with the listings he has while he begins to develop his own clientele.
In the past, he’d focused primarily on investment properties, primarily south of Montauk Highway in Bridgehampton and Sagaponack, but also developed a reputation for selling historic homes in Sag Harbor in recent years.
His strategy has been wildly successful. Mr. Saunders was ranked 43rd of the top real estate agents in the nation by the Wall Street Journal in January. His sales in 2007 topped $78 million.
“I was a developer out here. I started in 1996. We built a number of very successful development projects,” said Mr. Saunders, who had always purchased his properties through Susan Green at Sotheby’s before he became an agent.
Mr. Saunders became a broker at Sotheby’s when he moved to the Hamptons full-time in 2000 after the birth of his son, though he continued his development projects as well.
“I thought it would be synergistic to maybe see the business from the brokerage side,” he said. “I was a broker for investors and builders and I had credibility as someone who himself was out there doing it.”
“In 1996 it was right on the cusp of the latest rave in the real estate market,” he said. “Things really started to pick up again. It was just by chance that our entry into the market was coincidental” with skyrocketing real estate prices, he said.
His success has certainly paid off personally. Mr. Saunders’ own home on Parsonage Lane in Sagaponack is on the market for $19.9 million, and he recently put it on the rental market for this summer for $1 million for the season.
Mr. Saunders is not the only East End realtor who’s recently struck out on his own. Judy Desiderio was a partner at Cook Pony Farm before she started her own agency, Town and Country Realty, two-and-a-half years ago. Her business has expanded dramatically, to six offices, many on the North Fork, in that short amount of time.
Ms. Desiderio recently met with Mr. Saunders to congratulate and offer to do business with him.
“He’s going to have a fine boutique in Bridgehampton,” said Ms. Desiderio, adding that “his business model is different than mine. I don’t feel we’ll compete for listings.”
Ms. Desiderio added that, as an agency that is not tied to a larger, corporate real estate company, she was met with open arms by a community that wanted its realtors to be neighbors they knew.
“It’s much like gardening,” she said of growing a successful real estate agency. “You plant the seeds, water, weed, mulch, and maybe if you do all the right things a sprout appears. But you have to be willing to work so hard in the beginning.”
Mr. Saunders has growth in mind as he opens his shop in Bridgehampton. He is already scouting locations for additional offices and recruiting agents to work with him.
“I think I’ll do some things a little differently,” he said of his strategy for his own brokerage, adding that in the beginning he will handle many listings along with other brokers.
“You do have to go out and get listings, but it’s in a seller’s best interest to have an agent co-broker,” he said. “Attracting listings is fundamental to the business, but it’s not an uphill battle. It’s about how you position yourself in the market. You can’t be all things to all people. You have to pick your spots. We have crafted a very interesting and unique approach.”
“The investment game has really been south-of-the-highway, but north of the highway has provided the largest return on invested capital,” he said, adding that only part of his focus will be “well-executed properties south of the highway.”
“Seventy-five or 80 percent of my properties have been investment oriented, but I have a decent book of clients who’ve traded out of houses,” he said.
“I’ve had a terrific run,” he said of his career at Sotheby’s. “I’m just sort of evolving and I saw an opportunity to set up. It’s a decent moment for a new player to come into the market.”
“He’s got plenty of money behind him. He should be fine,” said one of Mr. Saunders’ friends, Prudential broker Paul Brennan.