The offices of Benjamin James Associates, a 60-broker real estate firm in downtown Manhattan, look nothing like the typical brokerage firms dotting the city. No signs outside the old Broadway office building near Union Square announce the presence of this agency which did over $60 million in sales last year. Benjamin James' second floor office is housed in an open, loft-like space with high-tech lighting and the noise of constantly ringing phones. The brokers, many of whom have other careers, such as the theater professor from New York University, the actors and the fashion designers, are described by their boss, James Ferrari, as having a "great flow of energy" between them. Then there is James Ferrari himself - a strapping, former male model with no real estate background who, after a few years of a successful career on runways and in magazines, used his own savings to build what is now becoming a major full-service real estate brokerage firm in the city.
James Benjamin Ferrari (hence the Benjamin James) studied philosophy, political science and the humanities when he attended Hunter College during the late 1980's. He describes himself at that point as "anti-business" and when he graduated from school, mutual friends introduced him to Frances Grill and her family, who ran the Click modeling agency. Ferrari spent the early 1990's modeling on runways, doing print work and appearing in the pages of Vogue and Cosmopolitan. "I enjoyed it for a couple of years," the 36-year-old Ferrari recalls. "I was able to travel and make unusual amounts of money for someone my age." For Ferrari, however, the modeling life was not one he wanted to live. "After a while it started to bother me that there was no charge or challenge to the work," Ferrari says. "I had been living in Paris, "Ferrari remembers "and came back to New York to live. I went out with a real estate agent to look for an apartment and it occurred to me that I could do this." Ferrari says that he never had any interest in the real estate business before that excursion; he ditched the broker, found an apartment for himself and began a career working at a series of small real estate agencies as a broker. "It was much more interesting to sell apartments than to sell my physical self."
During the recession in 1993, Ferrari started Benjamin James Associates, featuring rental apartments as the "hub" of the business. "Our original location was Union Square," Ferrari says. "What I did was build strong relationships with landlords in a bad economy." According to Ferrari, those relationships have been so good that the landlords have been faithful to him during the up-cycle of the market, sometimes giving the firm a direct connection to sponsor apartments. In turn, this offers wonderful opportunities for Benjamin James clients. Equally helpful to Ferrari was the hiring of an "eclectic, authentic and multi-faceted group of agents" who are "fiercely competitive." Invaluable help has come from friends in the fashion business, where relocations of models and industry professionals is a constant in New York City. "We try to do the best we can for every client we have," says Ferrari. "We service them, educate them and, if we can't help them out, we don't hurt them. We try to be extremely helpful in a rough and tumble market."
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