A full pane of glass fronts the Madison Avenue townhouse office of Stribling & Associates, a luxury residential real estate brokerage firm. Four ornate gold frames hang museum-style in the window and the pictures inside feature large, luxurious apartments, Manhattan’s most prestigious offerings of the moment. On this Spring day, a 17-room triplex on Fifth Avenue is being marketed for $6.75 million; another Fifth Avenue co-op, this one only six rooms, is displayed for $2.95 million. The pictures catch the attention of many pedestrians, notes Stribling president and founder, Elizabeth Stribling. "We’ve had many high ticket sales through these windows," she claims. In fact, the windows on 73rd Street and Madison have been so successful, mentions Stribling, that the two other company locations, Stribling-Wells & Gay at 340 West 23rd Street and the just-opened Stribling office at 246 West Broadway in TriBeCa, feature the same signature look. The apartments and lofts may be funkier in the downtown pictures, but the ornamental opulence of the frames remain the same.
The uptown office is definitively uptown–and upscale. The green marble floor blends into the green marble reception desk where a large vase of fresh flowers sits, along with a friendly receptionist. Looking out of the famous window from the inside, one gazes at the Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church, an impressive building, which takes up the entire block. Caddy-corner from the Stribling office, but within visual range from the brokerage’s waiting room, is the stately Bank of New York.
"We hope that the perception of Stribling is of a quality real estate brokerage," says Stribling. "As high-end Manhattan dwellers become more affluent, they want to have top professional brokers working with them in the purchasing or selling of apartments. We make sure our clients get hands-on attention. It’s been my goal not to be the biggest in the field, but to offer the most professional advice and put the emphasis on details."
For all of her success, Elizabeth Stribling did not plan to be in real estate. An English Literature major, Stribling graduated from Vassar College in 1966 and did graduate work at Cambridge University in England in 1967. Upon her return to the States, Stribling found herself "up to here in the modern novel," and had no clear career plans. She says, "a bit of great good luck" came her way at a party in Newport, Rhode Island that summer where someone suggested she go into real estate. When she got home to New York City, where she had moved in with her parents, she "opened up the New York Times and read the real estate section–all about duplexes and penthouses." It sounded glamorous to the young Stribling, who still retains her blonde, trim looks. Stribling remembers that she "marched into real estate firms" and when she met Agnes Nolan, a partner of the former residential brokerage firm Whitbread-Nolan, Inc., Stribling was told to "start tomorrow." She says that she went home and told her mother about the job; her mother’s retort was, "It doesn’t sound like much!"
Her mother was incorrect. In her first year of sales, Stribling did twice the volume Nolan had told her to expect. She spent 13 and-a-half years as a residential broker at Whitbread-Nolan and in 1980 teamed up with her friend, Mrs. John Tysen, to start Stribling & Associates. Although Stribling does not want to grow her business substantially, the 130 brokers who work with the company is a significant increase from the original eight who started with the firm in 1980.
For the first year and-a-half in her own business, Stribling continued to sell apartments, but quickly decided that she did not want to be competing with the other brokers for sales. "I give brokers a lot of help in their negotiations, I make presentations, help plan the ads and am very involved in the transactions," she says. "I know every deal that goes on at the firm."
Stribling credits the brokers with much of the firm’s success. "We work very much as a team," she says. "We put our heads and ideas together and share our knowledge of the properties. This creates brokers with an overall perception of the entire market."
Stribling & Associates has done extremely well in this real estate market. "Like all of my competitors, we all had our best year ever," says Stribling. As the company is privately held, Stribling does not give out figures for the company’s sales, but she offers that "it has been a five-year climb."
In April of this year, Stribling opened the TriBeCa office at 246 West Broadway. "We’re doing more and more development which is helping to bring the conversion of the warehouse neighborhood to a residential one," Stribling says. Stribling has completed, or is currently working on, the marketing campaigns of a number of 19th Century industrial buildings into luxury residential condominiums. Some of these projects are 140 Franklin Street, The Fischer Mills Building at 377-381 Greenwhich Street, The Grand Crosby at 129 Grand Street, Franklin Tower at 90 Franklin Street, and 124 Hudson Street.
The office at 340 West 23rd Street operates primarily in Chelsea and the entire downtown market. That office had been acquired by Stribling & Associates in 1989, and had been known at that time as Wells & Gay, which had been founded in 1819. "Chelsea is just fabulous now," gushes Stribling. "It used to be quiet, with galleries and markets."
Stribling points to her offices being busy with sales throughout the borough, not only in specific neighborhoods. "You can live anywhere in the city now. We do a lot of sales on Upper Riverside Drive and the Lower East Side–all over Manhattan. The city has transformed itself. I would rather have our brokers be real Manhattan-based experts who can give advice based on knowledge," she says, "than spread ourselves too thin."
The only other area where Stribling considers herself a fluent reader of the real estate market is in France, where she has a Stribling representative working with clients buying and selling French properties. Stribling considers herself an expert in France, especially in Provence, because she owns a house near Grasse. Although she has been spending summers in the French residence for years, she finds that she "is going over more frequently. With the fax, Internet and palm pilot, I can work easily. And," she adds, "when I’m on an airplane, I get focused. Going away gives me a better perspective in running the business."
On the Ground
When in New York, Elizabeth Stribling lives in a four-story townhouse near Gracie Mansion. "It’s an old fashioned house with a garden," she says, "on a block with a extraordinary atmosphere." Stribling finds that it is important for her to keep an interest in the world, beyond the scope of her business. To that end, she sits on the boards of many institutions including The Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY), The Hewitt School, The Foreign Policy Association, The Women’s Committee of the Central Park Conservancy, The American Friends of Cambridge University, The Landmarks Conservancy, The Lacoste School for the Arts in France and The Drama League of New York.
More than anything, Stribling stresses her love for New York City. "My real estate career has reinforced my star-struck feelings about this city." Stribling analogizes the families, clients, co-workers in her life to "an interweaving… a tapestry… like a modern novel that I’ve loved." Although Stribling may not have pursued the literary career she had studied for, she feels she has obliquely obtained it through her adventures in the real estate business.
Ms. Wagner is a freelance writer living in Manhattan.