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Bess Freedman
Vitals: Brown Harris Stevens

Years in business: 147
Size: 55 offices, 2,500 agents
Regions served: New York City; Hudson Valley, N.Y.; Fairfield County, Conn.; Palm Beach and Miami, Fla.
2019 sales volume: $9.3 billion
2019 transactions: 5,937

Bess Freedman, CEO of Brown Harris Stevens, began her career as an attorney, but when she started a family, she transitioned to real estate, covering the Manhattan market.

Freedman had great success as an agent for about seven years before getting into management. In 2013, she was introduced to the team at Brown Harris Stevens and went on to become president and then CEO.

In June, the firm’s parent company, Terra Holdings, made the decision to restructure and bring both Halstead and Brown Harris Stevens under the Brown Harris Stevens brand. The merger has resulted in more than 2,500 agents across 55 offices in NYC, the Hamptons, Connecticut, the Hudson Valley, N.Y., New Jersey, Miami and Palm Beach.

How has COVID-19 impacted the firm and the markets you serve?
Bess Freedman: Brown Harris Stevens was affected in many ways, both in the business sense and personally. On the business side, we were forced to stop showing homes in New York City and the Hamptons under Governor Andrew Cuomo’s “New York State on Pause” order. Deals really slowed at that point because real estate is mostly an emotional commodity—you want to see it, touch it, smell it, get a true sense of it. This wasn’t possible for at least three months. When it became clear that schools would not reopen in person, many New Yorkers looked to leave vertical and dense city living and opted to head out to places like the Hamptons, Connecticut, Miami and Palm Beach where we have offices. Traditional second-home markets experienced a surge of activity—supply can’t keep up with demand. COVID triggered extreme market lulls and extreme frenzy depending on the location.

On the more personal side, we lost one of our wonderful agents, Sal Cappi, to COVID-19. Many of our agents, myself included, battled COVID-19. It was a very hard time, but I believe we are coming out of that at least for now in NYC.

How are you motivating and leading agents?
BF: We have weekly Zoom webinars on a variety of topics—from company updates and Fair Housing summits to changing tax law, breaking down the federal CARES Act and regional market analysis. We can’t travel or meet in person right now, but we have developed a robust online program where leadership checks in with everyone. Not to mention, our leadership has always been very hands-on—our agents have our personal cellphone numbers. Our marketing and support staff have also been working harder than ever remotely to help our agents grow their businesses even through these challenging times.

What are the biggest opportunities for increasing business in the next year?
BF: The Brown Harris Stevens brand has grown via bringing Halstead under our umbrella. We are in more regions as one united entity, and that creates a number of growth opportunities. We have also spent several months developing an in-house platform called MAIA, which helps agents streamline their marketing, social media assets and communications all in one space. It’s accessible 24/7 from anywhere. The less time agents spend on day-to-day office tasks, the more time they can spend closing deals and drumming up business, and that will help them exponentially.

How do you maintain a solid work/life balance?
BF: I wake up every morning and try to meditate. A few minutes of mindfulness centers me for the day, and then I grab my coffee. I’m on the phone and on email all day long, but I always carve out at least 45 minutes to exercise. I work with a boxing coach, or use the 7 Minute Workout fitness app. I have also started doing jigsaw puzzles, which are my new obsession, and I make it a point to check in on my friends and family. I have to consciously make these decisions because life gets so busy, especially now that we are spending more time indoors due to COVID. However, keeping things really simple and establishing a routine has helped keep me sane and organized through everything. Plus, I get to spend more time with my kids, which has been a beautiful, unintended consequence of this whole thing.

Keith Loria is a contributing editor to RISMedia.