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Scott Durkin
Vitals: Douglas Elliman Real Estate

Years in business: 109
Size: 100 offices, 6,450 agents
Regions served: New York State; Fairfield County, Conn.; Aspen, Colo.; Houston, Texas; California, from San Diego to Carmel; South Florida
2019 sales volume: $28.7 billion
2019 transactions: 44,726

Early in his career, Scott Durkin was on a management track with the Four Seasons Hotel when he began the process of buying an apartment and realized how important a life decision that was, as well as the importance of the liaison between everyone involved.

He quickly came to the conclusion that a job in real estate would be much more lucrative than hotel management, and made a career switch. That move has paid off well, as almost three decades later, Durkin is now president and COO of Douglas Elliman Real Estate, the largest brokerage in the New York metropolitan area, and one of the largest independent residential real estate brokerages in the U.S.

We’re in unprecedented times due to COVID-19. How was your firm impacted? 
Scott Durkin: It affected us greatly. We were given just a day or two to leave town in New York State, and it was quite a jolt. But we’ve been able to stay available to all of our agents and staff, and everyone has been working remotely. Some of our markets have been able to reopen, but it really shut down New York for a long time.

How did that inform your strategy for the summer and fall of 2020? 
SD: We didn’t expect it to last this long, and it doesn’t seem like things will be under control until there is a vaccine. We’ve learned a new way of doing business. The silver lining of all the lockdowns and social distancing is that we are much more determined and able to make our deals happen in a way that they didn’t before.

Can you please give some examples of that?
SD: We now have Zoom closings. Everything is done with multimedia, whether it’s Zoom or Skype. The entire process has now changed, and I think it’s forever changed. The restrictions of getting into homes has really changed things as well. Prospective buyers can’t go into homes and touch and feel the space like they normally would. They need to have a big imagination, and having a great agent really helps with that.

It may be an odd time to be thinking about growth, but do you have any growth plans for 2021? 
SD: You always have to be thinking about growing, even in times of uncertainty; that can be the best time to make a plan to grow the business or acquire another business. There are always opportunities, and we are staying mindful of all of those.

What have you found to be the secret to motivating agents through this time? 
SD: You have to be there for them and encourage them to pivot and change the way they are doing their business. You almost have to throw everything out that once worked, digitize it and hit the reset button.

Talk about your company culture and how important that is to the firm.
SD: The Douglas Elliman culture is one that is very hard to find. You can collect or buy all the agents you want, but you can’t have a fixed marriage. We have a very special DNA that is comprised of all our agents, employees and managers—and that’s the secret to our sauce. It’s a movement, it’s a feeling, it’s a family. We have 100 offices and 6,450 agents, and everyone reaches out to support each other.

Keith Loria is a contributing editor to RISMedia.