The local real estate titan that is now William Pitt/Julia B. Fee/Sotheby’s International Realty was the brainchild of one energetic young man who started the small business in l949 at the age of 23 with a desk and one phone in rented space in the old Roger Smith Hotel in Stamford.
Paul Breunich, the firm’s current president and CEO, says Pitt left an indelible stamp on the flourishing business of today.
“He had the true entrepreneurial spirit,” Breunich says. “In addition to his selling of real estate, he sold cars and brokered tickets to Broadway plays. Long after his original place of business was torn down for the Trump Tower building, the members of the firm keep his principles of energy, inclusion and service to customers alive.”
Breunich says Pitt’s approach to business enabled William Pitt to become a strong regional real estate company over the ensuing years.
“Our new headquarters were located close to New York City and suburbia was blossoming. By the time Peter Healy came on board to help steer the company from l980 through l987, William Pitt had about a dozen local offices throughout Fairfield County, including Darien, Greenwich, New Canaan, Ridgefield and Westport. We were headquartered on Long Ridge Road in Stamford and employed about 200 agents.”
Pitt was still a strong presence in the company, leading by example and keeping on top of all developments. Breunich joined William Pitt in 1988 as CFO.
“I was in public accounting before that,” he says. “When Peter Healy made a switch to Prudential CT (Realty), I became president and CEO in August of l997.”
Looking around the thriving company from his new perspective, Breunich says he vowed to keep alive Pitt’s principle of customer service coming first.
“He was ahead of his time in this regard,” Breunich says. “He always listened to his agents. Back then there was no technology in place. He did it the old-fashioned way but still had a vision of what to do to make the company even more successful as the suburbs were exploding around him. Everything he touched turned to gold.”
Breunich says Pitt continued to be a big influence on him, even after his passing in September of 2000 in his mid-70s.
“I mean this as a high compliment when I say he was a silver-tongued salesman. Smart and savvy, he made many deals on the back of a napkin in a restaurant and sealed them with a handshake. He has been a tremendous influence on me. He did things the right way and taught all of us that good business is all about relationships.”
Breunich joined forces with a business partner, Casey Jones, to buy the company from the William Pitt Foundation. “We branded the company with our now-iconic red and gold pineapple logo in 2001,” he says.
At this point in time William Pitt was still growing in size and was up to 300 agents, with a push towards recruitment.
“We saw a good uptick in business from 2002 through 2004. Then in 2004, Sotheby’s International Realty decided it wanted a big East Coast presence and in January of 2005 we got the Sotheby’s affiliation for the state of Connecticut. This was the single biggest event in the company’s history. We were always upper-end and now became the upper-end brand in our area. Our homes realize 30 percent to 40 percent higher sale prices, and we market magnificent properties in the shoreline area. This grew organically over the years, flowing from the lovely homes we were selling away from the shore.”
To further bolster the company’s position, Breunich brought in Building and Land Technology as an equity partner to propel future growth.
Breunich says the second biggest event in the firm’s history, now known as William Pitt/Sotheby’s International Realty, was moving into Westchester County in 2009 with the acquisition of the Sotheby’s arm that had purchased Julia B. Fee Realty in 2005.
“This got us into upscale communities like Rye, Scarsdale and Larchmont,” Breunich says. “We opened another office in Bronxville three years ago.”
As things stand now, the agency is the 27th largest real estate company in America, with 1,000 agents, 26 offices and the single largest affiliation with Sotheby’s.
“We did $3.5 billion in home sales in 2013 and have extended our marketing efforts to Mystic and Litchfield, Conn., and Great Barrington, Mass.,” Breunich says.
On a day-to-day basis, Breunich says he runs the operation as an “inverted pyramid.”
“I am a big proponent of the wisdom of the group,” he says. “Everyone’s opinion is heard. This is how you get the best input and the best ideas. You want to surround yourself with smart people and then listen to what they have to say. I think of our agents as being at the top of the pyramid, followed by management, department heads and then me. It’s a team effort and I don’t take the credit for what we have accomplished over the past few decades. It’s all of us.”
Looking to the future, Breunich says he is bullish on real estate.
“Consumer confidence is up. Interest rates are remaining historically low. The stock market is doing great. And there is an uptick in employment. Banks are easing their lending requirements somewhat, which will make it easier for people to trade up. After several years of turmoil, the market has normalized and I see the next few years in a very positive light.”
Just as important, founder William Pitt’s vision lives on.
“We take all of our customers seriously,” Breunich says. “They get the Pitt/Sotheby’s upscale experience across all price ranges. We are still listening to the wisdom of William Pitt.”