As president and CEO of Douglas Elliman Real Estate, Dottie Herman leads one of the country’s largest and most distinguished real estate firms, averaging nearly $27.4 billion in annual sales volume. Herman acquired the company in 2003, partnering with Howard M. Lorber, and in the ensuing 14 years, has seen the company achieve record sales and strategically expand into new markets.
Surprisingly, Herman didn’t set out to be in the real estate business. In the ’80s, she was working at Merrill Lynch on Long Island with a Series 7 in hand when the company decided to expand into real estate.
“I was new to them, and they put me on the real estate end of things,” says Herman. “I was able to get involved from the ground up at a very young age and see it from a much broader spectrum. I traveled the country, saw a lot of real estate being done, and saw it globally, rather than from the local end.”
From there, she knew this was a business she wanted to be in. Herman helped expand Prudential Long Island Realty into a powerhouse brokerage on Long Island and in the Hamptons, and then made the big move to purchase Douglas Elliman.
Herman has made quite a name for herself in the field. She was named among the Top 50 Women Entrepreneurs in America by Inc. Magazine, was twice named on Forbes’ List of America’s Self-Made Women, and has consistently ranked in Crain’s New York Business 50 Most Powerful Women in New York.
While Douglas Elliman has increased in size and business since Herman took ownership, the most substantial growth has occurred throughout the last four years.
“We’ve really grown substantially in Florida,” says Herman. “We recently acquired Teles Properties in Los Angeles, opened an office in Malibu, opened another office in Aspen and grew in Connecticut.”
The Teles deal brought the firm’s California office count to 21, propelling the company to the second largest non-franchise brokerage firm in the state. The firm also grew its Colorado presence to five offices and 58 associates.
“We’ve grown so much in the last couple of years that we’re just taking a deep breath now to make sure we have the right infrastructure for all of it,” says Herman. “We want to be where our customers are, and our clients recognize our brand and want to deal with us in Florida and L.A., in addition to the other areas we’re in.”
Herman has seen the real estate business change a great deal during her time in the industry, and every firm seems to have its own model.
“We try to keep up with everything, but when it comes to the consumer, it’s about having a vision,” she says. “People change, industries change. As soon as you have the best tech, someone replaces that. By having the most educated salespeople and being able to deal with the consumer in the way they need to be dealt with, that leads to success.”
With millennials representing a greater buyer class than ever before, Herman understands the need to cater to this generation. One of the ways she does that is by keeping the company young.
“When I started in New York City, I hired people in their 20s,” says Herman. “Compared to most companies, I would say my average age is much younger. My top producers are in their early 30s. My millennials are educated and very serious about the business. Many have multiple degrees and they chose real estate. They have PR people and a business plan, and that’s something we didn’t see 15-20 years ago.”
Herman is also a big believer in training and education, and the firm invests a lot of money for in-house and other training classes.
“Everyone has different pluses and negatives, so I send people out to what they need,” she says. “We spend time on teams because it’s easy to have a team, but not easy to have a team that’s effective. I always invest in the people who work for us.”
While Herman sees more growth coming, she’s not looking for the firm to make its way into every market.
“We’ve been around a long time, and it’s not about having the most offices or being the biggest. We want to be in markets that our customers and clients are in,” she says. “That’s why we’re in the Hamptons and Aspen, and Florida, and we’ll probably end up in San Francisco. We’re very hands-on and personal, and our business model is about giving our clients the attention they need and being in the markets that interest them.”
Vitals: Douglas Elliman Real Estate
Years in Business: 116
Size: 110 offices; 7,000 agents
Regions Served: Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, New Jersey, Long Island, the Hamptons, North Fork, Westchester, Greenwich, South Florida, Colorado and California
2016 Sales Volume: $27.4 billion
2016 Transactions: 38,000
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