Ray Disch decided to trade independence for a bigger platform. Meg Coughlan wanted to earn her broker’s license and to work in her own community of Montgomery. Susan Norman saw a crying need for a residential real estate office in Cranbury.
If it has been a buyer’s market for houses, it is also a buyer’s market for realty businesses. Disch, Coughlan, and Norman are the newest broker managers at Henderson Sotheby’s International, the half-century old family business that has popped up with its third, fourth, and fifth locations.
“A couple of opportunities presented themselves in markets where we had been in the past,” says Jud Henderson. “The most important part of it is getting the right people. We have been thrilled with the quality of people that have come to be in charge and with the agents that have joined us.”
The firm was founded in 1953 by John T. Henderson Sr. and continued under the ownership of the late John T. Henderson Jr. Except for a three year period when it was sold to what was then Gloria Nilson GMAC, it was under Henderson family control. It was reestablished in 2002 as the Princeton Real Estate Group, led by brothers Judson and Matthew Henderson, and when it joined the Sotheby’s franchise it took back the Henderson name.
The first branch office the one in Pennington, was acquired when Tod Peyton closed his independent firm. The Hendersons bought it, closed the Nassau Street office, and kept Peyton’s Pennington one. At its peak, the company had 12 locations, including those in Yardley, Lambertville, and Flemington. But Henderson says five is enough, at least for now. “We have good control over these five.”
Effective May 1, Disch sold Disch Realty but remains in Hopewell as broker manager and is taking over the commercial real estate practice. Last fall Coughlan opened in a Belle Mead space that had previously been a Henderson office. And Norman carved out a niche on Cranbury’s Main Street in April.
To hear Norman tell it, Cranbury residents are pleased to have a real estate office at the former Stults Realty location. “Just from having an office, we have already had walk-in business,” she says. “People knock on the door and peer in. There is no other real estate company in town.” She anticipates listings in the Route 130 corridor, from North Brunswick to Burlington County, including Medford, Wrightstown, and Freehold, and has just listed one in Cherry Hill. “These people are specifically calling for Sotheby’s.”
Norman grew up in Massachusetts, the daughter of a teacher, and has a bachelor’s degree in health administration from Thomas Edison State College. She is a single mother with three children and went into the real estate business in 1992. “I knew I had to do real well in real estate,” she says, citing the extra degrees she has earned. Norman was recruited as the virtual leader for Henderson’s Cranbury business but pushed for opening a brick and mortar space. “There was a need for a prominent realty company here,” says Norman. “It would be stupid not to do this. What drew me to Sotheby’s, and especially the Henderson Sotheby’s, is that they are putting together state of the art facilities with online technology and great programs of Internet advertising. It blew away what any of us were used to doing.” She has recruited six agents — four from Coldwell Banker, one from Re/Max — and acquired one from Henderson.
Meg Dougherty Coughlan, who was born in Princeton and went to Stuart Country Day School, married an insurance broker and has three grown daughters. She started in the business with Weidel in Bucks County and moved back to Princeton five years ago.
It can be challenging to break into real estate here. “Restarting in any new marketplace in any sales area is always a formidable task, particularly when there are so many accomplished experienced agents in each office,” says Coughlan. “Shortly after I joined Henderson I heard that this office was in the works. I have been in this business for 18 years. I thought it would be a new challenge — to get my broker’s license — and work in my own community.”
Princeton can be also challenging for the home buyer. “Montgomery has more options for buyers who want newer homes that are close to Princeton and commuter routes. A lot of real estate business gets done in Montgomery but there are few real estate offices,” she says. She plans to get listings in Somerset County as well, including Hillsborough.
“I’m not big on being yoked,” says Disch, who has the fifth office in the network. He graduated from Cornell in 1980 with a degree in industrial and labor relations. “I have been on my own since 1993 when I left Merck. But I own the building with my wife and will stay on as broker manager. So I am only semi-yoked.
“And it was really hard being an independent, new guy in a down market.” It’s hard to meet client expectations. “They are asking for multiple advertising, as many websites as possible, and glossy color 8 x 11s, and I wasn’t in a position to do that. It’s going to give me a bigger platform to get some listings that I might not have been considered for before.”
Plus, he will get the commercial business for the five-office operation. Matt Henderson and Hal Hoeland had been doing the commercial, but Hoeland is on sabbatical and “Matt couldn’t wait to give up the property management, and we will still work together on the commercial. We’ve known each other for years; there is no issue about not liking or trusting each other.”
He and his wife, Erica, built and sold Triumph Brewery and used the proceeds to buy a farmhouse in the Sourland Mountains. Then he started PowerWorks, to take advantage of electricity deregulation, and was lucky to break even by selling it just before Enron crashed. Then he was a commercial agent at Trillium Realty, working for Paul McArthur. After the required three years he opened Disch Realty in 2005, and merged with Henderson at the beginning of May. He has four full time and 10 part-time brokers. The deal comes with incentives for future growth. “It was a really good deal for both parties. A lot of it has to do with the fact that I know these guys. There is a lot of synergy here.”
He remembers that John Henderson always liked to have a Hopewell office and had always had an eye on his building, formerly a residence on the corner of Princeton Avenue.
The growing Henderson family is also experience a reunion of sorts at its home office on Chambers Street in downtown Princeton. Peggy Henderson, John Jr.’s widow and still active in the business, reports that her daughter, Jane Kenyon, who had a contractual agreement to remain with Gloria Nilson after Henderson originally sold out to that agency, now has returned to the Henderson fold. “She shares an office with her two brothers,” says her mother. “I call it the playpen.”
And, Peggy Henderson continues, her granddaughter, Kenyon’s daughter Isabelle, is now working for Princeton Network LLC, Henderson’s referral company. She just graduated from Penn and is planning to move to Hong Kong next April to take a banking job. “For now,” says the proud grandmother, “we are four generations.”
Henderson Sotheby’s International Realty, 34 Chambers Street, Suite 101, Princeton 08542; 609-924-1000; fax, 609-924-7743. Judson Henderson, broker of record. Home page: www.hendersonsir.com.
37 North Main Street, Cranbury 08512; 609-395-0444. Susan Norman, manager.
134 South Main Street, Pennington 08534; 609-737-9550; fax, 609-771-6883. Cathy Nemeth, manager.
45 East Broad Street, Hopewell 08525; 609-466-4666; fax, 609-466-4611. Raymond E. Disch, broker.
2161 Route 206, Belle Mead 08502; 908-874-0000; fax, 908-874-5572. Meg Coughlan, broker manager.