Conlon seeks boost from Christie's brand

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Conlon seeks boost from Christie's brand

By: David Lee Matthews
Crain's Chicago Business

Real estate veteran Sean Conlon has a new partner to boost the profile of his North Side residential brokerage in a rising market.

The owner of Conlon Real Estate is teaming up with Christie's International Real Estate, the real estate arm of the historic London auction house, making Conlon the only Christie's affiliate in Chicago. Mr. Conlon aims to boost his firm's brand and reach with Christie's marketing support and international cachet. Mr. Conlon, who declined to disclose terms of the deal, will remain owner of his company.

“(Christie's has) not had a presence in Chicago for a long time,” Mr. Conlon said. “They complement the company most able to serve the high-end market, so I find that to be quite a compliment.”

A native Irishman who worked as a janitor when he first arrived stateside in 1990, Mr. Conlon grew into one of Chicago's most productive brokers by working with developers and asking would-be home sellers door-to-door for business. He co-founded another residential brokerage, Sussex & Reilly, during the last boom and sold it in 2006 as the market was peaking. He launched Conlon three years later, as local home prices and sales were tumbling.

Conlon now boasts more than 200 sales agents and just opened a fourth office in Lincoln Park as the market continues to come back. By teaming with Christie's, Mr. Conlon hopes his mid-tier brokerage will gain international exposure and clientele and attract new luxury brokers and buyers. Already, Mr. Conlon said, his firm moved “several hedge fund guys” out of London to Chicago, declining to elaborate.

“Chicago is finally on its way to being recognized as an international city,” Mr. Conlon said. “To have global access to 140 locations in 40 countries is absolutely necessary.”

Mr. Conlon expects the new affiliation to improve his branding and exposure to an international pool of luxury buyers. Conlon will be listed as an affiliate on the Christie's website, and the company will swap referrals in the network for home shoppers leaving or arriving in Chicago, he said. Mr. Conlon, who plans on opening more offices, also expects the Christie's brand to help recruit high-end sales agents to his firm.

"I would say there will be plenty of interesting news in the coming months," he said.

Though growing, the brokerage will need much more business to join the area's biggest firms. Conlon sold $500 million in residential real estate last year, compared to $3.2 billion for Chicago brokerage @properties and $6.7 billion for market leader Coldwell Banker NRT. Conlon has sold more than $300 million through the first half of this year.

Most of the large real estate firms already have a luxury affiliation, and Christie's support should help Conlon, said Prudential Rubloff Properties broker Jeff Lowe, who worked for Mr. Conlon for 10 years at Sussex & Reilly. Jameson became a Sotheby's affiliate in 2011.

As long as mortgage interest rates “stay in check,” the new partnership should work well with a strong market ahead, Mr. Lowe said.

“I'm very fond of Sean, and I think they have some really strong brokers,” Mr. Lowe said. “It's a move in the right direction for him.”

A Christie's executive did not return a message.