Noe Valley Voice June 2007

Droubi Real Estate Sold to Coldwell Banker

By Pat Rose

For the past 25 years, the name B.J. Droubi has been virtually synonymous with the buying and selling of houses in Noe Valley. Since 1982, the family-run business has operated out of the yellow Victorian with the white picket fence on 24th Street up the hill from Castro Street.

Now the Droubi signs outside the local landmark are coming down. Coldwell Banker Residential Real Estate, one of the largest brokerage firms in Northern California, purchased the Droubi firm on May 14. The sales price was not revealed.

"It's the end of an era," said Lamisse Droubi, who grew up in the stately Victorian where her mother, B.J. Droubi, ran her business as B.J. Droubi & Company.

The Coldwell Banker sale was the second time in two years that the venerable Noe Valley brokerage, which has more than 40 real estate agents, changed hands.

In January 2006, B.J. Droubi and former husband Terry Lee sold the firm to B.J.'s daughter Lamisse and a group of business associates, who renamed the company Droubi Real Estate. (The Victorian was also sold at the time.) When two of the principals split up early this year, the fledgling firm decided to accept an offer from Coldwell Banker.

As part of the sales agreement, B.J. Droubi and Lamisse Droubi will become sales associates for Coldwell Banker and will conduct business from a small office across the street from the Victorian at 4157 24th Street. "We're Team Droubi/ Coldwell Banker," said B.J. "It's me, Lamisse, the baby, and the dog," she said, referring to Lamisse's six-week-old daughter Nyla. Lamisse's husband Steve Holman, a lawyer who was managing the Droubi business, will help with the company's transition.

Rick Turley, president of Coldwell Banker for San Francisco and the Peninsula, said he was pleased to be establishing ties to the Droubi group and to Noe Valley, one of the hottest real estate markets in the Bay Area.

"Droubi is a perfect complement to our expansion into Noe and Eureka valleys," said Turley. "We have a new location on Market between 17th and Noe in the former Eber electronics building that we opened in January."

Turley noted that Droubi's real estate agents have been invited to join Coldwell Banker at the Market Street office. "The first thing we did was make sure that the non-real-estate staff had jobs and then invited all the Droubi agents to stay on."

If the Noe Valley agents choose to go with Coldwell Banker, they will join a brokerage that includes more than 3,000 real estate agents in Northern California.

The May sale came as a surprise to many of the Droubi agents, some of whom have been with the company for 15 to 20 years. "We're all in shock," said one former Droubi agent at a recent Sunday open house with a Coldwell Banker "For Sale" sign in the front yard. "We thought that B.J. would step back in and buy out the partners. We're all evaluating our next steps."

Another agent is also weighing his options. "Going from a family business to a corporate business is a big jump for people," he said.

"It's very sad," said B.J. Droubi over lunch at Le Zinc café the week after the sale was announced. "We couldn't tell the agents because of a confidentiality agreement. Everyone's been crying for a week. We're going to do a closing ceremony for everyone in the company in the big house. We've had so many great parties there and a lot of wonderful memories."

B.J., who had been living part-time in Sonoma (where she opened a real estate office three years ago), said she considered buying out the partners and returning to the company she founded, but decided it wasn't economically feasible.

"It also felt like trying to recreate a life when it was time to move on with a new life," said B.J., who now lives on Russian Hill in San Francisco.

She said the birth of her granddaughter, along with Sonoma's slower-paced real estate market and what seemed like endless driving to sell a property, helped convince her to return to the city full-time.

"I could easily drive 200 miles a day working in Sonoma," said B.J. "I missed walking to my clients."

B.J. Droubi was 25 when she started in the real estate business. "They gave me a paper and a pen and said, 'Tell everyone you're in real estate,'" she recalls. "I had to duplicate my secretary's salary of $8,000 in order to make it work. Luckily, after a year, I finally sold a house and got to stay in the business.

She established B.J. Droubi & Company in 1974, and moved into the big Victorian at 4128 24th Street eight years later. Over the next two decades, the company expanded its staff and sales, brokering $317 million in home sales during the past 12 months alone.

"B.J. Droubi was an innovator and a trendsetter in marketing property," says former Droubi agent Tom Norwick, who worked with B.J. for almost 25 years. "She started agents' tours and staging, and she did it with a sense of style and humor."

With Hill & Co., McGuire Real Estate, and now Coldwell Banker joining Zephyr Real Estate on 24th Street, many wonder if there are too many brokerage firms in the neighborhood.

"Certainly it's a more competitive landscape, but I've found that success is based on personal relationships," said Lamisse Droubi. "Almost all of our business is based on referral, so our personal business [at Team Droubi] shouldn't be too affected by other people on the street."

The irony, she points out, is that "when my mother started the business here on 24th Street, she was a real visionary--no one wanted to be in District 5. My mother and Terry really saw the potential in this neighborhood, and that carried forward in a lot of the things she did here.

"We're determined to keep that alive in our little office," Lamisse continued. "We may not have the large grand Victorian, but we're planning on being a pretty big presence in the neighborhood."