As the housing slump goes on with no immediate end in sight, entrepreneur Lawrence Citarelli Jr. sees opportunity.
The Westhampton Beach native said his policy has always been to go against the tide, and he is demonstrating that with his recent purchase of a more than 30-year-old real estate business in his home town.
In September, Mr. Citarelli launched Cristal Properties International, a growing real estate firm in Westhampton Beach Village with a broker and four agents. Within weeks of opening, the chance to acquire RE/MAX First Hampton on Main Street came up and Mr. Citarelli jumped at it, he said. He combined his fledging company with the established firm and re-branded them First Hampton International Realty.
The acquisition of RE/MAX First Hampton also comes with Ginger Andrews, the former owner and broker, who agreed to stay on as an agent.
“She’s an institution in her own right,” Mr. Citarelli said. “I couldn’t be luckier than to be aligned with her.”
Ms. Andrews said it was the right time for her to sell because she was ready to start working less, but she is also looking forward to continuing to work with her 11 agents, including her daughter Heather Bester, who agreed to stay on at First Hampton under the new ownership, she said.
“I get along with all our agents. That’s why they stayed,” Ms. Andrews said. “We’re like a team.”
Cristal Properties is on Old Riverhead Road in Westhampton Beach but will close by February 1 and move into the former RE/MAX office, which Mr. Citarelli said will be renovated into a “cutting edge” office with all modern technology has to offer to make real estate transactions easier and more personalized. The office is part of the Patio restaurant complex, and one of the oldest buildings in Westhampton, Ms. Andrews said. Ms. Bester said the office is already one of the prettiest real estate offices in town, with high ceilings, molding and a stone fireplace.
“We’re looking forward to see what he’s going to do,” Ms. Bester said of Mr. Citarelli’s plans.
The office will also bundle services—architecture, financing, title and mortgage services, marketing—and create synergy, Mr. Citarelli said.
He recently added a “green” division for sustainable development to his Lawrence III Corporation, a six-year-old design and construction firm. The company develops properties on speculation, mostly single family residences between Remsenburg and Amagansett.
Lawrence III will build the first Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design-certified homes between Remsenburg and the Shinnecock Canal, Mr. Citarelli noted.
Last week, fresh from a trip to the Dominican Republic—where he and Brad Black, a businessman from Naples, Florida, are developing Cristal Beach Resort, a 60-unit hotel/condo complex in the city of Cabrera—Mr. Citarelli explained his philosophy.
When everyone is running for the hills, Mr. Citarelli walks strategically and methodically in the other direction, he said. “I’ve always been a contrarian.”
Mr. Citarelli said he saw what was coming as investors were dashing into real estate and the housing bubble grew. He began to sell off the assets of his limited liability company, Citron Holdings, and finished the job by November 2005. Having moved his assets into cash holdings, Mr. Citarelli was, and is now in a position to buy properties at prices that haven’t been seen in six or seven years, he said.
“It’s put the new [business] in a wonderful position for when we come out of the current economic times we’re experiencing,” he said. The downturn also gave him the opportunity to acquire valuable market share for when the country comes through the economic crisis, he added.
“I think he’s just positioning himself for when everything comes back ... because it will come back.” Ms. Andrews said. “I have been selling real estate long enough to know.”
Mr. Citarelli worked in the financial sector on Wall Street for 12 years up until 2002, and only dabbled in real estate. “I thought I’d always be on Wall Street,” he said. The 9/11 terrorist attacks changed that. After trying to continue his financial work from home in Remsenburg, he ultimately decided to cash out of finance and switch to real estate full-time, he said.
Mr. Citarelli’s five-year business plan anticipates First Hampton International growing to four to five branches.
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