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A new business with an old name enters real estate


A new brokerage firm will open next week under one of the most prominent names in Baltimore area real estate.

Sean O'Conor, whose father was a cofounder of O'Conor, Piper & Flynn, will open the firm Sunday using the family name.

O'Conor & Associates Realtors will offer full brokerage commercial and residential real estate services from a 4,500- square-foot office on West Joppa Road in Lutherville. O'Conor and Kathie Connelly expect to start with about a dozen agents the first month and hope to double that in October.

The opening comes six months after OPF merged with three other companies to form Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage, dropping the name that had been a part of the real estate landscape for 42 years.

Connelly, a former OPF executive assistant and legal administrator, is O'Conor's partner in the new venture, where she will serve as president of operations.

O'Conor, 46, began working for O'Conor, Piper & Flynn in 1987. He said he began considering parting ways with OPF as it grew larger and more corporate over the years.

The firm had undergone six mergers or reorganizations since James P. O'Conor helped found it, and had grown from 40 employees in 1986 to more than 4,300 employees after a merger with Coldwell Banker.

"As it grew, you didn't have the same kind of family feel and sense of teamwork," Sean O'Conor said. "The company lost its intimacy."

The Coldwell Banker deal cemented his decision to branch out on his own. "The Coldwell Banker merger acted as the catalyst," O'Conor said. "I couldn't let the name disappear."

O'Conor had talked with his father before making the decision, so the elder O'Conor wasn't surprised by the news.

He said his son is bold to start a small independent company in an era where mergers have created real estate giants. But James O'Conor also said his son has 15 years of experience and a reputable name to help the venture succeed.

"When I realized that I did exactly the same thing 42 years ago, it was certainly something that I understood," the elder O'Conor said. "Realizing that he was born and raised and grew up in a real estate family, and saw me in my role, it was understandable that he would grow into that same thing."

Other Coldwell Banker executives said that there is room for both companies because they will serve different niches. President Tom Stevens said he wasn't worried about competition from O'Conor & Associates because the company is considerably smaller.

"I think it's the entrepreneurial spirit [O'Conor] has," Stevens said. "I think a lot of times those people need to give it a try. There is a place for a small-niche broker."

O'Conor began scouting for buildings in June and signed a lease in July for a two-story building in Lutherville that once housed a Long & Foster realty office.

He recruited Connelly as his partner after learning that Coldwell Banker had cut her position. Connelly said she wants to create an intimate firm where she knows every agent's face and name.

"At OPF, I could tell you what office an agent was in just by hearing their name," Connelly said. "As the company got bigger, that got harder to do."

When the merger was announced in March, many local Realtors were surprised that the name would be dropped.

"My sense from feeling the pulse of the industry is that there was some surprise that the O'Conor, Piper & Flynn name would be completely eliminated from this market area because it had such a tremendous track record and name recognition," said Joseph T. "Jody" Landers, executive vice president of the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors.

Tim Rodgers, president of Hill & Co. in Baltimore, said bringing the name back could only help the new company.

"It certainly is a name with a lot of integrity that has been around for many years," he said.

No stipulations were in the merger to forbid the O'Conor name from being used by a new company, although the full O'Conor, Piper & Flynn could not be used.

"There's no doubt I think the name will help us," O'Conor said. "It's a name with a good reputation."

The new company will use the same banner design and colors - yellow and white - that were used in 1963 by what was then O'Conor & Flynn.

The new company will offer a range of services to help customers buy and sell homes, relocate and buy or lease commercial property, lots, land and farms. They will begin listings this week.

Industry leaders said that even with the O'Conor name and a booming real estate market, starting a firm can be tough.

"Starting a business like that, branching off, is tough in a market place like this," Landers said. "You can talk to any of the smaller, independent companies and talk to them about recruiting agents, covering overhead, and general marketing and costs. It's a very competitive industry."

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