Cee Scott Brown Defining The Art Of Luxury Real Estate

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Cee Scott Brown is a superstar broker. Thus when he left Corcoran for Compass with his team, the industry took pause. Cee and his business partner, Jack Pearson, had been members of Corcoran’s exclusive President’s Council in 2008 and from 2010 through 2018. His story is so rich and enveloped within the art world that it begs the question: Can a deep involvement with the arts enrich your work as a broker? We wanted to understand — to learn and share his history and methodologies.

Cee, how does the son of cattle ranchers from Washington find himself in the Hamptons?

I was raised on a cattle ranch in the Yakima Valley, went to the UW Seattle and studied abroad in France for two years. When I came back I completed my undergrad work and then began my MFA, creating a hybrid degree that did not exist back then: Museology. This was a joint masters program between the Art Department and the Anthropology department. As I was just about to finish my Masters Thesis, Museology: Toward Better Education through Museums, a good friend, Charlie Cowles, mentioned that there was a position at the MoMA in NYC that I might be interested in for Curatorial assistant for the then only contemporary art aspect of the Modern. It was called the Projects Program.

After two cross-country travel interviews, I was offered the position. I started working at the museum and also finished my thesis. The Projects Program was an amazing opportunity where I interfaced with the departments that coordinated the projects.

I was fortunate to work with Laurie Anderson, Nam June Paik, the Poiriers, Alan Rupersberg, and the various curators of each department. This was a grant position for one year. Before my time was up, the Director of Education asked me if I would like to stay on. I did and during the ensuing year or two I started a networking service for international performance artists. I met, collected ephemera of early performance work and ultimately the MoMA Library provided a home for this material. I also provided contact information for traveling artists, helping them hook up with arts presenters and other performance artists globally. It was a blast!

During this time I met and befriended the exotic and amazing Holly Solomon. I was soon her gallery director for five years. Then a brief stint at Viart Corporation, a company run by a friend who amassed art collections for corporate clients like Merrill Lynch, Goldman Sachs, Frito Lay. I was then asked to apply for the Executive Director position of Creative Time, a NYC-based not-for-profit arts organization that presents art in public places throughout the City. My stint there of eight years was in the tumultuous 80s: Politics, AIDS, Freedom of Expression, Censorship. All artists must be political.

From Creative Time I moved to be one of the five founders of an arts foundation, Art Matters Inc, that gives grants to visual artists on a national level. These artists are often so remote that there is no peer support, or the work was provocative (political/sexual) and would be hard-pressed to get grant support from entities like NEA or NYSCA. Over 30 years later we are still doing this. Covid has certainly modified our processes, but the beat goes on.

Long story short, I burned out on NYC and all the activism and work I had been doing for years. I moved to my cottage in Sag Harbor and was asked by friend and mentor, David Bray, then partner of Alan Schneider, if I might consider becoming a real estate broker. Et Voilà. This was 1993 I think.

What about the East End do you love?

There is so much but here’s a list:

Historic villages
Strong year-round community
Close to New York City
Miles of pristine beaches
Sophisticated mansions and casual beach cottages
Perfect climate for local farms
Fresh foods and gorgeous gardens
Dark skies, bright stars

How has the COVID-19 crisis affected your business?

Every aspect of most businesses and most ways of life has been affected by COVID-19. For us in Hamptons real estate, business has been almost overwhelmingly robust. What started as a mass exodus of people from urban areas looking for rentals turned into very swift purchases of homes which is not the norm in secondary home markets.

There is usually no rush as these buyers have somewhere to live so they can take time to make choices for their weekend or summer places. And folks who already own homes found that their three-bedroom home was now, in fact, a two-bedroom home as one was converted into an office. And the dining room table became the second office. So these homes went on the market and their owners looked to upgrade to a four or five-bedroom home to accommodate working remotely and home schooling. Lots of transactions and most quickly completed from start to finish. And we have matched homes with buyers via Facetime, Zoom, Matterport (3D virtual tour, a godsend!). Some transactions took place without the buyers ever having been on the property.

“You and your team have been an absolute dream to work with and I’m super grateful for all of your hard work and getting the job done.” — A client testimonial from actor Ellen Pompeo

How do you see the market playing out in 2021?

Robert Reffkin, the leader of Compass, has predicted a very active market for this year. We see no reason to doubt this. We have over a dozen transactions in the pipeline already for 2021.

Are you personally seeing a permanent migration to the East End from the city as we have heard?

Yes. There is no more Tumbleweed Tuesday. The local schools have hired additional teachers. The traffic is much heavier all the time now. The Hamptons has become a suburban destination. This is all good, but the infrastructure of our hamlets were not founded on full-time, year-round residencies such as we are experiencing now. Local governments will have to adjust accordingly.

You and your team are very well known as experts of the Sag Harbor market, especially waterfront properties. Can you explain why you are the go-to team for this region?

The CeeJackTeam is well-versed in the Sag Harbor market, especially waterfront properties, but we list and sell all over the Hamptons. I live on the water in Sag Harbor and Jack lives in a waterfront community south of the highway in Water Mill, so we are both very familiar with and knowledgeable about the special requirements surrounding homes on the water, and building new on the water. And if we have any questions or specific issues we have a cadre of local attorneys that can assist us in working with our clients and customers.

You have integrated art gallery openings into open houses. How creative!

Ever since I got into real estate, I always only worked by referral. I never participated in the UP schedule, where mandatory office time by each broker meant whatever came into the office, whether it was a walk-in customer, a phone call, or fax was directed to the broker on duty. I was fortunate to have a good base of artists and gallerists to create a steady flow of business for me in the early years.

Cee Brown and Jack Pearson. Courtesy www.ceejackteam.com.

You and Jack Pearson were rockstars at Corcoran, even members of their exclusive President’s Council for many many years. It was a surprise to everyone in the industry when you and your team joined Compass.

Both Jack and I were very comfortable at Corcoran, but, at the same time we both felt in our next chapter we wanted to shake things up. We were very impressed with Compass and the tools and support offered to Compass brokers.  We also appreciate the national aspect of Compass and the network of referrals made possible by this country-wide reach of the company.  The community of brokers at Compass is incredibly supportive, not so much competitive. One of the corporate mantras is “Collaboration without ego.” I love that! Jack and Jeremy and Kyle and I are very very happy we made the move, and our business more than doubled in our first year at Compass.

What is some advice would you give sellers right now?

If you were ever thinking of selling, now is the time to do it. It’s a seller’s market and there is a lack of inventory and a large number of prospective buyers. In the past 9 months we have on several occasions listed a property to have it in contract within a week to a month. The standard time, in the past, that it takes to sell a house was 12-14 months. And the number of “best and final sealed bids” we have conducted is not unsubstantial. It’s a good time to sell!

What about buyers? Is there a new objective towards attracting buyers to the scale of homes that you sell?

Buyers are seeking more space, more than one living space, room for home offices, rooms for remote schooling, generous outdoor areas such as yards, patios, pool areas and auxiliary structures. So folks from dense urban areas want more square footage than they currently have in their apartments, and current Hamptons homeowners are often seeking larger homes and more acreage. Our portfolio of properties addresses these needs, and most of them sell quickly.

Are there any up-and-coming neighborhoods we should know about?

Our territories have expanded from the Hamptons proper to Hampton Bays and points further west and to the North Fork. We are developing a network of brokers in these areas and have made some very good contacts. It’s refreshing to meet new, professional brokers and know we have good contacts we can rely on.

Are you involved in the large philanthropic sector of the East End? Do you have any favorites?

I was elected to the Board of Trustees of the Parrish Art Museum and served for two years there. I only stepped off because John and I bought a small ranch in northern Sonoma County, two hours north of San Francisco and I was spending time on the West Coast and wasn’t able to devote the time I felt I should to the museum. I wanted to make room for a board member that would be able to do just that. I love Guild Hall and the creative team there, Andrea Grover and Amy Kirwin, the team is recently back together. Double whammy!

Do you have a favorite architectural property on the East End?

I have always been a fan of modern architecture and I am thrilled this genre has finally worked its way into Hamptons vernacular. I am also a huge fan of industrial architecture– especially Watchcase Factory in Sag Harbor. What an amazing project. The CeeJackTeam has had the exclusive for the 63 condominiums and townhomes for most of the time. We have sold 58 of the units with 2 more to go. I was involved with this project since its inception — when it was in the developmental phase I was chair of the HPARB of Sag Harbor Village, so we oversaw the project from start to completion. John and I bought a one-bedroom garden unit at the very beginning. We purchased it as an investment and have not been disappointed.

What do you do for fun when you’re not working considering there’s a pandemic going on?

I will admit that I don’t RELAX very well. And that is probably a good thing as real estate is a 24/7 occupation so I can stay busy most of the time. Jack and I have a good method to our partnership. Since I don’t care for winter and cold, and since John and I purchased our Sonoma County place, we spend a few winter months there each year and I work remotely; and Jack takes multiple shorter breaks throughout the year. Jeremy and Kyle are also integral to our business and success. I love our team and am thrilled to be part of it.

View Cee Scott Brown Featured Listings:

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Ty Wenzel

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Ty Wenzel, a recent breast cancer survivor, started her career as a fashion coordinator for Bloomingdale’s followed by fashion editor for Cosmopolitan Magazine. She was also a writer for countless publications, including having published a memoir (St. Martin's Press) and written features for The New York Times. She is an award-winning writer and designer who covers lifestyle, real estate, architecture and interiors for James Lane Post. She previously worked as a writer and marketing director for The Independent. She has won multiple PCLI and NYPA awards for journalism, social media and design, including best website design and best magazine for James Lane Post, which she co-founded in 2020. Wenzel is also a co-founder of the meditation app for kids, DreamyKid, and the Hamptons social media agency, TWM Hamptons Social Media.

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