Scott Durkin & Todd Bourgard: A Thoughtful Conversation About Leading Through The Embers

How often does one get to meet with the President and Chief Executive Officer along with his Senior Executive Regional Manager of Sales for the Hamptons  — of one of the nation’s largest brokerages? We got just this chance when Scott Durkin, the President and CEO of Douglas Elliman, and Todd Bourgard, his right-hand man in the Hamptons, were available to chat.

Durkin was a protégé of the legendary Barbara Corcoran for 26 years, which tells you all you need to know about his depth of knowledge in the real estate market. Bourgard impresses as well with over a quarter of a century with a real estate license and leading one of the most desirable regions in the country. You might be intimidated by the sheer magnitude of experience between them, but no, they are two of the most easy-going and well-versed titans of the industry.

We met for breakfast at Topping Rose House in Bridgehampton during an oppressive heatwave. Yet their broad smiles reveal their enthusiasm for the day and how they approach their daily grinds. Our inquisitiveness was ablaze much like the temperature of the day: how does top brass deal with something as catastrophic as a global pandemic when life literally comes to a halt? That’s where we started and it became quickly apparent that neither men alarm easily and that their demeanor under pressure is precisely the reason why Douglas Elliman is the leader it is today.

Scott Durkin and Todd Bourgard at Topping Rose House. Photo by Ty Wenzel

We are curious how you reacted when Covid took hold in March of 2020. Was there a panic?

Todd Bourgard: Although we did not see this coming, we didn’t panic. We closed down all the offices and within two or three days, the phone started ringing. At first it was all about rentals, people just wanted to come out here and rent in March and April. Rentals were gone very quickly. Then everybody decided to buy. They had a couple of months to think about it and it was a well thought out process. It went, “We’re going to change our lifestyle completely.” And they did — 6,500 people changed their permanent addresses from New York City to the Hamptons.

Wow. Do you think this is a permanent migration?

TB: I think they’re here to stay based on the school enrollments.

Still, it must have been a shock to consolidate and be ready for what was to come.

Scott Durkin: We had no warning. It was March 13, a Friday. We didn’t even pack up, we just shut the offices down.

TB: We then gave everyone notice to go in and get what they needed. We really thought we’d be shut down and have no business.

SD: We couldn’t show anything. We had no business for ninety days in Manhattan, our mothership. Our business there dropped 64 percent for those 90 days. We were shocked by that. You always have some sort of contingency plan for moments like this. You have to act quickly if something catastrophic happens with a plan to show how you will run the company. Unfortunately, we had to reduce our overhead by 35 percent, so that was incredibly hard. We shaved 10 offices out of 121.

TB: We couldn’t show either. But we could do virtual showings, we could send out videos, we can have the homeowner leave and have clients go in unattended by a realtor. This was new to us.

Todd Bourgard and Scott Durkin. James Lane Post/Ty Wenzel

We also learned to work remotely with amazing productivity and results.

SD: Hello! The whole business changed, the way agents do business.

TB: There are agents that have been doing business the same way for 20, 30 years. It was sink or swim. We changed everything and I was surprised how quickly the agents were able to adapt. They did it famously.

SD: Agents are natural negotiators, but here there was nothing to negotiate. These were the rules and they had to pivot. We went from black and white to color. We didn’t even have print advertising because magazines were shut down, everything was shut down.

Yet, Elliman’s numbers were and are fabulous, so congratulations.

SD: Yes. It was our team. There was no way we could have done this alone.

TB: We did famously because of our communication from the top. There was no gray area. Agents were fined thousands of dollars for waiting in front of a home waiting to let their clients in for a tour when they weren’t allowed to. We didn’t want any part of that. We even had appraisals doing drive-bys.

SD: We had closings online. Twenty minutes. It was amazing.

TB: We couldn’t be at the final walk throughs so my agents were allowed to let the clients in through FaceTime. They were given instructions to do the walk throughs, such as under cabinets, bathrooms, basements, closets.

Calm, cool, and collected. Todd Bourgard and Scott Durkin. James Lane Post/Ty Wenzel

In hindsight, we have to take pause at how difficult it was for locals when the onslaught happened that March. We had the infrastructure and resources for an off-season population only. Like when entire supermarkets were bought out overnight.

SD: $8,000 in steaks, 700 freezers from PC Richards.

It was wild. Things have certainly settled down and become the norm with the new year-round population. There are also a lot of areas that are now real estate hotspots, such as Springs and Hampton Bays.

TB: I’ve been in Hamptons Bays since 1981. I love it there. Great restaurants, I mean, look at everything we have on the water: Canal Cafe, Cowfish, Rumba, Oakland’s. I love how I can go anywhere and someone knows you and yells, “Hey Todd!”

SD: If you look at it from 30,000 feet, as we looked at all of our markets, we were so caught off-guard with this. I was in Los Angeles but flew to Palm Beach where we have a place where we bring our horses. [Durkin is an accomplished dressage equestrian himself, while supporting his trainer in competitions.] I was there for six weeks and then went up to the Catskills. I didn’t come back to New York for 18 months. We had to be mobile but not be mobile. We set up shop in Miami and got to work.

What was Florida like through it all?

SD: Much like out here in the Hamptons, it was crazy. Everything is selling. I think we were up 247 percent last year, which is incredible.

TB: The numbers are staggering. 2020 was our best year in our history. We said how will we ever beat that? Guess what? We have beat out every month of 2020 for the last six months of 2021. It’s amazing.

Besides the astounding sales numbers, what did you think of the last year and a half personally?

SD: It gave you a moment to reflect. Howard (Lorber, the Chairman of Douglas Elliman) always says, “If there’s one thing you would take back more of it’s time.”

Ty Wenzel

Co-Publisher & Contributor

Ty Wenzel 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 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. Wenzel is also a co-founder of the meditation app for kids, DreamyKid, and the social media agency, TWM Hamptons Social Media.

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