Conover Real Estate and LandVest Merge in Business Alliance

By JOSHUA SABATINI

In a newly formed business alliance, Conover Real Estate Inc. last week merged with Vineyard-based LandVest, and the two upscale firms opened joint offices in a refurbished 1850's house on South Summer street next to the Charlotte Inn.

The merging partners are David C. Thompson, principal of the Island LandVest office, and Gerret C. Conover and Thomas E. LeClair, principals of Conover Real Estate.

Considered two of the Island's premier high-end real estate agencies, the days of competing against one another are behind them.

LandVest, founded in 1969, is a regional real estate marketing firm based in Boston. Mr. Thompson joined the firm in 1985, and he brought LandVest to the Island when he opened an office located in his home on the Vineyard. For the past seven years, he continued to work on the Island with a staff of one - himself.

In 1990, Mr. Conover and Mr. LeClair opened Conover Real Estate.

"We have been spending altogether too much time and effort competing with one another in the narrow, high-end market segment," said Mr. Thompson. "A fundamental rationale for combining our offices is simply the elimination of that duplication."

The three have become leading figures in the Island's real estate market. Combined, they have controlled a large slice of the Vineyard market share for expensive Island properties.

Over the years, one company or the other has been involved in 21, or 73 per cent, of the Vineyard's brokered residential sales over $5 million, and 92 per cent, or 12, of the Island's largest sales of $10 million or more, according to financial figures released by the two firms.

Conover Real Estate was the lead agency involved in two of the largest property transactions ever recorded on the Vineyard, specifically the $64 million conservation sale of Herring Creek Farm in Katama and a $21.8 million residential sale in Edgartown.

For the past 10 years, either Conover Real Estate or LandVest has held the record for marketing the highest valued Island property. In 1992, the record price was set at $6,205,000 and in 2001 it was $21.8 million, the statistics showed.

Mr. Thompson said he has always had a fine working relationship with his two new partners and even offered advice to Mr. Conover when he first appeared on the Island real estate scene.

So it was no surprise when the idea to merge arose four years ago as the three real estate brokers often found their paths crossing. Over the past year and a half, the merger discussions grew serious.

"I wanted to be able to have a little freedom from the business," said Mr. Thompson. "This opportunity is going to permit me to cut back to 60 hours a week, instead of 80 hours a week. That was my motivation." He stressed he does not plan to retire.

"We are always looking for ways to grow our company and we consider the opportunity to work with David and LandVest/Christie's as a perfect strategic fit," said Mr. LeClair. "I think their operation complements ours very well and that this merger will position us to take advantage of our expanding high-end market."

The merger takes place amid the Island's thriving high-end real estate market, which shows no signs of slowing despite the nation's uncertain economy.

"One of the primary reasons for the strong high-end market here is the disappointing developments on Wall Street," said Mr. Conover. "The strongest component of the domestic economy has been real estate, and resort properties in particular. There is a perception that a Vineyard property represents a safe economic haven . . . an appreciating investment."

Each company will retain its name; two signs, one for LandVest, the other for Conover, hang outside the partners' new office headquarters. The biggest change from the merger will be an improvement in service, the three partners agreed.

Mr. LeClair said each company has had a distinct strength in the market. "For a long time, David had a monopoly essentially on the major listings [on the Island]," said Mr. LeClair. "We in our approach to marketing always seemed to come up with a lot of buyers. To combine that is going to serve the property owner better and certainly the buyer, because it is going to give the buyer a better opportunity to get a crack at these high-end properties.

"Seventy-five per cent of these things never hit the market," he added. "Working together, we can match a seller and buyer together in a better way."

Overall, the operational approach and character of the two companies will remain intact.

"From the perspective of the Island property owners and buyers for whom we work, there will be no changes," said Mr. Thompson. "Same broker. Same exceptional level of service. All of our efforts will continue to focus exclusively on the Vineyard's most desirable properties."