Hi-Tech Courts High Society: A Powerful Union

When it was first announced last April, the merger of the white-shoe Stribling with the tech king Compass shook the entire residential property world. Uptown, sophisticated, old-school Stribling hooking up with the downtown cool-kid startup Compass seemed a very odd pairing. What common ground could these two companies possibly find? wondered industry seers. But as they say, opposites do attract. And that certainly continues to build with these two powerhouse firms. Six months after joining forces, both Compass and Stribling are near-giddy about the outcome.

“We see it as a marriage of heritage and innovation” is a phrase that was used by the heads of both teams. Stribling, of course, bears the heritage, and Compass represents innovation. Each company has brought an element to the match that the other one lacked, yielding a truly complementary pairing—a genuine yin and yang.

Libba Stribling, the founder of Stribling & Associates, admits she went through the typical stages of grief following the sale of her company to Compass. But she got through it, having quickly seen the benefits this merger brought to her employees. “It perhaps looked like an unlikely marriage at first,” she says. “But I knew that the advantages that Compass would bring to my brokers, which has made this transition an optimistic period for me.”

Libba and her daughter, Elizabeth Ann Stribling-Kivlan, the president of Stribling & Associates, are particularly excited about such programs as Compass Concierge, which fronts sellers the funds for home-improvement services and which Stribling-Kivlan calls “a game-changer.” And there’s a new loan program that helps Compass clients bridge the gap between buying a new unit and selling their existing home. Plus the Collections technology, called “the Pinterest of real estate,” a virtual workspace that allows agents and clients to collaborate in real-time. With Collections, agents and clients can easily organize homes, centralize their discussions, and monitor the market by receiving immediate status and price updates. Additionally, Compass Markets is the first mobile app that puts real-time residential real estate data at an agent’s fingertips, allowing them to instantly access the most recent transaction data as well as historic sales trends. “We’re in an iPhone world,” says Stribling-Kivlan, “where we expect everything within a nanosecond. I think for the first time, a real estate company has put their money behind creating a world that allows the consumer to do that.”

Elizabeth Ann Stribling-Kivlan and Elizabeth (“Libba”) Stribling

“One of the most exciting things,” adds Libba, “is seeing how the Stribling brokers use all the advantages of Compass’s technology and tools. It’s been very rewarding and, in some ways, much easier than I expected.”

Libba Stribling brings nearly 40 years of experience to the new entity. “As a company, Stribling holds a reputation for excellence and a longstanding heritage reputation,” says Libba, pointing out that she started her business in 1967, before computers or faxes or iPhones. She’s seen enormous transition in the industry and has weathered several bad downturns in residential real estate. “I think that sheer knowledge counts for a lot,” she says. “I think it adds great substance to the new firm.”

Rory Golod, Compass’s regional president of New York, says, “Stribling has a number of brokers who have been in this business a long time and who have proven to be incredible advisors to their clients. Collectively, they have built Stribling’s reputation as a company of elegance and sophistication and integrity.”

Robert Reffkin, cofounder and CEO of Compass.

Stribling, of course, has an exceptional presence on the Upper East Side, the New York City neighborhood where Compass was still working to establish a foothold at the time of the merger. Compass had already made plans to open two Upper East Side offices—a larger one at 71st and Madison, and a smaller space at 66th and Madison—and will be keeping Stribling’s four offices open as well. Stribling will provide its new parent company with unparalleled exposure in the Upper East Side market, where Compass had been lacking. “They give us an opportunity to build the Compass brand in a really important part of Manhattan that otherwise might have been a steep climb for us,” says Golod, “so we’re excited about that.”

The library of another current Stribling listing
The mid-century modern living space of a Compass listing

Fundamentally, the two companies are far more similar than they might appear. A key trait these two companies share is a strong focus on their agents. “From the outside looking in, it appears as if our cultures are different,” says Golod, “but I think at their core, they’re quite similar.” Golod tells the story of having breakfast at the River Café in Brooklyn with Libba and Elizabeth Ann, both of whom he describes as “incredibly talented, respected, and dynamic leaders in this business.” This was well before merger discussions had started, and it was the first time the three had really connected. “I remember leaving that breakfast,” Golod says, “thinking that these are people I would love to work with every day. Not just people that I could learn from, but people I would genuinely want to spend time with.” During that breakfast, Golod says, the Striblings had received some shocking news about a broker who had been at their firm. “It showed me first-hand how important their agents were to them,” says Golod, “to see their reaction and how thoughtful and caring they were; you could tell it transcended business. It was more about being a family. And that’s how we think about our company. I left feeling like these are exactly the kind of people I want to work with.”

The exterior of a current Stribling at Compass listing.

For Libba Stribling, the “aha” moment came at a conference, some time after her daughter initially had encouraged her to meet with Robert Reffkin, founder and CEO of Compass. “I went to a real estate conference,” Stribling says, “and I heard about all the technology that was about to be launched. Basically the speakers were saying, ‘Watch out! You don’t know which technology is coming!’ And then I realized that the other national firms seemed quite threatened by this new company called Compass. I went to a breakout session of my fellow leaders, and I said, ‘Let me ask you a question: What if you marry real professional brokerage knowledge with fabulous technology?’ Everybody around the table looked at me, and not one person said a word. They clearly were dumbfounded. I got up from the table and went over to Elizabeth Ann and said, ‘Let’s call Compass. Let’s do the deal.’ It was clear to me that if you could have such a marriage, you would have the best of the best.”

The Compass team is equally pleased with the match. “I think the future is incredibly bright for us,” Golod says. “I think a lot of people looked at this marriage and thought, ‘This is a little odd; these two companies are too different.’ I think we’re proving to people is that actually we’re quite similar, and I think people will look back and say, ‘Wow, that really was a successful idea.’”

The dining area of one of Compass’s contemporary-style listings