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Exit Kingdom Realty grows despite burst bubble

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After Bayside resident Erica Siegel lost her job at the American Cancer Society a couple years ago and decided to venture into real estate, her friends and family wondered if she had lost her mind.

The real estate industry had been floundering in the wake of the subprime mortgage crisis, and those who knew Siegel often inquired why she would enter an industry “experiencing its absolute worst market since the Great Depression.”

But Siegel, who had worked for the American Cancer Society, as a headhunter and as a seventh-grade math teacher, was determined to give it a shot and said the decision to join Exit Kingdom Realty in Forest Hills last year was one of the best she has ever made.

“I’ve had so much support here, more support than at any other company I’ve worked for,” Siegel said. “It’s the American Dream to own a home, and the fact I can help with that is such a good feeling.”

Siegel is one of 108 agents at Exit Kingdom Realty, a company that has grown by leaps and bounds since 2005 — when Forest Hills resident Vincent Koo took over the business that his parents, entrepreneurs from China, started in 1988.

The real estate company, 68-56 Groton St. in Forest Hills, has managed to grow despite the tough economy and performed better in 2009 than it did in 2008. The company went from employing 18 real estate agents in 2005 to 108 agents this year, and Koo attributes the growth in part to the company’s joining a franchise, Exit Realty.

Being part of a larger organization, Koo said, gives them access to Exit Realty’s resources, such as extensive training for their employees.

“Our agents have access to training 24 hours a day, we have six ‘webinars’ a month and we have small group training live in our office,” Koo said.

Alongside the training, Koo said he emphasizes the need for his employees to maintain a healthy balance between work and personal time — a move he hopes will ensure his agents will not become burned out and make them more excited about their careers. This determination to ensure employees are happy pays off, Siegel said.

“It’s not just about money here, it’s the support system that really makes a difference,” Siegel said. “Another thing that makes Exit Realty stand out is they’re involved in the community. A percentage of every transaction goes to Habit for Humanity.”

Exit Kingdom Realty has donated more than $1.6 million to Habitat for Humanity, and the company frequently participates in a slew of other community activities, including supporting Forest Hills youth sports teams and Kiwanis International.

Koo is now focusing on growing his company even more and hopes to beat this year’s record of ranking No. 12 out of the 1,020 real estate offices that have closed deals in Queens. He also recently opened a Manhattan office, Exit Realty Landmark.

“I’m hoping to have two of the most productively successful offices in New York,” Koo said.

Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at agustafson@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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