Sitting with Scott Durkin at the Hampton Classic is a bit like sitting with the mayor in a small village. The president and COO of Douglas Elliman, which has been a major sponsor of the horse show in Bridgehampton since 1998, greets everyone from his PR and events team to agents to clients to the florist who is decorating their nine tables in the VIP tent.
The table is an apt metaphor as Durkin describes the culture of the real estate leader. “There’s a big dinner table at Douglas Elliman that a lot of companies don’t have, and that’s important. We emphasize a culture of inclusion. We don’t have a strict hierarchy, and our agents are very collaborative,” Durkin told The Independent. It is clear Durkin embodies these qualities with his own accessibility and his genuinely warm encounters.
Durkin also has a deep connection to horses, having just purchased a 27-acre horse farm called Skyfall in Saugerties, NY, which will be home to his six dressage horses. He proudly shows photos of his newest mare, Lady, who has just arrived from the Netherlands.
His love of horses got off on the wrong foot, or hoof, you could say. “When I was young, I rode through the cornfields of a dairy farm in Salem, NY,” said Durkin. “I was barefoot with no helmet and was thrown off and broke my arm.” Durkin didn’t return to riding until his 45th birthday. He recalls, “I was at the Hampton Classic, and there were five Friesian horses, and they were stunning. I said to my husband, Dave, ‘Hey, Martha Stewart has five of them, I think I need one.’”
Dressage as a riding discipline seemed a natural fit for Durkin, who majored in modern dance in college. In dressage, an Olympic sport, the horse is shown on the flat with beautiful movements, ranging from pirouettes to piaffes to flying changes. “I missed dance,” Durkin recalled, “and when I got my horse, I was hiring a trainer, and she was a dressage trainer. Dressage to me is like ballet meets figure skating, with the geometrical patterns and precision. The horses’ movements are so stunningly beautiful.”
For Durkin — who navigates a high-powered job and frequent travel — the horse barn is the place to recharge the batteries and enjoy a personal passion. Durkin does compete as an amateur, but his trainer Meagan Davis also competes at the top level on his highly skilled horses. “She is a great rider and competitor,” said Durkin. “And I love the way she teaches.”
Horse lessons are also useful business lessons. “If you can make a 1300-pound animal move in a precise way and without any vocals, that’s a bridge to communication,” said Durkin with a laugh. “You work to make it be smooth, calm, graceful, and beautiful.”
Equestrian sport is also an important bridge to Douglas Elliman’s clients and customers. Durkin explained, “We have this expression at Elliman that we follow our customers. We’ve opened up in the luxury space in California as well as Boston, Connecticut, Westchester, Florida, and Aspen, and coupled with those destinations is the equestrian world. It’s very expensive to have horses, and that client requires a fine-tuned agent that knows the way they live. Many of them have a horse farm in every place they travel, so it made sense for us to sponsor the sport.”
Elliman’s equestrian sponsorship began with the Hampton Classic in 1998. “It’s supporting the equestrian client and also the audience the sport attracts that might not necessarily ride. It’s a wonderful family event, and educational, and everyone loves to be with these amazing animals. It’s a great opportunity to give our properties exposure and also our agents, 40 of whom are riders themselves,” he added.
Strolling around the grounds of the Hampton Classic with its high-end boutiques and exhibits, you would think Durkin might be drawn to a luxury boat or car, but it is actually the John Deere tractor which attracts his attention. “I definitely need one for the new farm.” He also pops in to speak with Joseph Moran, who owns Top Jock Tack Boxes, to discuss custom designs for the new Skyfall Farm.
In terms of the Hamptons real estate market Durkin commented, “The Hamptons are majorly a second and third home market and it doesn’t fluctuate as much as the first home market. The biggest change I have seen is the mind of the buyer — they are more prepared than ever. The transparency of our industry on the digital stage is incredible.” To that end, Elliman has a valuable relationship with Miller Samuel Inc. to share its market research in the exclusive Elliman Reports, of which 84 are published every quarter.
Durkin also understands the value of cutting-edge technology balanced with personal interactions. He commented, “Having face time is rare and valuable. I always say we will get the best technology for the agents in the company to help be the back-end of their business and keep them moving at a fast clip. But the most important thing is to be in front of your clients and customers as much as you can without being intrusive. You are much more of an advisor today than a transactional agent.” And building lasting relationships, especially in a company which is over 100 years old, is a key to success.
“Anywhere you hang your shingle, you need to be part of the community,” Durkin said. And in this case, it is a place where he knows not only everyone’s names but even their horses’ names. It’s a beautiful bond to share.