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dec07_cvr_300dpi.jpgCENTURY 21® works toward restoring consumer confidence with a new message and a new-more positive-attitude

By Stephanie Andre

Consumer confidence has been shaken over the past 12+ months. With inventories up and transactions down nationally, there’s understandably some concern. Listing times have gone from minutes, to days, to months. Now, the question is, how do we begin to rebuild trust in the market? How do real estate professionals bolster consumer confidence? The CENTURY 21 System believes its leadership is on the right path toward finding a solution. Here, Century 21 President and CEO Tom Kunz takes an honest look at some consumers’ lack of understanding and faith in the real estate market, highlights his four key fundamentals that dictate the market’s strength, and explains why there’s no time for self doubt.

Real Estate magazine: Do you believe the media has wilted consumer confidence?
Tom Kunz: I think that as an industry, we have allowed factual, yet incomplete stories about the real estate industry to run unchallenged in the marketplace. The less-than-positive stories that have permeated our national and regional news media of late are based on facts, but do not provide a complete picture.

There is a lot of business being conducted in this market, and behind every transaction is a consumer success story that we as an industry need to do a better job of sharing with the media and consumers. The media is, and should always be viewed as, one of our most powerful allies in reaching and connecting with consumers.

RE: What do you think it will take to change people’s opinions on the real estate market?
TK: I think that consumers need to see and hear stories about people just like themselves who are successfully completing real estate transactions in this market with the help and guidance of their real estate professional. Whether that story is about a next-door neighbor, someone from across town or someone from a city or town across the country from them, consumers need to see real-life examples of people making it in this market.
We need to remember that most people decide to purchase or sell a home based on major life events such as marriage, birth of a child, job relocation or divorce. For most folks, homes are ultimately bought and sold for shelter. The national market should not dictate a consumer’s housing needs. As people plan on starting a family and want a larger home to accommodate children, then they have a real need, and market conditions take a back seat to their individual needs.

RE: You have four fundamentals that you believe determine the strength of the market…
TK: Yes, I’ll explain:

-Near-full employment: The bottom line is that consumers need a job in order to secure the necessary financing to buy a home. The employment rate is at about 95%, which means that the nation is virtually at full employment.
- Increases in income: In addition to near-full employment, the economy of the U.S. remains very strong, wages are increasing, including an uptick in the minimum wages that consumers receive.
-Interest rates/cost of capital: Interest rates are still in the single digits and historically speaking, remain at extremely low levels. Being in this industry as long as I have, I remember when interest rates were 17% or more and people still bought and sold property then.
- Inventory: The current state of the housing market has left a great deal of inventory on the market. Inventory has increased and homes are staying on the market longer. People have the opportunity to comparison shop and really choose a home that they want rather than feeling they have to accept a home that doesn’t quite meet their needs just to get into the market.

RE: What can brokers do in their own regions/areas to restore confidence in the market?
TK: Much like the process of prospecting their market for business, they need to be engaging consumers and providing real insight into the opportunities that exist in this market. It’s not going to be a “great time to buy or sell” for every consumer. Our agents and brokers need to help consumers realize that they owe it to themselves, at the very least, to investigate their own unique situation. Now might be the perfect time for consumers to make a move in their neighborhoods.

I think the best way to accomplish this is to stimulate dialogue and share the real-life stories of families or individuals in their marketplace that have succeeded and gotten into the home of their dreams or who successfully upsized or downsized to meet their changing family dynamics.

RE: What is Century 21 doing to help bolster confidence in the market?
TK: The CENTURY 21 System has chosen not to participate in the pity-party that so many people, including some in the real estate industry, have gotten sucked into. I really think that part of the issue with helping consumers regain confidence in real estate is realizing that the “bad market” becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy if you allow it. We decided earlier this year to not be part of that process anymore, and since then, we have been very aggressive in sharing the other side of the story that many of the national and regional media stories about our industry have overlooked.

RE: You have a number of brokers who are making a difference both in their local markets as well as on Capitol Hill. What are your thoughts on their efforts?
TK: These are absolutely the kinds of things that our entire industry should be doing at the local and national level. The CENTURY 21 System’s Walk on Washington this fall was an expression of our unity and strength within the real estate industry. While the CENTURY 21 System is proud to once again take such a strong leadership position by helping to educate consumers and strengthen their confidence, this is the responsibility of everyone who calls him or herself a real estate professional or Realtor.

RE: What does the re-launch of your Gold Jacket campaign mean to the company?
TK: The Gold Jacket is one of the most recognized icons in the real estate industry. The CENTURY 21 System has benefited from the power of the Gold Jacket since our inception as a franchise organization in 1971. We’re bringing it back in a new and contemporary way, with a new design.

We are prominently featuring it in our advertising, on our Web site and we’ve got new momentum and energy all around the world. It’s a symbol that we are proud to embrace, because it speaks to our professionalism, to our strength and our commitment to our customers.

RE: It seems like the Gold Jacket is such a standard for success in the market. What do you think it means to consumers’ faith in the market?
TK: Not just a standard, but…the Gold Standard. At a time when consumers may have lost faith in the market, when they meet with a CENTURY 21 agent who is wearing the Gold Jacket, they have confidence that they are dealing with a professional, one with unsurpassed market intelligence and insights. That Gold Jacket symbolizes stability and knowledge to help them in one of the most important decisions of their lives.

RE: Why do you think being a part of the CENTURY 21 System is such an advantage in the current market?
TK: While the individual consumer remains at the center of the real estate transaction, advances in technology, transportation and communication are helping to make the world a smaller place, moving the real estate industry to become a truly global marketplace. The notion of being able to purchase or sell a home anywhere in the world has never been more real for consumers. Wherever life takes them, you can bet that a CENTURY 21 real estate professional will be there to help see them through the process and help them make an informed decision. By coupling their local market experience and knowledge with the global footprint and marketing presence of the CENTURY 21 brand, brokerages are able to better serve their clients while growing their business. RE

From Grass Roots to Grassy Hills

While many metropolitan areas are experiencing a decline in their real estate market, there are many brokers who are taking CENTURY 21 President and CEO Tom Kunz’s lead and pushing a positive message.

For Alan Olson, broker/owner, CENTURY 21 Vista in Fergus Falls, Minnesota, it’s all about aggressively marketing and reaching out to the community-whether that be by newspaper editorials, press releases or mass direct-mail campaigns.

“We’re working the market hard to aggressively stress what’s going on here in Ottertail County,” says Olson. “While our market is different than the metro areas of Minnesota, we’re still dealing with the negative headlines in our local and statewide newspapers.”

Olson’s plan seems to be working. “We are on par for the past 11 months [at press time] compared to the same period a year ago,” he says. “My office is actually up eight percent over last year-with six fewer agents.
“We have major control of the listings here-20 percent of the marketplace. Our next closest competitor has 10 percent,” explains Olson. “While our full-service brokerage services come at a premium, home buyers and sellers are coming to us and want to do business with us because they believe we’ll be here for them through the entire purchase or sale process and beyond.

“If there’s a downturn in the market, that’s when I spend some money and get the most press,” he continues. “I write a lot of press releases to all media and I also write a paid editorial in our local real estate guide each month. We talk about what the market is doing and how our county is different from what they see on television. We really try to pound that home.”

Reaching consumers goes back to telling them what’s really going on in his county-just being honest. “We always have our MLS statistics available,” he says. “It’s important to educate buyers and sellers about where we are in the county and in the market; it helps tremendously in managing buyers and sellers expectations.”

Getting Political

Jim Bigg, broker/owner of CENTURY 21 HSV Realty in Hot Springs Village, Arkansas, also believes that consumer confidence has been shaken through the media’s portrayal of the real estate industry. He’s taken his fight to Capitol Hill, where he and nearly 60 other CENTURY 21 System representatives recently met with their respective members of Congress to discuss the current challenges and opportunities in their local real estate markets during the CENTURY 21 National Brokers’ Communication Congress in Washington, D.C.

“In most instances real estate professionals live in the areas that they service and are responsible and active members of those communities,” says Bigg. “It’s good for all businesspeople to get involved in some form of politics: sometimes, it’s the only way to get local government attention to key issues facing your community.
“Our local lawmakers are aware of the real estate industry’s issues,” he adds. “They’re trying to get the word out that the real estate world isn’t crashing. There are pockets in the U.S. that are experiencing difficulty. But for a good number of areas, we still see a normal, healthy real estate market.”

“It is not the responsibility of our lawmakers, local government or the Federal Reserve to fix consumer confidence,” says Bigg. “When the Fed cut the rates again in October, our local market responded positively. However, some people are still standing on the sidelines hoping prices will drop. Restoring confidence in the market will take time and perseverance.”

What’s Gold is New Again

Consumers need to feel secure and confident about the real estate market; they need to have faith that a constant standard will always remain. Enter the CENTURY 21 System, and its symbol of excellence-the Gold Jacket. Now, the company is reintroducing its iconic jacket.

“This reintroduction of the Gold Jacket is very much recognition of our roots and strong heritage, and we’re now just drawing out that heritage,” says Bev Thorne, senior vice president of marketing for Century 21 Real Estate.

“Gold is-and has always been-an iconic color for the CENTURY 21 System. It’s truly part of our brand DNA and who we are.”

The re-launch is also drawing great attention to the company’s service and excellence in a unique and different way. “Regardless of whether you live in the U.S., China or Turkey; if you’re a real estate investor looking to purchase income property; if you’re a single female; or a young or senior family, the CENTURY 21 System is still here setting that standard of excellence,” she says. “All of those people have different life circumstances. This reintroduction of our Gold Jacket highlights our ability to work with all consumers and their unique customer needs.”

Here are a few highlights:

-The new Gold Jackets are custom-made by Geoffrey Beene exclusively for Century 21 and represent a contemporary take on a classic real estate industry icon.
-The gold jacket is an internationally recognized brand identifier linked to core elements of: “professionalism,” “unity” and “the highest level of achievement.”
-A contribution will be made to Easter Seals, the official corporate philanthropy of the CENTURY 21 System since 1979, in the name of the purchasing agent/broker, their affiliated office and the CENTURY 21 System with each new Gold jacket purchase.
-New jackets will be officially unveiled in 2008 at the Century 21 International Convention being held in Orlando, Florida, from February 28 to March 2.

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