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Welcome to the Global Neighborhood

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june08_cover_72dpi.jpgERA Real Estate Broadens Its Worldwide Presence

By Stephanie Andre

RISMEDIA, July 2, 2008-Long before it was in vogue to expand a real estate company’s business beyond U.S. borders, ERA Franchise Systems LLC was international. A trendsetter in global growth for more than 25 years, ERA has been increasing its reach from continent to continent, now amassing offices in 50 countries and territories. And, according to the company’s leader, international growth is still a major priority.

“Our current strategy is to continue to increase our presence-both in the U.S. and internationally,” says Brenda W. Casserly, ERA’s president and CEO. “We will do that by continuously aligning our efforts toward making the international and domestic buying experience easier and more user-friendly.”

Compared with much of the U.S. real estate market, reaching out to international waters is the status quo to ERA. For a number of years now, ERA has had more offices internationally than in the U.S. “We are proud to consider ourselves a true, international franchise,” says Casserly.

At the crux of that success is the business of real estate in its purest form: building relationships, according to Rashard Gathers, director of international service & operations for the Realogy Franchise Group within Realogy Corporation, ERA’s parent company.

“ERA is a relationship brand, and real estate is a relationship business,” says Gathers. “The power of relationships is universal around the world. Our international master franchisees have fostered the professional partnerships and cultural connections in their respective countries, which have helped expand our brand globally.”

To that end, the company has taken on the arduous task of building a new, more dynamic website in which ERA brokers and agents will be able to dynamically exchange active listings data-in the U.S. and abroad-in real time.

Coming Together

The focus at ERA is clearly on bringing together the company’s U.S. and international interests-in one integrated location, explains Casserly.

From its annual convention to its smaller meetings around the globe, the company makes a point to ensure international broker participation in addition to brokers from within the U.S. In fact, at its most recent annual convention held in Florida earlier this year, over 100 international brokers and master franchisors attended. They also regularly take part in the company’s top agent and broker meetings and in brainstorming conference calls, Casserly says. “We participate together and share many thoughts on the business, including marketing ideas,” she explains. “Most countries are eager to learn what we do here in the U.S. and what ERA can do
internationally.”

That said, Casserly says the relationships she’s formed have definitely been reciprocal, as she’s learned much about the methods by which other countries handle the real estate transaction.

casserly_brenda_2006.jpg“We’ve learned over the years from the international markets we have entered that the way you practice real estate really depends on the country,” explains Casserly. For example, in many countries outside the U.S., exclusive listings are not the norm, however, the franchise model is helping to cause a paradigm shift in the sharing of listings. In some European countries, it is common for customers to just get a key and look at the home themselves. While in other countries, the nature of their financing options requires that buyers put down a large percentage or even enter into 100%-cash buys.

Casserly tells an interesting story about when ERA was expanding its network into Israel. “It was during a time when a lot of bombings were going on in the country,” she explains. “The whole time I was thinking, ‘Through all of that, how do you sell properties there?’ Meanwhile, the new franchise owner in Israel later told me his concern and what he wanted to know from us was, ‘How do you deal with discounted commissions or people trying to recruit your agents?’

“What that demonstrates to me is that real estate is real estate-anywhere in the world,” Casserly continues. “It comes down to your own environment and culture, and the ways in which you can best serve your customers.”

Different Language, Same Strategy

smith_pj_martin.jpgDespite cultural differences and the sometimes-obvious language barriers, ERA’s approach remains the same-”It’s a global Internet strategy,” explains P.J. Martin Smith, senior vice president of marketing for ERA Real Estate. “For example, we currently translate every page of ERA.com into Spanish. That means every listing page, every agent profile-everything.

“Once on the site, we believe it’s all about interactivity for the consumer as we help them find a property,” explains Martin Smith. “They can do so many things-explore properties via satellite and mapping capabilities, complete a floor plan, create a room or even add furniture to that room. Children have the ability to interact in the moving process as well as with ERA Kids. We want to drive consumers to ERA.com. Once there, we want them to find it viable so that they’ll come back.”

What’s more, the company also offers its brokers and agents TeamERA Magazine, in which each issue includes information on international trends and information. “We have found that the most frequently read articles are on how others are doing business in their own countries,” she says. “We always ask five quick questions, just to get a grasp of what the industry looks like in that country.”

On the back end, adds Gathers, the company provides its affiliates worldwide with a host of tools and systems to ensure their marketing message is being heard on the local and regional level.

“They are able to customize those platforms for their local needs, and still convey a consistent ERA-branded message,” he says. “We assist the international master franchisees with composing their value package, which reflects the core competencies of the ERA system and the master franchisee at the same time.”

A Global Gateway

Moving ahead, once the new ERA.com is debuted within a year, consumers will be able to instantly connect from the company site to affiliate brokerages from continent to continent and coast to coast, says Casserly.

“Consumers will be able to search ERA.com for all available listings in a marketplace and then directly link to an ERA broker for help,” she explains. “Ultimately, that’s the goal-for ERA.com to be a destination, but also a gateway to our global network of brokerage websites.”

Another global strategy comes with the company’s listing distribution strategy. ERA’s plan to fully expose its listing base to the entire market began about two years ago, according to Martin Smith. “We started to realize that there are a lot of other places consumers visit to look for real estate,” she says. “It would not be realistic for any real estate company to say, ‘We hope that consumers will only visit our website.’ We wanted to be ahead of the curve and partner with companies such as Google Base, Yahoo! Real Estate, and Land and Farm to give our customers more visibility.

“At the end of the day, it’s still about building relationships, and we are doing that by feeding those listing distributors information every day,” she adds. “We are providing full exposure for sellers so that they have the greatest ability to sell their property.

“The redesign of ERA.com is massive,” continues Martin Smith. “Our new unique systems and tools combined with our ability to search all listings in a marketplace will promote interaction and provide the ultimate experience for the consumer. In addition, the integration of our international listings truly makes us a global site.

“We have a great combination of national and international business expertise for our affiliates in any of our U.S. local markets,” she adds, “but we also have the ability to touch the world with easy and efficient systems and tools.”

Those tools, says Bill Cogan, vice president of interactive marketing for ERA Real Estate, will make for a complete user experience-whether the consumer is looking for property data or community information.

“Anyone can buy community data, but it’s not complete; it’s not authentic,” he says. “The local agent is really the expert in that area. We encourage that ERA.com will continue to provide information on properties, but push consumers to the local agent for local information. They’re the experts.”

More Growth on the Way

“In the next year, we will have a lot of big things going on,” says Casserly. “You’ll see our new website and we’ll be reaching out to new countries and helping them to grow.”

By this year (at press time), ERA had already opened franchises in Morocco, Guadalupe, Italy and Turkey.

Building a Global Organization

To bolster its international growth, ERA Franchise Systems LLC sells Master Franchise agreements through its parent company, Realogy Corporation. These agreements grant select companies and individuals the rights to market branded, franchised real estate brokerages to entrepreneurs around the world.

“The Master Franchise model works well for us, so that the ERA network around the world is distinguished by expertise in individual markets and by strong cultural ties,” says Rashard Gathers, director of international service & operations for the Realogy Franchise Group.

Through these Master Franchise agreements, ERA assists master franchisees with the tools, systems and expertise required to become operational and to start awarding franchises in their country.

Sending a Message

Whether you are trying to reach a customer who speaks English, French, Japanese-or from a list of other languages, ERA offers its affiliates a marketing platform that allows them to market to the world.

“Our new ‘My AdMaker’ tool includes ad templates, ad copy and imagery for a variety of ad mediums,” explains P.J. Martin Smith, senior vice president of marketing for ERA Real Estate. “This tool can be used to build agency-quality ads that raise awareness, highlight programs and services, and make it easy for potential customers to find them. This is just one of the no-cost online tools that help our ERA brokers and agents create consistent, professional quality ads with just a few mouse clicks for local print, TV and radio advertising.” RE

For more information, please visit www.era.com.

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