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Building a ‘Better’ Tomorrow

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Better Homes and Gardens’ First Franchise Owner Previews a Fresh Start

By Kayla O’Brien

RISMEDIA, August 4, 2008-Thomas Wilkins prides himself on building his thriving independent real estate business from scratch 20 years ago. But the moment he learned of the Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate® brand-he jumped at the opportunity. Serving the Pocono Mountain market in Pennsylvania, Wilkins says that the advantages offered by the new brand can’t be beat. “It’s more than just a national brand,” he says. “They’re focused on a lifestyle.” Here, meet Wilkins, CEO of Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate Wilkins & Associates and learn how he’s gearing his company for growth.

Thomas R. Wilkins
Chief Executive Officer
Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate Wilkins & Associates
Pocono Mountains, Pennsylvania

Years in real estate: 25
Number of offices: 7
Number of agents: 110
Average listing price: $198,000 to low $200s.

Creative tip for boosting agent morale: We’ve done overhauls in our marketplace-renovating almost every office, such as painting the walls pastel colors to bring the level of anxiety down. It’s a tough time for agents, so we help to make them feel good.

Tech tool you can’t live without: Our tech guy. Without him nothing would work.

Suggestion for time management: Repetition and consistency-it works. I pride myself on time management-I use Outlook and its “Task” feature. Through repetition and consistency, I’m able to delete tasks once they’ve been completed, get feedback, or adjust tasks for the future if necessary.

Effective retention techniques: Retention of a sales person is not achieved by treating them as a sales person, but rather treating them as a friend, partner, and as a real person.

Determining your marketing spend: The business is shifting and we are moving closer to putting the bulk of our business online. Print will never go away-you may no longer see houses in print, as online is where consumers are looking for your inventory-but print tells consumers about the company and where to go to find the inventory.

Strategy for staying ahead of the curve: You need to make decisions for tomorrow, now. Three years ago we merged some of our offices by looking at the data-we made the decision and moved upon it. We now appreciate that because we could stay more competitive in our marketplace. Today, at this particular juncture in a downtime, we’ve already done a good job to keep our costs down. In 2008, we’re also trying to get additional revenue in other areas of real estate.

What’s your best tip for getting the right listing price?

First we like to look at the needs and expectations of the sellers. Then, we decide whether or not we can help them by listing or not listing their property. In a market where properties are upside down, we may suggest the homeowners go to credit counseling if we can’t get them the price they were hoping for. But, after we see their needs, we compare it to what the market is paying and what’s selling. Our sellers hear what’s on the national news, so we bring it to a local level that they can understand. Our biggest tool in the Pocono’s is bringing that national level down to our specific region since we do both primary and vacation homes.

What have you found successful in making meetings productive?

We now meet every three months to save gas for our agents. Those meetings have been expanded with more PowerPoint’s and local statistics. The agents are able to now look at the numbers monthly-whether it’s listings, average prices, etc. and they are able to stay better focused. We’ve been honest with telling them when we think the market’s going to change and what our philosophy is.

What was it about Better Homes & Gardens that first grabbed your attention?

As an independent, we jumped on the opportunity to learn more about it when the brand became available. They’re more focused on a lifestyle, which is different than other brands. It’s also the only brand with a magazine and a TV station that comes out about the real estate industry-you can’t beat that.

What are you looking forward to most about being a part of the Better Homes & Gardens brand?

The national brand. The tools they offer are fabulous, and for us to grow our company to the next level-to 20 to 25 offices with 300 agents-we can’t do that alone. By having the brand, today’s business development strategy is not to make money, but to position ourselves so we can make money when the market does turn. We don’t care about the profits as much as we care to position ourselves for when the profits do come. By speaking to the core philosophies of the upper management at BH&G, it’s evident that they, too, live and work by that same philosophy as we do. We’re looking to them as being our mentors and sharing that same camaraderie and team effort where fun is fun, but let’s roll our sleeves up and get the job done. I’ve been offered franchises for the past 15 years and have never seen the advantages. BH&G is a mirror of our organization and we want to grow that company into a regional business-they’re going to take us there, I know that.

What words of advice do you give to rookie agents in today’s market?

When the market was strong, the rookie could do a couple of deals and lose them because there would be another deal waiting for them-using what they did both wrong and right as a learning tool. In today’s market, as a broker and as an agent, we’ve teamed them up with maybe not a full-time mentor, but someone who knows how to negotiate a contract and we have them share the commission because we don’t want them to lose the deal.

What technologies are you utilizing most to stay in the forefront of your target consumers?

Four years ago, my management had an intervention with me and that’s when we began a drip campaign. They gave me an ultimatum that online and blogging and such was going to be where they were going to take the company so I had to learn about it. What I found is that being on that cutting edge is not hard to do and it puts you in line with the consumers. Specifically we’re getting ready to do blogs, have a live chat, etc. The BH&G platform starts out at the level we need to start at – so we’re looking to them to give us the tools, equipment, and ideas to be competitive in a regional business vs. a local business.

In today’s market, how are you communicating with your agents and consumers?

With agents, it’s with all about the personal touch-a telephone call, stopping by the office, and using every opportunity to say hello, etc. Sometimes managers hide behind e-mail, but the buck stops with talking and direct meeting. With consumers, many have readily accepted e-mail conversing, so that is sometimes preferred.

For more information, visit http://www.wilkins1.com.

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