By Maria Patterson
RISMEDIA, December 22, 2010—What is a business network? According to Wikipedia, a business network is: “a social economic activity by which groups of like-minded businesspeople recognize, create or act upon business opportunities.” What is the value of information? The value of information lies in its ability to enable consumers to make the optimal decision. The right information, therefore, is truly invaluable.
The real estate rainmakers pictured on this month’s cover fully understand the power and value of information. As representatives of RISMedia’s Real Estate Information Network® (RREIN), these brokers are decision makers leading their respective firms into the most competitive marketplace on Earth: residential real estate in the United States. The value of connecting with like-minded, success-driven brokerage colleagues, tied together through an information-based network, has created one of the fastest-growing business networks our industry has ever seen: RREIN.
“Every day, real estate companies and their value propositions are under attack from the barrage of negative news emanating from televisions, newspapers, radio and, of course, the Internet,” says RISMedia President & CEO John Featherston. “For the past three years, the vast majority of residential real estate firms have focused more on survival than future expansion.”
RISMedia formed RREIN to help move leading real estate firms forward during troubled times.
“In forming RREIN, we examined, studied and learned from many different brokerage leaders, various management teams, productive sales associates and, of course, their customers,” explains RISMedia Executive Vice President Darryl MacPherson.
“During this process, the famous quote from William Pollard, ‘Learning and innovation go hand in hand. The arrogance of success is to think that what you did yesterday will be sufficient for tomorrow,’ became a constant reminder that RREIN and its members must force their brokerage firms to become the dominant thought leaders in today’s hotly contested residential real estate industry,” adds Featherston.
As Barry Schimel, author of One Hundred Ways to Prosper in Today’s Economy, says, “You can’t cost-cut your way to prosperity.” RREIN brokers, constantly dedicated to reinventing their companies, know this all too well. To be a real estate rainmaker in today’s battle-scarred landscape, you must, without question, be continually armed and updated with accurate information.
According to its members, RREIN provides them with an entrance ramp to the information superhighway and fuels their agents’ and consumers’ daily need for relevant information. Equally as important, however, RREIN makes them part of a network of individuals with the same goal: finding the best possible methods for long-term success. This high-level network is invaluable to members because, as RISMedia Chief Marketing Officer Allan Dalton says, “none of us are as smart as all of us.”
RREIN member firms are those who have weathered the storm by continually reinventing their firms, supporting their agents and connecting with consumers. Information and innovation have enabled them to remain real estate’s true rainmakers.
If you could point to one overarching characteristic that all RREIN members share, it would be their ability to evolve in accordance with market demands. Their collective expertise at market resiliency and adaptability is something they can now share and strengthen through the unique network that is RREIN…because rainmakers know that nothing compares to learning from other rainmakers.
While many RREIN members are real estate veterans, there are no stodgy philosophies or staid strategies here. On the contrary, despite decades in the business, these rainmakers are open-minded and ahead of the curve in terms of market trends.
Real estate legend Dick Schlott, for example, purchased New Jersey’s Gloria Nilson, REALTORS® in 2009, at a time when the vast majority of real estate leaders were contracting. For Schlott, however, the time was ripe to evolve. “We saw the acquisition as a wonderful opportunity at a great time,” says Schlott, the company’s chairman and CEO.
Known today as Gloria Nilson, REALTORS®, Real Living, what made the firm attractive to Schlott was its ability to change and stay current. “As consumers have become more attuned to searching the Web and accessing instant information in preparation to become potential buyers or sellers, they want to be sure that whomever they deal with in terms of a real estate company is tech-oriented and highly capable,” he explains. “That’s why, through the years, the Gloria Nilson company has been committed to developing a real proficiency in the areas of technology that matter to consumers.”
Perhaps no one exemplifies the importance of change more these days than Ed Krafchow, having recently re-affiliated his long-standing, highly reputable real estate firm to become Better Homes and Gardens Mason-McDuffie Real Estate.
Krafchow says that brokers “need to focus on building a company of the future and not of the past. We are working toward a re-emergence of the real estate market, so those who work on going forward will survive in the next market.”
Peter Hunt is chairman and CEO of a company celebrating its 100th anniversary in 2011—Hunt Real Estate Corp. To survive for a century, Hunt and team have obviously mastered the real estate business, yet, he says, “We want to turn the old stereotype upside-down. We need to shake things up to move the industry forward.”
Hunt believes that information and education are what will fuel his company’s continued path toward the future. “There’s been an ego-driven culture among agents and it’s resulted in a less-valuable relationship between agents and their companies,” he explains. “As the agent’s role evolves and customers become better informed, companies will need to serve both groups more effectively, proving value.”
“Over the past 10 years, there have been distinct changes in both the needs of consumers and the needs of sales professionals,” agrees Georgianna Finn, broker/owner of Coach Realtors. “Coach Realtors has stayed ahead of the curve, realizing the shift in consumer needs and delivering the tools and services our sales professionals need. It is this ability to understand the evolving marketplace and stay ahead of these shifts that has brought Coach Realtors to its position of prominence.”
Remaining a rainmaker in tough times has certainly meant expense cutting for RREIN members, but has also meant reinvesting—wisely—to reinvent their companies for continued success.
“You scrutinize every expense, but more importantly, you have to try to find opportunities,” explains Huff Realty COO Joe Price. “Those opportunities are out there; you just have to look in non-traditional places.”
Gary Rabon, president of Coldwell Banker Advantage, has likewise positioned his firm for new opportunities. “We are diversifying into stronger markets and continuing to build on our strength and innovations,” he explains. “We are providing training on social media and establishing a communications plan for agents as well as the company.”
RREIN Member First Team Real Estate has gone the extra mile to embrace change by rewriting the book on real estate…literally. The company’s “New Rules of Real Estate” program, created by First Team CEO and Founder Cameron Merage, serves as a playbook for maneuvering through real estate’s new terrain.
“‘The New Rules of Real Estate’ has tips ranging from how many photos should be part of each listing to why it’s so important to work with an agent who’s experienced at negotiating,” explains First Team EVP Bill Plattos. “We’ve received a great response to it. In fact, ‘The New Rules’ has become part of our culture. We use it on everything from our mastheads to our website. And as things change, the rules will as well.”
Driving Change: The Consumer
Rainmakers are united in the belief that change must be driven by consumer needs; it’s not about change for the sake of change—it’s about change that results in revenue.
As today’s world shifts to a consumer-controlled experience, with consumers having access to as much, if not more, information than the average real estate professional, RREIN brokers are highly aware that the ultimate goal of “customers for life” cannot be achieved without a focused, sophisticated strategy.
Faced with job loss and financial hardship, today’s consumers are wary and mistrustful, making the challenge of fostering strong relationships even greater. Consumers are also taking matters into their own hands and arming themselves with information they’ve gathered on their own, long before ever meeting with a real estate agent. Rainmakers realize, therefore, that winning with today’s consumers means becoming not only a trusted provider of credible information, but a skilled interpreter of that information.
“Because information is everywhere, consumers expect agents to have all the information about everything,” says Matt Rand, managing partner at Better Homes and Gardens Rand Realty. “Agents that are successful know what consumers are looking for from an agent. They’re looking for an agent to offer great service and good communication, and to have experience and knowledge.”
For today’s consumers, service has also taken on a whole new meaning. “Today’s consumer requirement for service is the same as it’s always been historically, but in addition, it now needs to be quick, efficient and utilize electronic communication to facilitate everything online,” says Prudential Florida President & CEO Rei Mesa. “Today’s consumer has a right to demand exceptional service. Consumers need to be able to utilize our services at their pace and on their own time, as opposed to ours. Today, it’s a 24/7 business and with all the online services we provide, the consumer can be anywhere in the world, any time of day and be interacting and transacting with our sales associates.”
The Demand for Information
While RREIN members benefit from the ongoing information exchange that takes place within the Network, these rainmakers also joined RREIN for its unparalleled access to consumer information, as provided by RISMedia—the leader in real estate information systems—on a daily, weekly and monthly basis, through a wide range of digital delivery methods, including video, digital newsletters and RSS feeds.
“In today’s environment, information is abundant but it is often murky at best,” says Linda Sherrer, president & CEO of Prudential Network Realty. “The role of the real estate professional has morphed from being the gatekeeper of information to providing the kind of true market intelligence that helps clients make informed decisions.”
“The need for information is one of the reasons why we joined RISMedia’s Real Estate Information Network® (RREIN),” says Plattos. “The client doesn’t want to know how many years you’ve been selling real estate or how many homes you’ve sold; they want to know what you are going to do for them. Part of that is providing them with the tools and information to make the right decisions. We can now take RREIN’s information and use it, even customize it, and provide it to our clients.”
For Todd Hetherington, CEO of Century 21 New Millennium, addressing consumer concerns and hesitancy in the marketplace means the strategic deployment of information. “It’s about information, knowledge and wisdom,” explains Hetherington. “That was our biggest reason for joining RREIN. We are now able to provide our agents and consumers with every bit of knowledge possible. We realized we needed the best content available and we found just that with RREIN.”
“The information that we get through the RREIN Network is helping our agents better connect with consumers,” agrees Jim Bray, owner of Cutler Real Estate. “Our agents are finding a lot of valuable information through the network that they can then transfer to their consumers. The information that we receive through RREIN also enables our clients to stay current with everything that’s happening in the marketplace. This is crucial when working with today’s consumers so that our agents can show them why now is the best time to enter the market.”
According to Barbara Grande, managing broker of Coldwell Banker First Real Estate, “The biggest difference now from a few years ago is that consumers already have so much knowledge when they come into the transaction. They’ve done some research, they’ve talked to a friend, they’ve gone on Facebook…they have all this information and now it’s the agent’s job to take it and interpret it for them. They have to take the information the consumers have already gathered and add our market knowledge to it.”
“As the old saying goes, information really is power. Those brokerages that are able to provide associates with the most up-to-date and comprehensive information will close more deals and have an edge in recruiting,” says Charlie Bengel, Jr. CEO of RE/MAX Allegiance. “RREIN provides our associates with a resource for information to share with clients, giving them additional prospecting opportunities.”
Technology Facilitates Success
Despite cutting overhead in several areas, real estate rainmakers have remained true to technology and made capital investments as needed. The unified belief is that technology is the gateway to today’s consumers and, therefore, success.
“It’s all about taking traditional marketing tools and bringing them into the new age,” says Rand. “We can network so much more effectively through sites like Facebook. We can take a yard sign and now make it an interactive lead generation tool with texting. We can take our website and put it into people’s hands wherever they are with mobile technology.”
Broker/owner Robb Spearman, of RE/MAX Real Estate Concepts, for example, is capitalizing on the widespread adoption of video to capture consumer eyeballs. At webcastonelive.com, a webcasting company that features live shows such as talk radio, you will find advertising for the RE/MAX Real Estate Concepts Studio. “Every show that comes on in our local area mentions our company,” says Spearman. “From September 19 to October 19 alone, 49,000 people visited the site and saw our advertising.”
Technology bells and whistles are of no use, however, unless there is widespread adoption by agents.
“While it is important that we provide good opportunities and technology to our agents, it is more important for them to understand how to use this technology,” says Bray. “Having a Web presence is of no use if you don’t get your agents to buy into it and implement it.”
To that end, Ken Baris, president of Jordan Baris, Realtors®, has gone to great lengths to develop customized internal technology for his agents. “Our new platform is called JB Advantage,” says Baris. “Through JB Advantage, agents will be able to show their sellers detailed reports on the status of their property, such as how many showings they’ve had and how many hits on websites, right from their mobile phone—no matter where they are.”
What’s more, according to Grande, it’s not just the younger generation of agents who are the benefactors of technology. “When we talked to our agents about our membership in RREIN they got so excited,” she reports. “We presented the mobile platform in a sales meeting and we actually had an agent stand up and say, ‘Thank you for looking out for our business’…and this particular agent was in her 60s. We have a tendency to think it’s just the younger agents who are utilizing technology, but it’s not.”
But technology alone is not enough to make any company a true rainmaker. Without a focus on the consumer, technology is for naught. That’s why RREIN provides its Network members with a turn-key technology system to deliver its consumer information and a custom-built mobile platform so consumers can access listing information instantly.
As Krafchow says, “You can’t better yourself with just technology; technology simply allows you to stay ahead of the curve. What matters most is participation and understanding where the consumer is.”
At the Heart of Success: The Agents
Real estate rainmakers are just like every other broker out there in today’s market in that their number-one concern is finding and retaining top agents. Agents, after all, are what keep the engine churning…and the rain falling. RREIN members are able to share their top strategies for recruiting and retention among the Network to uncover what it is agents really need to succeed in the current landscape.
“I think that training is probably the biggest, single focus for us and has been for some time,” says Larry Knapp, CEO of Lyon Real Estate, “and you have to have training that is particular to the current market. So, for us, we’ve pushed hard for our agents to be trained and certified in short sales. About 80% of our agents are certified.”
D.B. Wilson, managing broker of RE/MAX of Boulder, makes retaining great agents sound easy. How does he do it? “By providing the right environment and exceeding goals,” he says. “We have a great group of agents that spans generations—from those in their 20s to those in their 70s. Everyone has their own hot buttons and goals. From raising families to travel, we try to support them and show them that they are genuinely cared for. We keep our agents informed and up to speed, which shows them that we are a team.”
Spearman follows the RE/MAX mantra that his customers are his agents and directs the majority of his focus toward cultivating agent success. He has six offices throughout the community he serves that any agent can access as needed. “The same key fits into the lock at every office. Our agents love this.” Spearman also offers what he terms “In and Out Rooms”—4×7 rooms with computers and phones that agents can make use of as needed. “This way, they’re not chained to desks. What we’ve done is take off the handcuffs and make things easier. Being mobile allows agents to be more efficient and flexible.”
Educating and retaining agents also requires the right tools, says Hunt. “Sophisticated video conferencing, for example, allows us to continue our training in all of our markets,” he explains. “In fact, we just recreated our entire training curriculum; we modeled it after a university course outline. We even have our own website dedicated to our agents’ education: www.huntuniversity.com.”
For Steve Calcagni, CEO of Calcagni Associates Real Estate, keeping good agents means upping the ante.
“In most companies, the agent world is a very flat world in terms of mobility,” says Calcagni. “One of the unique niche markets we serve at Calcagni Associates is new construction. In our company, becoming a new construction project manager is a differentiator amongst the agents. It’s a sought-after opportunity because handling new construction offers a certain expectation of guaranteed business—something that non-project managers do not have. Going into the year, they can anticipate that six, eight or even 10 of their project listings will sell, and project managers can look forward to some stability in their earnings.”
Aside from providing a multi-level approach to training and current technology tools, nurturing and building loyalty in agents means investing in them on a personal level, adds Helen Sosso, owner of Prudential Palms Realty and Prudential Lakewood Ranch Realty.
“First of all, you have to listen to what your agents have to say,” says Sosso. “You can’t sit in an ivory tower and tell them what to do. I strongly believe in the personal touch. Even though I have over 200 agents, I try very hard to make them feel part of the Sosso family. You can’t just look at them as top-producing agents—you have to look at their personal needs as well in order to understand what makes them tick. Top agents work really hard and need to know that they’re more important to you as people than for the money they’re bringing in.”
Upping the ante for agents also means making them part of the overall success of the company. “Our agents have a very important role in the company outside of sales; they help me run the company,” says Sherrer. “I meet bi-monthly with a group of agents who are appointed by their peers and are charged with bringing to the meetings best practices, marketplace trends and problems…as long as the problems are accompanied by solutions. Hence the name of this committee: Masters of Solutions. Some of the very best practices in our company have come from this team of professionals.”
Price agrees. Making your agents part of your company strategy planning is critical to establishing deep-seated loyalty.
“I’m very seldom the smartest person in any room so I want/need as much feedback and data as I can get,” says Price. “Your top-producing agents know the economy and the business. It’s not about splits or technology; it’s about confiding in them and bringing them into the business discussions. It’s seeking their advice and truly listening when a concern or suggestion is offered. ”
A Network for the Future
RREIN members know that the ability to adapt and change for the better, faster than your competition, and to be seen and heard as a thought-leading organization by your sales associates and the marketplace, can only be achieved in today’s high-tech, sophisticated world through harnessing the power of relevant information and placing it into the hands of home-buying and -selling consumers. It also requires associating with other firms equally committed to profitably expanding their businesses in these tough times.
“RREIN provides the structure and the venue for this network of leading brokers whose common denominator is an information system for consumers as well as interaction and sharing of best practices for our members,” says Featherston. “Through RREIN’s powerful technology and information tools, but more importantly through the incomparable mindshare of RREIN’s members, these rainmakers will continue to succeed and lead our industry and the consumers we serve far into the future.”
For more information on RREIN, contact email@example.com.
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