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Cover Story: A New Generation Rocking Real Estate

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By Paige Tepping

There’s a new genre of brokers taking the real estate stage, and they are striking the right chords within the industry. These next generation brokers are infusing innovation and vitality into the real estate market and bringing with them a new way to look at the business. The term “next generation broker” doesn’t necessarily have to conjure the image of a young, start-up entrepreneur. Rather, being a next generation broker is a mindset—one of innovation and agility. The cost of entry into this important club is an appreciation for new business models, social media, exceptional service and the utilization of flexible, simple technology.

A brand whose DNA was built on this concept is Better Homes and Gardens® Real Estate. Led by Sherry Chris, president and CEO, Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate keeps its eyes fixed on the future of the real estate industry while being firmly grounded in delivering the value proposition, tools, technology and service to attract next generation brokers and speed them on their path to growth and success.

We are all familiar with the original class of innovative brokerages that has joined the rapidly-expanding Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate network. Some standout examples include Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate Rand Realty in New York’s Hudson Valley—one of the country’s most successful brokerages—helmed by dynamic CEO and Founder Marsha Rand. The Rand Realty organization stays true to its successful roots while continuing to innovate and grow thanks to Rand’s leadership and the vision of her talented sons, Matt Rand, managing partner, and Joseph Rand, managing partner and general counsel. They are at the forefront of thought leadership and social media in their market through strategies such as their Hudson Heartbeat blog (hudsonheartbeat.com). Their website, randrealty.com, features community data, investing resources, lifestyle resources and consumer tools that take the site beyond a brochure for their company and make it a true one-stop information and service source for today’s informed consumer.

There is also Jeff Gaffney, chairman and CEO of Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate III in Charlottesville, Va. Gaffney considers himself very fortunate to have been mentored by the late founder of the company, his father-in-law, Frank Kessler, and has enhanced that experience by bringing the next generation brokerage mindset to his business. Gaffney has taken Kessler’s vision to the next level by being a true innovator in social media and marketing thanks to his successful blog, social media, TV and radio marketing strategies under the umbrella brand “Charlottesville Insights.” Gaffney is front and center in his market as a thought leader, business leader and trusted information source to consumers who expect exceptional service before, during and after their transaction.

John Tate and Eric Post, brokers, co-owners and founders of Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate Realty Partners, have embraced the office environment of the future. Their West Linn, Oregon-based office is the perfect embodiment of a hip, modern, virtual workplace. With an open layout and communal feel, the office is designed to break down barriers between agents and clients. It’s not a home base for agents in the classical sense; rather, it is a central meeting place that enables these entrepreneurial brokers to focus on providing creative, personalized service to their clients and exceptional, collaborative support to their agents.

The latest class of brokers to join the brand and proudly fly the next generation broker standard include: Joshua Tanner, president and COO of Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate Generations out of Mobile, Ala.; and his partner, Leighton Dees, chairman and CEO of Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate Generations; and Tommy Stephenson, broker/owner of Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate Executive Partners of Augusta, Ga.

What drives these leaders? Sherry Chris sat down with the brand’s up-and-comers to get their fresh perspective on the industry, what it means to be a “next generation broker,” and how their generation will continue to rock the real estate industry.

Sherry Chris: How does the “next generation broker” mindset impact your business decisions and leadership style?
Joshua Tanner: We believe in the idea of the next generation broker so strongly that we named our brokerage Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate Generations. Social media is not a side thing for us. It’s at the center of how we promote our company as a business of professionals, but lets the community understand the personalities behind the professionals. The most important thing we stress about social media is that it does not take the place of face-to-face, personal relationships. But we don’t stop there. We make sure everything from training and talent attraction to marketing tools and transaction management software fits within the next generation mindset of Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate. We are “in the cloud,” which means our company operations are Web-based. We don’t rely on traditional, maintenance-heavy technology. Growing up with technology has taken the mystery out of it. We’re lucky because this allows us to focus our strategic thinking on other parts of our business.

Leighton Dees: A next generation broker is someone who can keep up with the next generation of homebuyers while understanding and meeting the needs of other generations. The demographics of buyers and sellers are shifting, but people are people. Marketing and lead generation are not “one size fits all” efforts. We train our agents to understand their clients and interact with them in the way that fits. This ranges from using Twitter or Facebook to doing direct mail campaigns. We use social media as a way to have a constant communication flow with consumers, even when they are not in the market to buy or sell a home. Social media is ingrained in everything we do, and we are constantly looking at new ways to keep our social media campaigns fresh to encourage potential and existing clients to continue coming back.

Tommy Stephenson: A next generation broker meets the changes in our industry by using technology and new ways of thinking to their full advantage. We don’t wear suits. We don’t sit behind big desks in big offices. We’re out there. We network. We form relationships. We are constantly learning and aren’t afraid to change our business model to rise above the competition our market demands. Social media and technology help make that possible. However, we also believe in the best practices that have made this industry great since it first started—networking, service and attention to detail.

SC: How does your business serve the needs of the next generation homebuyer?
LD: The next generation homebuyer needs information now; however, sometimes they can get overwhelmed by the amount of information available. Also, today’s consumers are not just buying a house; they are buying a community and a lifestyle. Clients need a partner to help guide them through the process. Through the tools and systems that Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate provides, we have the infrastructure in place to help clients get the right information at the right time in the process to make the right decision. Our brand gives us access to data, marketing tools and technology that help us meet the needs of our clients. Our goal is to make sure they are comfortable and knowledgeable throughout the entire process.

TS: We make our resources available through multiple portals, utilizing the technologies we adopt from Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate and our local market research. Our listings are at a homebuyer’s fingertips, and we utilize video content, live chat and QR codes for easy availability of information. Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate provides social media training to our agents to keep them aware of effective outlets and best practices. We—and our brand—are all about providing quality service to take the complexity out of the process.

SC: Why Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate?
LD: Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate is always thinking about what will make its brokers and agents successful in today’s market. Brand is a big part of that. Before launching our brokerage, I did research to get a feel for the Better Homes and Gardens brand and what it means to people. The answers included “comfort,” “home,” “strength,” “tradition” and “family.” That’s what makes this brand different—we connect with the consumer beyond the transaction. People trust this brand, and have for decades. Bringing this into real estate gives us the chance to form an emotional connection with our clients that is unique. We were also impressed by the brand’s core values: passion, authenticity, innovation, growth and excellence. We modeled our company after these same values and it has served us very well.

JT: We take talent attraction seriously, and so does Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate. We are building our team with agents who have the same philosophies about service and innovation that we do, using tools that the brand has made available to us. Right from the beginning of my affiliation with Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate, I saw how the brand values innovative tools and technologies. Every agent at our brokerage will drop what they are doing to help one of their co-workers or their clients, and that’s something special. Next generation brokers and agents realize that the profiles of homebuyers and sellers are changing and that service is king.

TS: Social media is here to stay. From video blogging to virtual chatting, we are able to create a personal experience prior to being introduced to clients. Right from the beginning of my affiliation with Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate, I saw how the brand values innovative tools and technologies. Being affiliated with the brand gives us unprecedented client attraction tools, such as PinPoint, which allow agents to target market direct mail pieces via demographic information from Meredith Corporation’s database with a goal of reaching buyers more inclined to purchase a home. The customized subscription program to Better Homes and Gardens and Traditional Home magazines is also a fantastic resource for prospecting or to use as closing gifts to keep the agent and brokerage top of mind.

SC: You’ve been successful, but you joined a brand to be more so. What are some of the reasons?
TS: One of the core reasons I joined Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate was because of the growth potential. Joining this brand gave me the chance to be on the ground floor, with unlimited growth potential in my market. The merger and acquisition value proposition and support from Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate is second to none. I truly feel that the brand is invested in my success.

JT: I agree. One other thing that is as important to the brand as it is to my company are the lead generation opportunities, including relocation. This not only helps us attract new, productive agents, but strengthens our revenue opportunity and agent productivity within our existing teams. You can’t beat that combination.

SC: What is your vision for the future of real estate?
LD: I see the agent’s role continuing to evolve. Clients have access to more information than ever before. Their needs are different, they have more wants, and the market is still challenging. Agents need to work harder to bring value to the relationship. That can mean being an expert about the community, understanding the data and how that impacts their clients’ decisions, or even being a person to help them prioritize, prepare for each step in the transaction, and take the emotion out of the process. Agents who don’t step up and provide that value will not be successful. We reinforce the importance of service every day, in everything we do.

TS: The future of real estate is in technology and new business models. Heavy reliance on “sticks and bricks” is making way for working environments that are virtual, mobile and flexible. This helps brokerages grow more efficiently, gives agents a more entrepreneurial working experience, and enables brokers to invest in other strategies to grow their business and better meet the needs of customers. In the end, the competitive nature of our business will weed out those who aren’t ready to embrace change and who don’t keep service at the center of their business.

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

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