By Paige Tepping
Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices, an HSF Affiliates LLC brand, has come a long way in a short time, and the future continues to look bright as the network’s leaders prepare to grow the organization on an even larger scale. With an impressive history already in the books, one big question remains: What now? In Real Estate magazine’s August cover story, we take a look back at the progress that’s been made to date as well as a look ahead to see where Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices’ sights are set.
Looking back on the past year and everything Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices has accomplished, it’s clear to see just how big an impact the brand has had on the real estate industry since signing its first affiliate. “Our success in the market has clearly defined Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices as a viable real estate consumer brand,” says Earl Lee, CEO of Irvine, Calif.-based HSF Affiliates LLC, parent company to the Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices, Prudential Real Estate and Real Living Real Estate brokerage networks.
From its first affiliate transition— Southern California brokerage giant Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices California Properties—to the recent conversions of market leaders Utah Properties (Park City), Homesale Realty (Lancaster, Pa.), Alliance Real Estate and Select Properties (St. Louis), New Jersey Properties (Somerset) and California Realty (Thousand Oaks), the network has caught the attention of industry professionals and consumers alike.
Earlier this year, Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices was named “Real Estate Agency Brand of the Year” in the 26th annual Harris Poll EquiTrend® Study, based on consumers’ perceptions of brand familiarity, quality and more. The network in June received a Gold Stevie Award in the “Startup of the Year” category among all U.S. industries of the 12th annual American Business Awards, and a month later was named a finalist in a competition for “Most Innovative Brokerage or Franchise.”
“We’re shaking up the status quo,” says Stephen Phillips, president of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices and COO of HSF Affiliates LLC. With nearly 31,000 agents working in 907 offices across 46 states (at press time), it’s clear to see that the Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices brand has tremendous magnetic appeal.
While the right to use the Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices brand is a great privilege, it also comes with certain obligations, which Lee and Phillips don’t take lightly. They have established rigorous brand standards and have taken care to develop and introduce top-quality systems and resources.
From implementing highly effective lead-generation systems and a comprehensive technology suite, to building out the brand’s marketing and communication plans through relationships with critically acclaimed advertising firm BBDO Proximity Minneapolis and New York City-based publicity powerhouse Edelman, to launching a comprehensive social media strategy and amping up the brand’s communications and PR department, the past 12 months have been instrumental in bringing Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices to life and solidifying its position as a force to be reckoned with in the industry.
“We have made tremendous progress because of the ingrained characteristics of the Berkshire Hathaway brand,” says Lee, “which has translated very well into the real estate business.”
Momentum is also strong at HSF Affiliates’ Real Living and Prudential Real Estate networks. The former is adding franchisees at a brisk clip this year and in 2013 tallied an industry-leading customer satisfaction rating. Prudential Real Estate affiliates last year earned three J.D. Power awards for customer satisfaction and they remain local-market leaders. “Our brokerage family is thriving and the future looks bright,” Lee says.
Trust and Strength in Transition
As the Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices brand continues to take the industry by storm, for the leaders behind the charge, the past year has been nothing short of gratifying. As Lee, Phillips and others crisscrossed the country from one affiliate transition event to the next, their confidence in the brand, once based solely on their own understanding, now became rooted in the gratification and excitement they witnessed at each ribbon cutting and launch ceremony they attended. “Being able to justify our own belief in the brand through the sentiments of affiliates that convert has been extremely gratifying for everyone involved,” explains Phillips. “And being able to look affiliates in the eye and know that they did the right thing is one of the most rewarding aspects of the brand’s evolution so far,” he adds.
HSF Affiliates itself made significant transitions in the process. Lee, 69, in June announced intermediate-term retirement plans and will assume a senior-advisory role starting January 1. Gino Blefari, the visionary founder and leader of Cupertino, Calif.-based Intero Real Estate Services, joined HSF Affiliates in July and will become CEO of HSF Affiliates January 1. Blefari built Intero from scratch in 2002 to the no. 13 real estate company, according to 2013 sales volume, on RISMedia’s 2014 Power Broker list (see sidebar).
“I am thrilled to be joining the HSF Affiliates team at such an important time,” Blefari says. “Working with our terrific HSF Affiliates staff and strong network of affiliates, we will build the biggest and best real estate brand in the world.”
Taking a new brand from concept to fruition is not only a process rife with uncertainty, but also one full of strategy and change. For Lee, who joined the Prudential Real Estate organization 16-plus years ago, change has been a constant theme, especially over the last three years from the change in ownership at the entrance of Brookfield and then HomeServices and the creation of HSF Affiliates. “At times, change is very uncomfortable for a lot of people—our organization included,” says Lee, “but if you have the will and strength to persevere, you will end up in the right place. And we have ended up in the best place we could possibly be with the Berkshire Hathaway Home-Services brand.”
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