Ron Peltier, CEO/Chairman, HomeServices of America
Editor’s Note: This is the cover story in the June issue of RISMedia’s Real Estate magazine.
What started with the simple yet ambitious mission to deliver the best possible homeownership experience to consumers in markets across America has today evolved into the nation’s second-largest full-service real estate brokerage firm, HomeServices of America. Celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2018, the Minneapolis-based company’s history is decorated with a series of momentous accomplishments, including the continuing acquisition of market-leading firms strategically located across the country, joining forces with Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc., and the now global expansion of its franchising arm, HSF Affiliates, to name just a few. But despite the inevitable challenges that come with extraordinary growth and the complexities of an unpredictable industry, HomeServices has, remarkably, stayed true to its roots and the commitment that started it all: supremely serving homeowners.
Priority One, Then and Now: The People
Arguably, the defining factor behind HomeServices’ consistent growth and rock-solid reputation over the years has been the steadfast leadership of Chairman and CEO Ron Peltier, and his relentless focus on the firm’s No. 1 priority: people.
“Our commitment to our customers and clients is to be the premier provider of homeownership services,” says Peltier. “We spend all of our time continuously improving the delivery of those services because at the end of the day, our success or failure is based on how the customer feels.”
This core belief is what has propelled HomeServices’ growth over two decades. “The focus on our people and their expertise is our secret sauce and has accounted for our acquisition appeal and market success,” says Senior Vice President and Chief Administrative Officer Dana Strandmo. “HomeServices’ culture is about serving our consumers, the agents and the risks they take every day, and the employees who support that effort.”
As HomeServices’ Chief Information Officer Alon Chaver says, “HomeServices stands for something deeply meaningful, and I think that really speaks to people. We’ve taken a strong stand on doing right by our customers. Excelling in delivering homeownership services, while being kind, ethical and compassionate, are the key ingredients to our high-quality operation.”
Excelling at serving consumers is exactly what led to HomeServices’ full-service business model, another instrumental factor in its growth and longevity over 20 years. “We’re committed to our affiliated business model of providing mortgage, title, property and casualty insurance services, and to our franchising network,” says Strandmo. “Buying a home is tough; being able to provide full service has been central to our growth.”
HomeServices’ consistent commitment to service has also positioned it as a champion for agents and consumers. “While a lot of players are focused on monetizing data and information, we keep the consumer at the forefront,” says HomeServices of America Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer Mike Warmka. “Agents and consumers are the two most essential elements of the transaction.”
Carrying Out the Mission
In order to effectively serve real estate consumers, HomeServices created a strategy to deliver a full suite of premier real estate services through top real estate firms in leading markets around the country—a plan that resulted in growing from four brands in 1998 to more than 40 brands and counting in 2018.
“We wanted to create a national footprint with great companies in different markets that ascribed to the same culture and philosophy that we did,” explains Peltier. “We want to be the company that other good companies look to in order to secure their legacy.”
One of the first companies to join HomeServices in 1999 was Arizona-based Long Realty, now with 15 offices, serving Southern Arizona. Founded in 1926, affiliating with a franchise brand was not an option for the firm, says Long Realty CEO, and HomeServices President of the Central Region, Rosey Koberlein.
“We joined HomeServices because it offered a business strategy where we could remain with our own identity, and that was critically important to us,” she explains. “And in all the years we’ve been part of HomeServices, the philosophy has stayed the same; we still get to run the company in the manner that works for Arizona, and I have the structure and foundation of this wonderful parent company.”
Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices New England Properties joined HomeServices in 2013, after searching for a partner that would understand that success in real estate is built around a trusted relationship, no matter how large the firm—even one as expansive as New England, Westchester, and New York Properties, with nearly 55 offices spanning New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island.
“Ron understands that real estate is a local business,” says the company’s President and CEO and Northeast Region President Candace Adams. “Even within the same company, you can have nuances by market that require local leadership. Houses are what we sell, but in the end, it’s about relationships, and it has to be local leadership to understand that.”
The ability to retain one’s local identity and leadership while being part of something larger has resulted in a long line of companies waiting to join the HomeServices fold.
“Ron has a waiting list of companies that want to affiliate with us,” says Strandmo. “These are businesses that care about their people, their culture and the services they provide, and they come to HomeServices because they know we’ll take good care of that going forward.”
At the end of the day, it all comes down to relationships and culture. “Everyone in the industry knows Ron, and everyone knows who HomeServices is and what we stand for,” says Warmka. “It’s no secret what we stand for as a brand and what Mr. Buffett stands for. It’s about reputation and integrity and doing the right thing.”
It All Starts at the Top
Talk to anyone at HomeServices and they will tell you that the firm’s consistent success and continued growth all starts with Peltier’s empowering and unwavering role as a leader.
“I’m a strong believer in people,” says Peltier. “I take a lot from sports—nothing good happens and you’re not going to be successful if you’re the only person making a difference. I’m a key proponent of finding great people and empowering them to do what they do best. Trying to micromanage or dictate is a recipe for failure, and, frankly, good people with real talent are going to reject that.”
“For me, personally having Ron overseeing all that I do is extremely valuable,” confirms HSF Affiliates CEO Gino Blefari. “Although Ron could dictate what we do at HSF Affiliates, he instead mentors and guides me. HomeServices provides us with incomparable resources, stability and guidance.”
Peltier’s leadership style has fostered an environment of open communication throughout HomeServices, making it a key part of the company’s value proposition. “There’s this beautiful sharing of information,” says Koberlein. “I know I can call any one of my peers, anyone within HomeServices or Ron directly. That level of support and collaboration is what makes us unique as a national company.”
At Home With Female Leadership
Peltier’s unique ability to place complete trust in his executive team and local leaders stems from his confidence in choosing the best person for the job. At HomeServices of America, this has led to a strong cadre of female leadership throughout the firm, with numbers that defy typical real estate industry statistics at the management level. HomeServices boasts more than 20 female presidents and CEOs of companies and core service leaders, and more than 100 women with a variety of C-suite and executive titles.
What’s important to note is that this impressive contingent of female leaders at HomeServices was not the result of a diversity initiative or HR mandate, but simply happened organically, thanks to an inclusionary atmosphere that recognizes talent and affords opportunity to those who deserve it.
“Ron believes in and supports all sorts of talent, male and female,” explains Adams. “He created an environment that allowed for significant growth, where many young people have been promoted and given opportunities. And there have been more and more women who have positioned themselves to grow their careers and have been able to do so here.”
“Ron has this wonderful ability of always challenging you to be better, and he empowers you to do that,” says Koberlein. “He expects and wants you to be self-motivated, and that makes you want to be better.”
Adams agrees. “Ron believes in and trusts his leadership team and, therefore, he empowers them to make decisions. He provides the basic structure for them to do so, but doesn’t micromanage.”
Mary Lee Blaylock, president, Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices California Properties, and president of the West Coast Region, HomeServices, is a self-described “organic” product of HomeServices, starting at Edina Realty when she first received her real estate license in 1993 and rising through the ranks to start HomeServices Relocation in 2004. In 2014, Peltier asked her to make yet another jump and head the California brokerage operation.
“I grew up amidst the opportunity to work for Ron,” says Blaylock. “He afforded me opportunity after opportunity when I didn’t even know I was looking for them.”
“You have to let people blossom,” Peltier explains. “If you don’t do that, you’re wasting all that talent. People have a choice, particularly talented people. We’re working hard at trying to create a great company and an environment where people can deploy their skills and talents to help us execute our vision.”
Blaylock agrees. “As an industry, real estate has been dominated by male leaders for many years,” she says. “What’s unique about Ron and HomeServices is that there was never a question about male or female—it was about who had the right business acumen, work ethic and personal ability to drive the company to the next level. He doesn’t care if you’re green, purple, male or female. He wants you to drive the company forward.”
Fortunately, Adams sees the landscape for female leadership in real estate broadening across the board.
“This industry is open for female leadership,” she explains. “Women are putting themselves out there to seize those opportunities more than they did in the past. I think they’re willing and able and a little more determined than they were in the past.”
A Beacon Through the Downturn
This open approach to leadership and communication at HomeServices helped guide the company through the housing crisis, as well, positioning it as an industry thought leader for the long-term.
“When the housing crisis hit, we didn’t suffer really egregious losses because of the financial discipline we had in place,” says Strandmo. “There were industry leaders calling Ron, and he was sharing some of the operational policies that helped us. Those people ended up being sellers down the road because of the friendship and trust that was developed.”
What’s more, HomeServices emerged from the housing crisis even stronger than before, thanks to the many invaluable lessons learned. One of those lessons, says Warmka, is that “you always have to be looking around the corner to see what’s coming. It doesn’t take much for the industry to change, but we want to be at the center of it when it does to ensure the longevity and viability of our brokers and agents, and for the long-term benefit of society and consumers.”
A History of Highlights
While surviving then thriving post-recession is certainly a monumental chapter in HomeServices’ history, there are many more to note. From acquiring some of the leading firms in the business and affiliating with the world-renowned Berkshire Hathaway, to branching into the franchise arena with HSF Affiliates, the HomeServices highlight reel is punctuated with many awe-inspiring moments.
While it’s hard to narrow down the long list of highlights, Peltier points to a few standouts, starting with the company’s ability to experience year-over-year growth throughout its 20-year history, and, of course, joining the Berkshire Hathaway family.
“Being part of Berkshire Hathaway is one of the biggest highlights in our history,” he explains. “The fact that Warren Buffett continues to encourage the growth and evolution of our business model is, to me, the ultimate compliment. Everything he stands for—honesty, integrity, value, service—are the very values that we try to project, and I believe those are the values that consumers want when dealing in the homeownership space.”
Peltier also sees the extension of the Berkshire Hathaway brand into the real estate space as a major milestone in the HomeServices of America journey. “Almost six years ago, we saw the importance of having a global brand, so we purchased the Prudential Real Estate network and received approval to use Mr. Buffett’s brand in commerce for the first time in Berkshire Hathaway history. Our entry into franchising and the use of Berkshire Hathaway as a brand was clearly a major milestone.”
Writing the Next Chapter
As HomeServices of America prepares for the next leg of its journey, it looks toward continued growth, including international expansion through HSF Affiliates, which recently announced its first global franchisee: Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Rubina Real Estate in Germany. Technology and innovation will continue to play an increasingly important role, but in a responsible, balanced way.
“We’re continuing to develop our platform so that it integrates best-in-class technology into a coherent service experience,” says Chaver. “We’re also leveraging a lot of deep learning, advanced AI and analytics to provide the right data to our consumers, agents and tech vendors so they can interoperate and cooperate better.”
As the industry becomes increasingly data-driven, HomeServices will take a leadership role in the proper usage of that data. “Right now, the most significant challenges facing the industry are issues around data and information,” explains Strandmo. “At HomeServices, we’re vigilant about adhering to procedures for handling customer information. We need to get that figured out as an industry. We need to act responsibly.”
Technology aside, what will ultimately propel HomeServices toward continued success and longevity will be an adherence to its mission and values.
“The vision and core principles continually guide me through every local approach I have,” says Blaylock. “If we really enhance and help each other from an organizational, local and individual standpoint, then there isn’t anything we can’t achieve.”
As Peltier says, “This is not a short-term play for us. There is no exit strategy. We plan on being a key player in this industry for a very long time. Our ongoing focus is to be a premier provider of homeownership services in every market we’re in. People will keep buying and selling homes, and they’re going to want it done by people who are honest and ethical. We’re up for that challenge.”
For more information, please visit www.homeservices.com.