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By Stephanie Andre

RISMEDIA, July 23, 2007—Who could have predicted that the merging of two independents less than six years ago would amount to what we now know as Columbus, Ohio-based Real Living? From the minute you walk through the door, say many Real Living brokers, you feel an instant connection and feeling of family and warmth—something company execs were shooting for when they first developed the company’s culture and branding.

“If you walked in the front door, one of the first things you’d see is a lava lamp,” laughs Kaira Sturdivant Rouda, Real Living’s president. “It’s not your average office.”

Here, Rouda and Vice President of New Market Development Chris Svec discuss how they’ve grown the company so quickly, the importance of a fully integrated marketing solution, and why it always goes back to family.

Real Estate magazine: Real Living is still new to the real estate industry, relatively speaking. Can you talk about how you’ve been able to franchise into 20 states in such a short amount of time?

Kaira Sturdivant Rouda: It goes back to six years ago. We had to make a decision to either sell HER Realtors to a consolidator or pair it with Realty One and go with it. After making the decision to merge the two, we spent the first year getting our cultures aligned. There was so much shared knowledge, but at the same time, we knew we needed to create a new brand on top of that—a new consumer-facing brand. That’s also when broadband began getting more popular so that played a big part in our online initiatives. We also knew we wanted to reach out to women; they were underserved in the real estate offerings. We wanted to be able to reach them without women being considered a niche market.

RE: What are Real Living’s keys to franchising success?

Chris Svec: It’s really our fully integrated offering from a marketing and technology perspective. Subsequently, we break it down to several factors—branding, a unique and fresh take and growing within their marketplace. Also, the technology platform itself is agent centric. We are the first company to really build an Internet platform for agents to drive consumers to. Also, our intranet is fully integrated with the MLSs in our markets. That’s been a huge piece for our brokers.

RE: Why do you think brokers are so eager to open a Real Living franchise?

KSR: The fully integrated marketing solution plays a big part. Our differentiator is that every broker and agent is all tied into our national site. From the consumer-facing side to the back end, our agents can service their customers completely. We truly have a state-of-the-art consumer portal—My Real Living 2.0. It ties it all together.

CS: It’s our turnkey solution. Brokers can join and on day one, they are competing with the top people in their market. They don’t have to hire a Webmaster, or e-mail and spam filter providers. They can just go to the marketing tab on our business center.

RE: Do you think Real Living’s business model has helped its rapid growth?

KSR: Internally, we’ve always been about great values and foundation—family, innovation and results. It speaks more to how we want consumers to see us as professionals. How do you make valued service more valuable? You best present that through marketing and technology platforms. It’s not about tactics or lead generation. It’s deeper and richer than that. It’s about building a real relationship with your customers, which in turn will bring you a value proposition. It’s about being real.

RE: How much of a role have Real Living’s consumer-centric Web initiatives helped in creating and growing your franchise?

KSR: Everyday, the real estate industry realizes that consumers are in charge. Given that, we’re well positioned because we’re thinking about how consumers think, not how the industry thinks.

RE: What steps will you take to continue this rapid franchise growth?

CS: It has to do with setting up offices and markets, but it takes a lot of hard work. We have to spread the word by talking to people. We know that once we have an opportunity to have them come to Columbus they will understand us.

KSR: Our office is different from others. We work hard, and we love to have fun. Tone is set. People can read that and understand it when they walk in the door.