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An interview with Peter Hunt

By Stephanie Andre

RISMEDIA, Feb. 13, 2008-So many businesses come and go over time. But why does one succeed and another fail? According to Peter Hunt, president and CEO of Hunt Real Estate Corp., over the past 15 years it’s been about “understanding the relationship between inventory and turnover.” Hunt has taken that philosophy and charged ahead with his company, now reaching three regions of the U.S. Here, Hunt discusses the rich history of his family’s company, pushing the business ahead in spite of the market, and why his company’s been able to weather so many storms over the past 90+ years.

Real Estate magazine: Despite the family ties, I understand that your start in real estate was not the easiest path. Peter Hunt: I was just out of college and I had to apply for a job like everyone else. In fact, my father gave me the name of a mutual friend to get a reference. That’s not a joke. Early on, real estate was not a glorious experience for me. After a year or so, I went back to a family friend for advice. He said, “Work hard and you will have great opportunity in front of you.” I felt pretty small after he knocked me down like that. In retrospect, I guess I needed to hear that. So, I took as many courses as I could and read every book I could. I really put the time and effort in. I also followed the training system built by Steve Brown out of Atlanta. It changed my whole sales life. It had great core content.

RE: Once you were acclimated, how did you start to build the company and mold it into what you envisioned? PH: We had about 35 agents when I started. After we implemented the very first training program, we doubled the size of our company. Early on, we took on the philosophy that we would always be looking for better ways to run the business. Even today, we continue to–at least on a quarterly or semiannual basis-introduce something new to change the momentum of the business environment.

RE: Given the market conditions, how have you been able to grow your company? PH: We’ve been able to expand from our geographical umbrella in New York because of the strength of our infrastructure. We have the best customer support center in the country. Plus, we have Hunt University where we educate our agents on everything, including advertising and e-commerce, as well as train all of our tech personnel. We’re now completing conferencing for all of our remote locations in Arizona and Florida so that everyone can participate in all of the educational opportunities we offer.

Plus, our technology allows us to track the effectiveness of our advertising, and look at the propensities of the market; we can even document when people move from one neighborhood to the next. We wrote our own software, which integrates with the inbound technology. If someone calls and then calls back three weeks later, we know what’s going on. Plus, we call with a follow-up the next day, asking, “Are our agents doing what you expect?” Also, we’ve trimmed our advertising costs way down. We know what everything costs. I could tell you what it costs for the phone to ring.

RE: At almost 100 years old, your company has weathered many storms-what’s been the secret to success? PH: In recent times-say the past 15 years-it’s really about understanding the relationship between inventory and turnover; understanding all the strategies that are available to the broker that affect turnover rates. In Phoenix, for example, a home could reasonably be on the market for a year and a half. The challenge there is to beat that number. There are obviously multiple benefits to that, like better cash flow; but it’s the best evidence you have to secure the next listing. If you believe as I do, fundamentally, all good things flow depending on how well we manage our listing inventory. The better you manage the data of your own inventory, the more you’ll have a leg up on the competition. With most companies, when the market is up, their business is up; when the market is down, their business is down. If that’s all we are then we’re better than nobody else. If that’s what we are, that doesn’t interest me.

RE: How do you stay motivated through the ups and downs of the market? PH: I love when people in this business call themselves a “quality” company. They say, “We have the best people.” Honestly, would they ever say they have bad people? Would they say “our service is lousy?”

For example, we gave a presentation recently and I asked, “How many of you think we’re number two in this market?” I told them, “OK, well I guess if that’s all we think we are then we’re going to stay at number two. We need to claim the number-one spot.” Then they got excited–and that keeps me motivated. This business is as exciting as you make it. If you make yourself a victim, it’ll be a death march.

RE: Where do you see the future of Hunt Real Estate Corp.? PH: We’re going to have a number of challenges in the years ahead. We’ve had our share of ups and downs, but we’ve been agile enough to stay in business. Profit gives you that privilege. The challenge is going to be that we have enough depth to guide a growing organization in the kinds of directions we’re going. We just need the right people in the ship. We spend time within our executive group planning and reviewing our business, making sure we have the right people in the right places. If we do, then we’ll be fine.

When we have imbalance or a gap, that’s when things get bad. The absolute, number-one for me is leadership development. I sometimes think, “How do I provide enough opportunity for the rising stars?” I’ve even hired an HR consultant to help me reshuffle our executive group.

RE: What do you think your grandfather (who founded the company) would say if he saw the company now? PH: He’d probably be screaming at me (he laughs). My grandfather used to write every single ad for this company. He was as disciplined a machine as you’ll ever see. I had him here with me for the first five years I was in real estate. He was all over me. But, he was never built to operate a company bigger than the people he could see. He was a real deal maker, a real gentleman, who was disciplined and fascinating to be around. He was brilliant. A lot is written about family businesses; to get this far is not common. And, as we continue on, the odds get slimmer and slimmer. But, he trusted me to take chances to grow. He knew we had to grow if we were going to be viable.

Stats on Hunt Real Estate Corp. Number of agents: 900+ agents in New York state 70 agents in Sarasota, Florida 33 agents in Phoenix, Arizona Number of offices: 24 offices in Upstate New York 1 joint venture in Phoenix, Arizona 3 offices in Sarasota, Florida Operating entities: Hunt Real Estate ERA Columbus ERA Hunt Commercial Real Estate Devere Capital Affiliated companies: Hunt-Vanner Insurance Agency Network Title Agency of New York The Realty Club Realty Express Fisher Homes

‘The Finest People I Know’
The Realty Alliance is “a wonderful collection of people. This group is made up of the finest people I know in this business,” says Peter Hunt. Through his affiliation with the leadership group, he says he now sees that the real estate industry is finally beginning to understand the power of the one-to-one relationship.

“The Realty Alliance offers a small-group relationship that you just can’t get anywhere else amongst your peers,” he says. “While we are competitors, there’s a way to rise above that. You say to yourself, ‘I really respect what this guy has to say, so I don’t mind sharing with him-with certain caveats’.”

Involved in some version of the group since 1980, Hunt credits the group with guiding his career and offering him, at times, a “wakeup call.”

“Both visits [by the Realty Alliance] to my office were good splashes of cold water on my face,” he explains. “You get out of the day-to-day stuff, and start thinking about the ‘what if’?”

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