By Stephanie Andre
Differentiation is a big issue in today’s real estate reality. The past 12-18 months have proven to be quite challenging for many, so there’s good reason to find something-a marketing plan, a consumer incentive, a trusted service provider-that will help brokers and their agents stand out among the crowd.
To that end, HSA Home Warranty has taken its place in the real estate landscape quite seriously, focusing its efforts on nurturing relationships with its current brokerage clients and making great strides to forge new partnerships across the country. Here, HSA Home Warranty President Mike Clear and Gary Lombardo, executive vice president of sales and marketing, talk candidly about the extent of the work that goes into forming such partnerships, the importance of solidifying those relationships and why it’s such a labor of love.
Real Estate magazine: Things have been very busy at HSA over the past year-can you talk about what’s been going on?
Mike Clear: In the last 18 months, we’ve made it our business to go after some new real estate firms. It’s been a lot of work, but definitely worth it. We are embarking on some great relationships that will continue to fuel the success of our company. However, as always, we are also very cognizant of the support our current partners provide. Without companies like Howard Hanna Real Estate, whom we’ve been with for more than 15 years, Shorewest Realtors (20 years), and Metro Brokers/GMAC out of Atlanta, we wouldn’t have the ability to reach out to those additional brokerages.
RE: To what do you attribute these long partnerships and why do you believe your new partners are jumping onboard?
MC: Generally speaking, once you’re a partner with us, you stay a partner with us. Everything we say we’ll do, we do-and that matters. We are constantly working to exceed our clients’ service expectations. Some of our newest partners-Edina Realty, Prudential Fox & Roach and Prudential Georgia (see sidebars)-now know that.
We work by the philosophy that we are the premier choice so we partner with the top companies. We are not a vendor; we are a partner. We are driven by our integrity initiative-if we can’t deliver it, we don’t say it. If we make a mistake, we make it right. Those are the attributes brokerages look for in a partner. Our clients will tell you that.
Gary Lombardo: The most important message we communicate is that there’s another level of personalized, customized service that real estate brokerages can expect from a warranty partner. That goes a long way toward fostering these relationships. What we’ve done through investments in technology and our call center operations is offer a level of customer service that most people don’t expect from a warranty partner. That, in turn, brings us longstanding relationships with our partners.
RE: How do you differentiate yourself from your competitors?
MC: One of the best differences between HSA and others in the industry is that we produce an entire marketing plan with a prospective partner-that is, someone who’s not yet a client. That, to me, measures our commitment.
GL: When we share our customized product, they’re wowed and say, ‘Why hasn’t anyone else taken this approach?’ Well, that’s because it’s a labor-intensive, expensive program to develop; it is a proprietary customer service software package.
It’s also ultimately about keeping promises at the boardroom table. We’ve realized that more than any other industry, this one is ‘local.’ We don’t pretend it’s something it’s not-that really sets us apart.
And because real estate is local, adapting that motto to our relationships is key. No two organizations are alike; that should be embraced-it’s not a bad thing.
RE: How have these new partnerships impacted your company?
MC: We have a very high renewal rate-something that we hope to keep for many years to come. It’s afforded us experience and increased exposure in the industry, overall. Our efforts show that we are willing to invest in a partnership. We’re doing business with reputable companies that have good representatives. Those are the people we want to work with.
RE: What is HSA doing to maintain its existing relationships?
MC: Our clients stay with us because we do a great job of keeping up with their unique needs. We treat every market uniquely; we offer customized products for our partners that are exclusive to their market area. We don’t come in and say, “Here’s our national product.” We have catered and customized our offerings to coincide with the current market conditions. We take the proper time to do the proper things-for example, we spend a lot of time training people in our call center, explaining to them the ‘unique’ attributes and needs of each of our clients.
RE: How do you communicate down to the agent level-oftentimes, the people who need you the most?
GL: We work with our territory managers who are required to develop relationships with agents. Again, that’s not something they’re accustomed to. Traditionally, home warranty has been sold like title and mortgage. We are not traditional.
We’ve taken communication with agents to a new level. We ask them, ‘How often would you like me to update you on our warranty product?’ ‘How often would you like to be notified about claims paid-monthly? Quarterly? Annually?’ ‘How would you like that communicated-dropped off to your office? E-mailed? Faxed? Mailed?’
What all of this does is not allow things to fester and bubble up until they reach the management level. Everything we do at a corporate level now goes to the agent themselves. After all, they are independent contractors.
Developing a relationship at the agent level is the most important part of the partnership. We work hard to help enhance the agent’s personal image with marketing materials and the communication about claims paid, for example. Even beyond the first year, we continue to notify them four and five years out about claims payment. That, in turn, can lead to a follow-up call to those clients and potential new business. And that, for agents, can pay great dividends.
RE: Why is the relationship-building so important?
MC: Relationships are critical. We invest in our relationships-that’s why we don’t like to be called a vendor. We work hard at our longstanding friendships and relationships. Our clients know that they can call my office or Gary’s office at any time. In a time of cutting costs and tightening the belt, that level of partnership is critical and necessary.
RE: How does HSA plan to continue pushing ahead?
MC: Our company is on a rapid growth path; we are gaining more market share. We are working hard to ensure that people realize that a home warranty is a “gotta have it” product-like home or auto insurance. We’re going beyond what people expect for a home warranty.
We’re also working very vigorously on some energy-efficiency initiatives for homeowners. With the economy in such a tough spot, we are delivering top products that will save consumers money and energy in the next 12 months.
GL: The beauty of our industry is that real estate companies and agencies like to replicate successes-they look to each other. We are benefiting from that; there is a buzz coming. I love that, despite the competition, this industry is still made up of independent contractors, yet they are not afraid to share their successes and thoughts.
An Exclusive Plan for an Exclusive Product
Senior Vice President,
Corporate Services, Edina Realty
Deciding to choose an exclusive provider of home warranties was easy for Henry Brandis. One look at HSA’s professionalism, product and willingness to work with his company-Edina Realty-was all he needed.
“We had spoken with them and had had several meetings, and found their willingness to accommodate the special needs of our marketing objectives just right,” says Brandis, senior vice president, corporate services, Edina Realty.
Special needs, indeed. Edina offers its clients a custom-designed program called Edina Home Services Plus, which combines home inspection with the home warranty, and includes additional coverage not included in a traditional home warranty. As part of that plan, those who elect to purchase it will have a home warranty on the home they are putting on the market-or if they’re a buyer, it could be part of the deal when purchasing a home.
“HSA was more than willing to work with us on the program and still have it be private-labeled,” says Brandis. “That was imperative for making this partnership happen.”
For Edina Realty’s agents, it gives them a specific point of distinction in the market, he says-“It shows buyers and sellers a service that is very helpful in making properties more attractive than those of the competition. With the glut of inventory nowadays, this truly helps our agents and their listings stand out.”
Offering the ‘Right Choice’
President & CEO,
Prudential Georgia Realty
For Atlanta-based Prudential Georgia Realty, the decision to sign on with HSA coincided perfectly with another milestone for the company-the launch of its own customized platform suite of services: Right Choice Home.
“We actually used HSA to launch the system,” explains Dan Forsman, the company’s president and CEO. “It’s our vision statement-the right choice. It just made sense to use that name and to launch with HSA’s help.”
The program, which includes a specialized home warranty from HSA, also includes residential appraisal, tech showcasing and a host of other features. Similar to other full-service packages, Forsman’s offering also includes a home warranty that begins during the listing period so any issues on the home can be taken care of before closing.
With HSA for only four months (at press time), Forsman’s quite pleased thus far. “The relationship has exceeded expectations-the capture, coverage and accessibility for clients has been very valuable.”
What’s more, Forsman says he’s put his trust in HSA because of the company’s commitment and focus on winning through the current real estate environment. “Their core values are in line with what we’re doing at Prudential Georgia every day, and it’s why they’re becoming the market share leader in their business.
“They know their business-it’s all they do.”
Expanding on a Good Thing
Senior Vice President of Marketing,
Prudential Fox & Roach
Prudential Fox & Roach has had a different sort of start to its exclusive relationship with HSA. Already using the exclusive provider in the company’s New Jersey offices, the corporate team decided it was time to bring HSA’s services company-wide.
“A deciding factor for us was, of course, their flexibility and willingness to work with us to provide exceptional service to us and our agents,” explains Steve Storti, Prudential Fox & Roach’s senior vice president of marketing. “We had great service experiences in New Jersey and decided to finally expand the relationship. It’s easier for us as a company-for the sake of communication and uniformity-to use one provider, and HSA was it.”
Like some of HSA’s other partners, Prudential Fox & Roach does have a customized service network. However, according to Storti, one of the biggest reasons he encourages its use is to protect his buyers and sellers.
“We try to encourage our clients to get the HSA home warranty to control issues of litigation-we use it as a risk management tool,” he explains. “This keeps home sellers and buyers out of trouble when something happens right after the transaction. It eliminates nuance problems with one simple purchase.
“We actually encourage all of our sellers to purchase an HSA home warranty as part of the listing agreement. If they commit to it, they are covered during the listing period-they are covered for free.”
What’s more, Storti’s company also encourages buyers to ask for it. “Make it part of the offer-‘We’re going to offer X for the house, but we’d like a one-year warranty included,'” he says. “Because there’s a lot of product on the market, few sellers refuse.”
Storti says the flexibility that HSA offers has helped the success of the plan. “With the HSA partnership,” Storti says, “we have the ability to ask them to do things that are over and above the typical warranty provider relationship-and that’s invaluable.”
For more information, please visit www.onlinehsa.com.