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RISMEDIA, January 22, 2011—Staying ahead of the pack is crucial for real estate professionals, especially as we continue to work our way through today’s volatile market. Here, Budge Huskey, president and chief operations officer, Coldwell Banker Real Estate discusses why it’s important for real estate professionals to take the time now to position themselves for the market’s return.

Budge Huskey
President and Chief Operations Officer
Coldwell Banker Real Estate

At the beginning of the 1990s, when commercial and residential developers were in free fall from the savings-and-loan crisis and the top seller of real estate was the RTC (Resolution Trust Corp.), a bumper sticker began appearing, which read, “God, please give us just one more real estate boom. I promise not to throw it all away this time!”

Certainly a similar sentiment is shared among owners of brokerage companies today, yet will our industry truly learn collective lessons that won’t be forgotten when the office sales board is full again?

Across the country in these last years, real estate companies chose to either ignore the realities of the market (awaiting the next boom) or aggressively scale their operations to ensure survival and protect their most important people and value propositions.

Unquestionably, all real estate boats rise and fall with the housing cycles we know so well, but history shows us the position of each boat is subject to great change. Think back to the share ranking of real estate brands, brokerage companies and individual agents in any marketplace at the beginning of a past housing correction; then consider how often those rankings shifted two years into recovery along with the broker community’s perception of the competition. Undoubtedly, each cycle creates its list of winners and losers.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, clearly a very successful businessman, recently did a lengthy interview with CBS News in which he spoke in-depth about his optimism for our country. He pointed out that in every recessionary period, industry is re-defined as new ideas emerge, leading to a revamped economic climate. And those who are prepared have the greatest opportunity to ride the rebound wave.

All have faced the limitations of a shrinking market at the end of this decade, yet some have used this time of challenge to retool their businesses and people to position for momentum with the market’s return. Have you? Going forward, will your boat rise more slowly than others due to leaks in an aging structure, or have you redesigned your boat with a sleeker hull and more efficient engine in order to propel out of the water ahead of all others?

Imagine if those in your company were asked about how it’s changed since the steroid years? Would they speak only to the reduced branch office count and loss of the black-tie holiday dinners, or would they talk about a new company vision and the energy of working in a more professional and team-oriented culture? Above all, would they at least be able to say the company is different?

Now is the time to question legacy practices and create fundamental change in our industry and individual businesses. Now is the time to rethink our selection and hiring process, increase expectations and accountability, introduce standards for association and service, integrate systems and transparency, and build a new partnership with agents based upon interdependence where the customer truly does come first.

Recently, the leadership team of Coldwell Banker came together for three days of intensive strategic planning. Laptops were closed. BlackBerrys and iPhones were shut down. We were all in. From this brainstorming session, the real work now begins of translating ideas into action to ensure the future growth of all those we serve as a national franchise. This is not just another exercise for another year, but a time for reinvention.

Of course, devoting time to strategic planning is always a worthy investment, though of equal importance is working on the very mindset of any organization and its people. Are those responsible for the success of the organization entering 2011 with a siege mentality, merely protecting their flanks from further attacks, or are they eager to climb out of the foxhole to storm the hill?

As we navigate this period of recovery, will your business emerge by default or by design? What will be your lessons learned? Or to put it another way, what will your bumper sticker say?