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In the November issue of Real Estate magazine, RISMedia columnist Barbara Pronin interviews Tom Gallagher and Mike Litzner, Brokers of Record, from CENTURY 21 American Homes. Read on as they discuss how they got started, their top retention strategies and how technology serves consumers.

Barbara Pronin: Mike, how did you get started in real estate, and how did you get where you are today?
Mike Litzner: I leaned toward business all through school, and by the time I reached my 19th birthday, I was a fully licensed REALTOR®. I went to work for a small independent company on Long Island, New York. It was a really small office, only four of us on the floor, and one of them was a guy named Tom Gallagher. We hit it off, and after two years or so, when the owner was facing health issues, Tom and I decided to pool our resources and buy the business. We’ve been partners ever since.

We eventually developed a nice footprint in Nassau, Suffolk and Queens Counties, New York, and we found we were being recruited by several major real estate franchises. In 1996, we became CENTURY 21 American Homes, and we think that’s a name that suits us well because American homes are what we’re all about.

BP: How would you currently describe the company?
ML: We are the top CENTURY 21 office in the state of New York and 17th in the country, with 10 local offices and more than 400 agents serving three counties and even parts of Brooklyn. In 2010, we were awarded the 2100 Cup by CENTURY 21, the equivalent of Franchise of the Year.

BP: How has the company kept up with the changing demands of the marketplace?
ML: Tom and I were never afraid to try new things, and that has never changed. We’ve always been quick to assess where the market is going, quick to adapt to new technologies and applications, and quick to learn from the mistakes we’ve made along the way. Being flexible and forward-looking is what helps you to evolve as a company.

BP: What makes your firm different from its competitors?
ML: Our understanding of the markets we serve is definitely a differentiator. We have been here for more than 30 years, so we know each neighborhood intimately. Whether it’s commercial or residential property, beach-close family homes or starter condos, our customers know they can count on us for the best information. Our technology is second to none. The information at our fingertips is up-to-the-minute and our systems are designed to make every transaction more efficient. Every one of our agents is equally dedicated to high-touch service.

BP: What are today’s real estate consumers most concerned with?
ML: There is a lot of underlying concern about whether they are buying or selling at the right time and whether their properties are apt to lose value. But the fact is, our market here has not been as devastated as some other regions have been. Our sales volume is up, we’re beginning to burn up inventory, and that is helping to firm up prices. Buyers are definitely more upbeat these days…cautious, but also ready to jump back into the market with more confidence than we’ve seen in a while.

BP: How do you retain top agents?
ML: We provide lots of training at every level. Our managers and support staff are responsive and available to help solve problems. Our goal as a company is to knock down obstacles for our sales associates and clear the way for their achievement. Our Achiever’s Club, our company picnics and parties, and our day-to-day office culture are all things that build rapport, keep new ideas flowing and keep our associates motivated.

BP: What role has technology played in serving consumers?
ML: Between 2000 and 2005, we made a huge investment and a huge commitment to being industry leaders in technology, so that when consumers began migrating online for information, we had already laid the foundation. Today, we have a suite of 14 websites, which makes us a No. 1 source for information both for our agents and our customers. We have a big presence on Facebook and all social media sites, with more than 600 followers on our company page alone, and an internal tech team that maintains, innovates and upgrades our systems to keep us on the cutting edge.

BP: What are your plans for continuing to grow the company?
ML: Over the years, Tom and I have been fairly aggressive about mergers and acquisitions. We’ve rolled in five or six companies over the last three years as opportunities came about. We continue to be open to those opportunities but, at the moment, we are focused on internal growth through recruiting and training good sales associates and managers. As the market begins to cycle yet again, and new challenges surface, we are committed to being part of the solution, and that’s where we want to put our energy, experience and resources.

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