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In honor of our Power Broker issue, we had managing editor Paige Tepping interview Power Brokers and RREIN members David Romero from Century 21 Award and Barbara Grande from Coldwell Banker First Realty to gain their perspectives on how business fared in 2011 and what it will take to succeed in 2012.

David Romero, President & CEO, Century 21 Award, San Diego, Calif.
Barbara Grande, Managing Broker, Coldwell Banker First Realty, Fargo, N.D.

Paige Tepping: Looking back on 2011, how did you manage to sustain business?

David Romero: By looking at how to be efficient as a company and making tough decisions. Not only did we close branches that didn’t make sense, but it was important to not be attached to any of the old ways of doing things and, instead, focus on what we had to do to make it. Because we were able to make these tough decisions when it came to our staff and locations, we are still in business today. In order to sustain business, we had to think about the health of the entire organization and embrace change.

Barbara Grande: One difference in our market is that we now have a strong economy in North Dakota; we weren’t really affected like other areas across the country. In addition, we are dealing with a small percent of short sales and foreclosures. We found that because of the federal tax credit, we didn’t have a lot of first-time homebuyers, which has been hurting us. The credit caused many of them to have bought sooner than they would have in order to take advantage of the tax, so that took them out of the market for the past year, so we have had to wait for the market to right itself. With the arrival of 2012, we are starting to see first-time buyers come back. First-time buyers are out there, they aren’t working with anyone, they’re feeling more comfortable about the economy, and they are ready to buy. In order to reach out to them, we made sure we got our website updated in 2011, and our commitment to RREIN has been huge in reaching out to them as well. Through RREIN, our consumers have access to information on our website, and our agents have access to the information as well, so the agents are learning too. We also have our mobile site through Mobile RE, text riders, and we’re starting to use QR codes more. We’re trying to be as mobile as the first-time homebuyer is.

PT: How has your company and your associates adjusted for your particular market conditions?

BG: We noticed back in 2011 that we were overstaffed, so we had to cut back on our staff in order to adjust to our market conditions. Back in the heyday, between 2004-2006 when we were all so busy, we had gained staff, and we failed to correct this as the market went down a bit.

DR: It’s been a long five years during which only the strong have survived, and the result is an increased professionalism within the industry that was much needed. We’ve been persevering by being nimble about what we need to do to be successful. To that end, we are constantly learning and utilizing new technology in order to be more efficient. Real estate has been and always will be about creating and maintaining relationships, and there are many more ways to do that today with social media. We are always focused on how we can be relevant each and every day, and this has helped us improve our sales force and deliver better service today than we’ve ever been able to deliver.

PT: Where have you invested and where have you cut back?

BG: In 2011, we actually increased our marketing and advertising budget by a couple percent and we are sustaining that going into 2012. I feel that this has made a key difference in increasing our marketshare. We also took advantage of billboards, put together a huge radio campaign and even did some TV advertising, which I have never been a big proponent of. But it was with a local station at the right time of day and it has had a huge, very positive impact.

DR: Technology is one of the main areas that we continue to invest in and there are three goals when it comes to our technology investment. 1. Make agents more productive; 2. Make them more efficient at what they do; 3. Widespread implementation; get people to actually use the technology.

Everything we do has to fit within these three goals. Our full-time social media director is a key player in helping to get the widespread implementation that we’re looking for. Within our company, we have “digital natives”—new, up-and-coming agents that didn’t have to learn technology because they grew up with it—and “digital immigrants”—technology is a second language that they had to learn. We have to make sure we are serving both of these groups.

As far as cutting back, we have consolidated offices. Our offices are now high-tech, very nice places for our customers to come, which enables us to provide a higher level of customer experience. All of our offices have the same look and feel, same set up, so that each of our customers are provided the same experience.

PT: Moving forward, what’s your approach to growing the firm?

DR: There are a lot of opportunities to grow in this environment, and we are talking to a good half-dozen companies that may want to join us and roll in and work together. We aren’t looking at new start-ups, but if there are companies that want to join us and come up with a win-win solution, we’re open to that.

BG: Recruit, recruit, recruit. In order to do that, we need to have systems in place. Career seminars have been the most successful recruitment technique since no one else in our market is doing them. If I have a recruitment seminar once a month, I will capture anywhere from 4-10 people at that one time. I can then recruit 1-2 agents a month just from these career seminars. I also take the time to talk to agents and I even have my agents recommend people to me. Another thing we’re looking at doing, but haven’t made a commitment to yet, is getting involved in the investor side of the market. This is something we are looking at in 2012, as I feel this is a niche that we are missing.

PT: How do you think the overall real estate market will fare in 2012?

BG: It’s anybody’s guess, especially during an election year. However, I don’t think the real estate market will go crazy. I do think it will get better, but it will get better slowly with some speed bumps along the way.

DR: I think we’ll see a slight increase (2-5 percent) in the number of units, and an increase between 1-3 percent in prices. The worst case scenario is that we are stable in both areas, which will still be a win after five years of the numbers in these areas being down. However, I predict there will be a small bump in both categories.