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ERA Key Realty Services is a family company—“and proud of it,” says company president Bruce Taylor. “And by family company, we mean our extended family—all our agents, our staff and the communities we serve.” The 13-office firm, led by Taylor, his wife, Cheryl, his son, Jeff, and his partners, Mike Seaver and Nelson Zide, has been a fixture in the West-of-Boston area for more than 20 years, reaching into Connecticut, New Hampshire and Rhode Island with a homegrown blend of professionalism and sensitivity that has made it one of the most productive real estate companies in the Northeast region. “At ERA, when you work with one of us, you work with all of us,” Taylor says. In this exclusive feature, he shares his passion for the collaborative approach and his strategies for the company’s continued growth.

Barbara Pronin: Bruce, let’s start with a brief recap of your career path and how you came to lead ERA Key.
Bruce Taylor:
I grew up in Buffalo, but I went to college in Springfield, Mass., and got my MBA at Ohio University. I actually began my career in academia, first as an instructor at Central Missouri State, and eventually as Assistant Dean of the School of Business at Western New England College. But by then, believe it or not, I felt like I wanted to work a little harder. I wanted more of a challenge, and I became interested in real estate, especially Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs). So I went back to Buffalo and got into that. When REITs began going south, around 1980, I tried some other things, including credit card marketing, which was pretty lucrative. But then in 1987, I opened a Help-U-Sell residential real estate franchise in Milford, Mass., and I knew that’s where I wanted to be. Eventually, I went independent, and in ’93, we opened a new ERA franchise in Milford. We had 11 agents and a total of 30 listings when we opened, but it was a great beginning and we’ve never looked back—only forward.

BP: How large is the company now and how has your footprint expanded?
Today, after some 18 mergers and acquisitions over the years, we have 350 agents in 13 offices west of Boston and in Metro West and Central Massachusetts.

BP: How would you describe the firm’s positioning in the marketplace? And what sets you apart from the competition?
The ERA name is a great differentiator—especially now, with newly updated signage that is bright and fresh—a graphic reminder that the brand has been updated and renewed with new technology and new tools for our agents. In terms of positioning, we rank 6th in unit sales here in Massachusetts and 10th in volume. But we’re a pretty big company with a pretty small-town heart, and that’s another differentiator. My wife, Cheryl, is our COO, Mike Seaver is vice president of Training, and my son, Jeff, manages two of our offices. We’re truly a family company, and the family includes all of our people. We’ve outgrown our Christmas parties at home, but we still have a close, personal relationship with every one of our agents. We like to say that when you work with one of us, you work with all of us, and we all work together to serve you better. We know from experience that by pulling together and helping one another, we build a stronger community of real estate professionals—people who are committed to strengthening the communities where we practice real estate.

BP: How would you describe current market conditions in your area?
The marketplace in the first quarter overall was down four-and-a-half percent in units sold, but up six-and-a-half percent in volume. But our company was up eight percent in units sold and 33 percent in sales volume, and our average sales price was up 22 percent. In fact, I’m happy to say, we’ve been outpacing the market for at least three years. In general, there’s been a 15 percent rebound in our market prices. There is pent-up demand and a decent economy, so people here are ready and able to move. We were busy all winter. In spite of the weather, we had our best first quarter ever, and we’re looking forward to a strong spring and summer.

BP: What are the biggest challenges facing your firm and its agents today?
Probably keeping a lid on expenses now that prosperity seems to be at hand. This is the first winter we didn’t need to touch our line of credit, and it’s been nice to see enough revenue coming in. But we’ve got a good memory for what happened in each of the last several downturns, and so we’re all keeping an eye on where the money goes.

BP: And what do you see as the greatest opportunity?
I think the sales picture is wide open, assuming we have enough listings—and that’s key. To that end, we just completed a 10-week training program, both online and in-office, on the best strategies for increasing listings, and our agents are encouraged and excited. It’s a very directed approach. We each have certain commitments to meet and more forums planned so that we can share what’s working best. It’s another example of our teamwork approach, and how we work together toward the common goal.

BP: Bruce, how are you meeting the needs of today’s more informed and tech-savvy consumers?
No question, today’s buyers and sellers are the most informed and tech-savvy in the history of real estate. But ERA has always provided us with an exceptional array of platforms and tools to help us meet those needs, and over the years, we have developed our own pretty awesome tools to ensure that our agents can provide the best information and the most personalized service in the industry. In addition, we just partnered with Showcase Technologies to provide our people with a complete, state-of-the-art digital marketing solution. It is another differentiator for us. The agent takes a listing and a customized, narrated, virtual tour gets created that potential buyers can access almost instantly via an 800 line or by texting the system. Consumers can view the property on a smartphone, get full descriptions, and/or arrange to see the home faster and more expediently than ever. And the agent can download the data set and track the activity through our internal reporting software.