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We’ve come a long way since the ‘Mad Men’ days of real estate. Where are we now? Where are we headed? Here to answer these questions—and more—is Anthony Hitt, CEO of Engel & Völkers North America.

Q: So many factors have shaped the real estate industry over the past few decades. As CEO of a brand that has been successfully expanding throughout the country, how would you describe the current state and the future of real estate in the U.S.?

A: Our industry basically started with a brokerage-centric or company-centric model. Clients turned to the local real estate company to help buy or sell a home. The local real estate office (not a specific agent) serviced all the needs of the home seller and buyer. It was all about the broker.

Over time, as agents built deeper client relationships and brokerages began to compete to recruit the agents who had a book of business, we began the shift toward an “agent-centric” model. Agents began to market themselves and their “personal brands” and slowly the agents’ names became larger than their company’s brand identity. The company brands mattered less and soon enough, clients didn’t see a difference between choosing brand A or brand B or brand C. The choice became agent A, agent B or agent C. It was now all about the agent.

The desire to grow marketshare by attracting “established” agents spread to regional and national brands as well. Brands diluted themselves in order to attract agents, the result being that in one market, a brand might be the leader because they had the best agents. That same brand, in another market, could be at the bottom of the list because their agents were not the best. Today, a singular real estate brand experience no longer exists. Brands are designed to attract agents, and the agents attract clients.

The impact of technology and the increase in international sales has changed the industry once again. Clients expect more than “self-serving” agent promotion. They are smarter and are choosing savvy agents who focus on their unique needs and have the reach, resources and support only a strong brokerage and a strong international brand can provide. We are also living in a more brand-conscious world. Clients are brand-educated and love those that are well positioned. International clients also trust brands to introduce them to the right local agent who can serve their needs.

The industry is clearly at a tipping point where smart clients, brokerages and agents are all looking for something different. The answer is the “collaborative” or client-centric approach. More and more, it takes the reach and resources of the brand and brokerage, and the relationships, local market expertise and the front-line experience of the agents to succeed. When this collaborative approach is introduced the right way, with the right people, the client benefits from an exceptional brand experience that strengthens loyalty and helps build the reputation of both the brand and the agent. When the client wins, everyone wins. Bottom line, a client-centric model is really the ultimate brokerage- and agent-centric model.

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