In 2000, when Matt Widdows founded the HomeSmart brand in Phoenix, Ariz., it wasn’t for any other reason than to make his own life easier as a real estate agent. Widdows had worked for other real estate companies in the Metropolitan Phoenix market and always felt like he couldn’t quite get what he needed out of those companies as an agent. So, in founding the HomeSmart brand, Widdows set out on a path to change how the real estate brokerage business was operating. Fast forward to today, and he’s innovating the real estate industry again.
A Revolutionary Brokerage Concept
Historically, real estate brokerages charged high fees to be able to provide any sort of service to agents due to the high cost of staffing and outsourced technology systems. Widdows found this structure to be flawed and committed his early days as a brokerage owner to finding a solution for agents that enabled them to pay lower fees, receive outstanding service and company-owned, proprietary technology systems that are cutting-edge, easy-to-use and integrated. Within a year, the concept had recruited 100 agents organically to the HomeSmart brand. By 2004, just three years after launching the company, HomeSmart boasted almost 1,000 agents in the Phoenix Metropolitan market. By 2005, HomeSmart had broken into the top 10 and claimed number six marketshare with more than 1,500 agents.
“I believe our initial growth came about for the same reasons I started HomeSmart in the first place; agents were looking for something that other brokerage companies just weren’t able to offer,” says Matt Widdows, founder and CEO. “From the very beginning, we’ve given agents a place to focus on their real estate businesses, with an extremely high level of service at a low cost.”
HomeSmart continued to grow rapidly, even during the recession when nearly every other real estate brokerage across the country contracted, with an astounding 4,000 agents and No. 1 marketshare in the Metropolitan Phoenix market, in both transaction sides and sales volume. As the brand grew with such amazing speed, it became clear that the systems Widdows and his team had implemented were designed for scalable growth. One such system included an internal paperless transaction management system (built and used exclusively by HomeSmart since 2008) that processes nearly 20,000 transactions each year in the Phoenix brokerage alone. By 2009, HomeSmart was completely paperless with 100 percent agent adoption in less than six months.
One of Widdows’ first innovations was the launch of HomeSmart’s Virtual Reception technology in 2001. This enables each branch office front desk to be hosted by a single reception center in the company’s headquarters office. In each HomeSmart branch office in Phoenix, guests are greeted upon entry by a live person at the main office reception center on a 50-inch LED, flat-screen television. The virtual receptionist greets the customer, can lock and unlock doors, page agents within the office, and more. Now, this same technology is being launched for HomeSmart brokerages nationwide. The launch and implementation of this reception system made HomeSmart the first brokerage in the country to do something so groundbreaking with this important office function.
“When we launched the virtual reception [Smart Reception®] in our offices, the local competition pointed to it as a negative, but we found that our own agents saw it as cutting-edge and really understood that innovations like this are what set HomeSmart apart from the competition,” says Widdows.
Service is Priority One
Service is key at HomeSmart with internal systems tracking every single touch-point. Widdows himself reviews each comment card from every transaction and from agents who leave the company (hint, very few leave). The brokerage staff at HomeSmart is so dedicated to maintaining a high level of service that emails from agents are returned in an average of 4.6 minutes and phone calls rarely even go to voicemail. The HomeSmart brokerage in Phoenix also has one of the lowest percentages of claims at below 0.10 percent, a feat unheard of with nearly 5,000 agents and 20,000 closed transactions per year. Widdows attributes this to the experience of HomeSmart’s agents, the sophisticated transaction management process and the accessibility of his brokerage staff.
“Customer service is critical and our agents and franchisees are our number-one customers,” says Widdows. “When we serve our agents and meet their needs, we’re enabling them to do the same with their clients; just ask any of our agents about our service and support.”
A New Approach to Franchising
After five years in the brokerage business, and with a booming company quickly rising to the top, Widdows began receiving inquiries from brokers across the United States about whether they, too, could launch the HomeSmart brand in various markets. Thus, HomeSmart International was born, franchising systems were created and the first franchisee came on board in 2006 in Temecula, Calif. HomeSmart International’s initial foray into franchising was broker-led, with no marketing of the brand being done outside of word-of-mouth. However, in 2010, Widdows and his team launched a dedicated franchise sales strategy, which has led to nearly 50 franchisees coming on board under the HomeSmart brand in recent years. Today, there are HomeSmart offices in 13 states and one overseas country.
“When it comes to franchising, our entire emphasis is to make it easy for brokers to be successful,” says Ashley Bowers, HomeSmart International chief operating officer.
As a franchisor, HomeSmart International has been able to duplicate the success of its Phoenix brokerage and is offering franchisees systems and technologies that are custom to the HomeSmart brand and intended to make owning a real estate brokerage turnkey and profitable.
“So many brokers in the industry see their brokerage as a business that can, at best, break even on its own without ancillary services or other revenue streams,” says Brad Clayton, HomeSmart International vice president of sales. “On the contrary, our HomeSmart system enables brokers to achieve new levels of profitability and business growth with their brokerage business alone.”
From the beginning, HomeSmart has provided an integrated and proprietary system, which requires just one single sign-on entry point and allows brokers and agents to manage their businesses efficiently to focus on profit-producing activities instead of the day-to-day minutiae.
The leadership team at Home-Smart asserts it’s the only real estate franchisor that can claim all agents under the brand offer clients the same processes and technology, using uniform back-end transaction systems that make the consumer experience positively consistent, regardless of where in the country they are located.