From catering to millennial culture to building a mega office that people actually want to spend time in, Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Ambassador Real Estate is on the cutting edge of a shifting real estate industry. With a focus on coaching and culture, the Nebraska-based company is embracing change across the board. In the following interview, company President Vince Leisey talks about the importance of fostering innovation while still remaining true to your roots.
Zoe Eisenberg: How did you come to lead BHHS Ambassador Real Estate?
Vince Leisey: I was born into this business. My mother was in real estate, and she started Ambassador Real Estate when I was in college. After college, I started working as a salesperson; in the ’90s, I began buying into the company and we moved forward from there. My mother passed away in 2001 and I took over the company, and then began growing it. We went from 100 agents to today’s count of over 400 agents. In 2003, we had 8.5 percent marketshare, and as of October 2014, we had 23 percent in the Omaha office.
ZE: That’s an impressive jump. To what would you credit that growth?
VL: We do everything 100 percent through organic growth. We have no mergers or acquisitions—it’s one agent at a time coming over. Coaching and culture are the two primary things we focus on. We believe that if we can coach and train and teach our agents, they’re going to grow their business and be successful. We also believe if we create a culture where people actually want to work, we will continue to attract younger agents and top producers. Activity breeds activity. That’s the core of who we are—a company built on coaching and culture.
ZE: How many offices and agents do you currently have and what regions does your firm serve?
VL: We have over 400 agents in two offices, located in Omaha and Lincoln, Nebraska. Omaha is our large office that houses almost all of our agents, and we have 25-30 agents at our Lincoln location.
ZE: What made you decide to affiliate with Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices?
VL: We made the decision to switch to Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices about one-and-a-half years ago. The name recognition the brand provides is incredible, and when you marry their name with our company benefits, you can’t lose. We believe long term, Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices is committed to growing this network. We see the additional exposure nationally to be good for us locally.
ZE: How would you describe your firm’s positioning in the marketplace? What sets your firm apart from the competition?
VL: We service the entire metro area, but do a lot of business in the suburbs and upper end. We have a lot of momentum with our constant growth. We embrace change more than our competition. We are team oriented and cutting edge. I want a positive, energetic culture where people are walking around with a positive attitude, which is why we focus on the mega office. It really allows us to create the culture that we want in our organization. We focus the majority of our energy on helping to develop our agents.
ZE: Tell me more about this mega office. How is it helping you create a unique culture?
VL: We’re unique because of our Omaha office building, which I built a little less than nine years ago. Our general concept is mega office over multi office. Of course, one of the flaws of this idea is that there are some areas where we can’t get agents because we don’t have an office in that location, but we’re strategically placed in the city, and this concept allows us to control our finances better—and it allows us to control our culture better.
We’re also building a new office, a few miles west. The new space is in a 79,000-square-foot building. The piece of land it’s on backs up to a treeline, and there will be a bar area and kitchen area with balconies overlooking that treeline. These areas are being built with the idea that people will use them to collaborate and mastermind. It will stimulate creative growth.
There will also be underground parking and a fitness facility, and we’re in collaboration with the restaurant next door to the building, Pitch. They are creating an outdoor area and rooftop bar between our buildings where they will be serving food and drink. This will help to stimulate our young, fun culture.
ZE: How would you describe current market conditions in your area?
VL: The last couple years have been good years in Omaha. There has been some pent-up demand over the last few years, but over the next 12-18 months, I think prices will become stable. I see unit sales down 10 percent over the next 12-18 months. Plus, this decrease is coming off of two great years. We’re never gonna be sexy sexy here, but we’re not nose-diving either. I’m okay with stable.
ZE: What has been your approach to growth in recent years, and how has that changed now that the market is stabilizing?
VL: We don’t actively recruit. Our approach is to develop and retain the agents that we have, help build their business and create an environment people are excited about. I want to add 100-150 agents, but we don’t think that’s going to be hard. Soon we will have the coolest location and building in the marketplace. We believe momentum builds on itself.
ZE: How has your company evolved over the years and survived the challenges of the downturn?
VL: I think when the market is soft, that’s when the client really looks at who the best company is, because they want to be represented by the best. We’ve actually grown through the downturn. I don’t look at what we’re doing compared to what we did last year. The benchmark is “are we out-performing the market?” Because I can’t control the housing market, but I can control what we do. With this mindset, we will get a bigger piece of the pie in up and down markets.
ZE: How are you serving the needs of today’s more informed, more tech-savvy consumer?
VL: One of the disconnects that we have in the real estate industry as we continue to move forward is that 7 percent of the industry is 35 years old or younger, according to NAR, yet approximately 30 percent of units being bought were by millennials. So we focus a lot on recruiting younger agents to rethink what the industry will look like moving forward.
To combat this, in conjunction with Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices, we put together a group called the Rethink Counsel. It’s a group of 10 agents across the country, aged 35 or younger, who are top producers. This mastermind group helps us think about how we can communicate with these younger clients. By 2017, 50 percent of units sold in the marketplace will be to millennials. Our future client is the millennial, and we need to understand them. Millennials are changing the world; the level of customer service we have to give is greater than ever before. The expectation for customer service is higher than ever before, because this generation grew up with innovation and they don’t have patience. They live in a NOW society. They don’t want to wait around. So our real focus is: Who is the consumer of tomorrow? How do we meet their expectations and how do we serve them? How can we best communicate with them?
ZE: In your opinion, what is most critical to your firm’s success path forward?
VL: We’re living in a world constantly changing; millennials grew up in change and expect change. We want to be an organization that continues to embrace change as the world changes, but we also want to stay true to our roots: relationship building. Social media and tech and innovation, they’re important, but they’re nothing more than a vehicle for building relationships. We will continue to focus on culture and coaching. If we help our agents grow, we will continue to grow. But we have to continue to embrace change.
ZE: What’s in store for the future of BHHS Ambassador Real Estate?
VL: More of the same. We don’t want to get crazy, we just want to continue to be open minded, to embrace things that are working for others, and keep an environment and culture people are excited to come to. Our agents are our clients. We need to provide them with superior customer service.
For more information, visit www.bhhsamb.com.