According to the 2014 NAR Profile of Real Estate Firms, 84 percent of real estate companies are independent, non-franchised firms; 81 percent of those have just one office with two or more agents—and few franchise brands are designed to accommodate their needs. Enter James Dwiggins, a native Californian born into a real estate family who, with business partner Tei Baishiki, and a team of experienced REALTORS®, technology experts, and marketers, is determined to change that reality.
Formerly executives with Realty World Northern California & Nevada, and experienced developers of Internet applications for brokers and agents, Dwiggins and Baishiki purchased the Northern California Realty World organization last May and finalized the funding of NextHome, Inc., their new franchise brand. The forward-looking brand, based in Pleasanton, Calif., officially launched last October, and saw their first franchisee open its newly branded office in January.
In this exclusive interview, CEO Dwiggins defines what makes NextHome a different breed of franchisor—and why the new company has been signing up eight to 10 new franchisees a month.
Barbara Pronin: James, where did your team’s vision for the NextHome model originate?
James Dwiggins: It evolved from our understanding that the real estate industry needs to change and adapt—and in our view, it’s not happening fast enough. We continue to play catch-up with companies outside our business who are innovating faster than we are. Generations X and Y now make up the majority of homebuyers. They search for real estate differently, and brokers nationwide have says that recruiting younger agents into the business is one of the biggest challenges they face. We developed the NextHome brand to be techy and modern, very consumer-centric, and driven by understanding the lifestyle of today’s mobile consumers. We partnered with a prestigious New York design firm to develop a relevant look and brand strategy. It’s a look we see as simple, clean and engaging. Even our puppy dog mascot, “Luke,” is designed to appeal to today’s consumers, who frequently purchase a first home, along with a new pet, as they grow their family. A playful cut-out of Luke accompanying our yard signs acts as the first signal of NextHome’s unique culture. Consumers already recognize that.
BP: How did you assemble your executive team?
JD: My partner, Tei Baishiki, and I have co-founded and run two previous companies over the past 15 years. Tei’s extensive engineering, technology, and operational background make him uniquely suited to serve as our chief operating officer, overseeing the creation and implementation of the new technologies and programs that give NextHome and its franchisees the edge they need to stay ahead of the competition. Charis Moreno, our vice president of sales, has an exceptional background in broker-franchisor relationships, having worked at Trulia and realtor.com®. She has a deep understanding of the ways technology can help brokers and agents become more productive and profitable. Our vice president, Imran
Poladi, is a highly accomplished and respected REALTOR® and national speaker—and Christine Dwiggins, a successful REALTOR®, NAR director, and former vice president of two national real estate firms, serves as vice president of marketing and events for NextHome, Inc. We believe our executive team has the expertise and diversity many leadership teams lack in this business. They position us to make the right decisions to take NextHome members into the future.
BP: Who are your target customers?
JD: In terms of our brokerages, they are small to medium in size, sometimes with just a few agents—although our Maui office, launched in Hawaii, has nearly 50 agents, and is a good example of how we also attract brokerages of all sizes. Our “typical” broker-franchisees are looking to be more competitive against larger offices in their markets, have the look-and-feel, and the integrated technology that attracts a more techy demographic of agents and consumers. We are providing all of those things, including proprietary, all-inclusive, user-friendly technology solutions that increase their services and, ultimately, their profit. Our franchisees know we are in tune with today’s buyers and sellers and what they want from the buy-sell experience. In most cases, brokers have been seeking us out, rather than the other way around. Most of our new franchises are coming from referrals or comments on social media made about us by new members.
BP: How can you be sure you are so in tune with what buyers and sellers want, or for that matter, what brokerages and agents are looking for?
JD: Our company was built on the premise that the status quo will ultimately cause many organizations to fail. Our goal is to identify the pain points in the industry and fix them. When our agents become the No. 1 resource in their markets for everything real estate, we will be succeeding as a company. Our Innovation Lab is a great example of how we’re putting this belief into practice. It’s a fun room and brainstorming lounge we created in our corporate headquarters in Northern California. It has accent lighting, comfy chairs, and dry-erase walls to brainstorm ideas, and we think it’s game-changing because it inspires groups of people to loosen up and think outside the box. We open the lab to groups of our agents and brokers, consumers, franchise prospects, and corporate staff—a cross-section of people dedicated to pinpointing the problem areas within real estate and finding better, more innovative solutions. We constantly ask ourselves, “What processes do we need to fix? What will make our agents and brokers more efficient? How do we make them more profitable—and how can we make consumers happier with our company and the industry?” We take the best ideas from these sessions and implement them. Relevant change occurs when everyone in your organization is involved in the process and buys into new ideas. NextHome is all about teamwork.
BP: How did your branding evolve?
JD: We wanted our franchise owners to have the freedom, affordability, independence and flexibility that comes with an identifiable brand. The name NextHome could not be more specific to what we do as a company. We chose corporate colors of orange and grey with a lot of white space—crisp designs, and fun colors and logos that say a lot about who we are to consumers seeking a real estate company to represent them. Most brokers and agents love the branding, and there is no variation from location to location. All offices have the same signage, the same conference room décor, and standardized business cards, although agents and teams have the autonomy to customize their materials with personalized and pertinent information. We believe we’ve found a good balance between national brand standards and maintaining the brokerage’s existing recognition that local consumers know and trust.
BP: What makes your technology unique?
JD: First, we’re one of the few franchise companies that have our own internal development team. Our team is thoroughly grounded in software engineering and design, especially as it relates to real estate. We built our NextHome technology to be simple, robust, all-inclusive and highly integrated, with complete end-to-end solutions, a focus on mobility, and single log-in reachable from any location. Just as important, it’s all inclusive and part of the franchisee package. There is no nickel-and-diming for optional or additional solutions. We’ve found that by doing this, usage rates go up significantly, and that means more successful agents and brokers.
BP: Were you surprised at the number of offices who were ready to join the NextHome network?
JD: We’re confident about what we’re doing, and we knew our company would resonate well within the industry—but we didn’t expect to become so popular so soon. Apart from some media exposure as we launched, we’ve done minimal advertising, yet we’re seeing enormous growth. I think brokers realize that we are implementing new ideas, and that our brand is geared toward a more progressive demographic of both agents and consumers. They can see that we are clearly focused on empowering mid- to small-sized firms, providing them with the kind of progressive products and world-class marketing they need to compete effectively. Brokers also get that we are the first affordable franchise opportunity available to them; we even allow them to try us for one year.
BP: What does all this mean for agents?
JD: Essentially, it means they have a fresh culture and a meaningful brand with which to connect with customers. They have the independence to grow their individual businesses while enjoying the advantage of progressive technology, marketing, systems and training that only a major brand can provide. NextHome is a win-win for the agent as well as for the consumer who gets an experienced and knowledgeable local agent with everything it takes at his or her fingertips for great communication and, ultimately, a seamless transaction.
BP: What does the real estate office of the future look like?
JD: Large office spaces will be a thing of the past. I have no doubt that offices of the future will be smaller in size, very high tech and completely automated, because agents are already working remotely much more than they used to. That reduces the need for dedicated desk space. Instead, agents will go online to reserve office/desk space or conference rooms for client meetings. Most existing real estate offices will be reconfigured to conform to this new model. That’s a good thing because it will make more efficient use of space and reduce both overhead and maintenance costs for the broker—perhaps even enable better commission models.
BP: What’s in store for the future of your company?
JD: We are looking at everything in our industry from a broad, new perspective, and we’re all about collaborating with our members on how to do it. We are fully attuned to the changing needs of the industry and consumers, and I think brokers realize that. It’s the reason we’ve had such a gratifying start, signing an average of eight to 10 companies a month all over the country in the beginning of operation. We’re looking forward to continued growth, but we’re working very hard to earn it, and we will continue to do so.
For more information, visit www.nexthome.com.