The Greek philosopher Aristotle once said, “Pleasure in the job puts perfection in the work.” That pretty much explains the outlook—and success—of RE/MAX Gateway’s Scott MacDonald, who launched the Northern Virginia brokerage in 2001 with equal parts gusto and drive. “I loved the business, but I had little patience with the buttoned-down, corporate milieu,” MacDonald says. “My plan was to build a brokerage based on entrepreneurial spirit, maximum agent support, and a fun, friendly office culture.” The mix provided the right answer, because the company, helmed by MacDonald and two team-leader partners, has become the third-largest RE/MAX agency in the Central Atlantic Region, and has earned a position as the real estate company you can trust in four Northern Virginia counties.
Now, as the firm enters its 15th year, MacDonald has announced a major change, becoming sole owner and chief inspiration officer of the company dear to his heart. In this exclusive interview, he shares his strategies for taking the business forward, and his confidence that RE/MAX Gateway is poised for its next phase of growth.
Barbara Pronin: Earlier this year, you made the announcement that you have acquired full ownership of the company. What prompted this decision and how is it working so far?
Scott MacDonald: My long-time partners, Brett Billington and Jason Smith, have been major forces in making RE/MAX Gateway the success it is today—particularly as savvy and strategic leaders of our most successful real estate sales teams. When Brett and Jason decided they wanted to focus full-time on client service and leading their teams, it felt like the right time to buy them out and take on the role of sole owner. It’s been a great run, and I will miss them as partners, but they’ve been great in helping to make the transition, which has so far been very smooth and well-received by the agents. I hope to build on the opportunity to embark on some new growth initiatives in the future.
BP: How would you characterize your company’s positioning in your marketplace?
SM: We are, as you pointed out, the third-largest RE/MAX agency in the Central Atlantic Region in terms of sales volume and number of transactions. We have five offices and more than 180 agents serving buyers and sellers in the major market areas of Alexandria, Arlington, Chantilly, Loudoun, Gainesville and Lorton. We’re a full-service company offering residential and commercial properties, as well as property management services, and our e-Concierge service partners provide mortgages, home inspection and home warranty services, and more. Whatever a homeowner needs, we are a great resource for seeing that they get the best.
BP: What would you say is your competitive differentiation in the marketplaces you serve?
SM: To begin with, we have a respected brand that people know they can rely on, with a global presence in more than 90 countries. But also, our agents have earned a reputation for being professional, well-trained, and well-prepared, with superior knowledge of the local market and a deep commitment to doing the best job possible for every client. They prove that time and time again, and it results in customer loyalty and referrals, which is why we have continued to grow.
BP: Success can be a matter of evolving over time as the industry and environment change. How do you ensure that RE/MAX Gateway evolves as the times dictate—and that your agents are always prepared?
SM: By staying closely in tune with industry trends and how they may apply to our markets—and by bringing a lot of real-world knowledge and experience back from the national conferences I attend. There’s nothing I like more than masterminding with industry leaders—especially other RE/MAX leaders, who are among the most innovative in the business—and bringing all that great information and innovation back here to our agents.
BP: How would you describe your current market conditions? What are buyers and sellers concerned with?
SM: The local job market is picking up steam, and prices have pretty much stabilized, so we are experiencing some pent-up demand. And unlike some other areas of the country, we are not having to deal with tight inventory. In fact, our local inventory is at a seven-year high as we speak, and homes that are fairly priced and in good condition are selling quickly—some in as little as two weeks. But many of the homes that are on the market are not in the best shape, and buyers have so much inventory to choose from right now that they have become increasingly discriminating. We’ve also been having some appraisal issues, which can be frustrating for sellers who expect a quick sale on a house in as-is condition.
BP: How are your agents meeting these diverse consumer expectations?
SM: By working individually with sellers to help them understand what’s happening in this highly competitive marketplace. We hit the data points, show them statistics and blog about the current market. We do everything we can to help them realize what they need to do to sell their homes. Good communication and customized service are key with both buyers and sellers.
BP: What does the company do in terms of training to keep the salesforce equipped to succeed?
SM: We’ve always been training-focused because we want to be certain our agents are the most knowledgeable in the industry. At the moment, we are gearing up for the new TRID laws. We schedule a weekly session in every office to get everyone up to speed, and we make sure we get applicable input, whether from the lender and title perspective or from another facet of the business. In terms of agent development, we are proud of our Broker Success Kit, which is geared specifically toward the kind of business planning that builds and encourages success. We never really stop learning, because while we have a lot of fun in the office, we are big on sharing and mentoring, and we take advantage of every opportunity to make a particular situation a learning moment for everyone.
BP: How are you retaining your top producers?
SM: Our company culture is such that nobody wants to go elsewhere. We have a positive, upbeat vibe going for us, and every agent brings something of value to the table. We also take every opportunity to recognize and celebrate achievement. The fact is, when you’re glad to come to work each day, nobody thinks about leaving.
BP: How is your technology evolving to meet changing demands?
SM: We’ve been paperless and mobile-optimized for years, so being in the brick and mortar is less and less important. And we’re always on the lookout for new ways to make life easier for ourselves and our customers. We’re big on video emails and virtual home tours and we recently added FAA-approved drone videos—that is, helicopter views that show every detail of every home in every neighborhood.
BP: What about marketing and promotional strategies? What do you believe are your best strategies for attracting and informing consumers?
SM: We still do some direct mail and, as I mentioned, video emails. And we have a great presence on social media. But we rely a great deal on word of mouth, because a happy customer is the best recommendation. We also have a fairly high profile in the communities we serve because of all our charitable efforts. We sponsor golf tournaments, a 10K run, a breakfast with Santa, and other special events that raise funds for children’s healthcare. We are big supporters of Smashing Walnuts—an organization devoted to cracking the cure for children’s brain cancer—and I recently climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro in support of the Children’s Miracle Network and The Last Well.
BP: What, in your opinion, do agents today need to do in order to succeed in this business?
SM: Growing your database is very important, but in itself, it’s not enough. Real estate is a people business—always has been and always will be. It’s so important to pick up the phone, stay in touch, let people know you are thinking of them. If you love the business, stay relaxed and curious, and follow through with every customer and people will naturally be drawn to you. It’s also important to have a little fun in your life. It’s what keeps you upbeat and refreshed.
BP: And finally, Scott, as you take the reins as sole owner of RE/MAX Gateway, what are your plans going forward?
SM: Some people might say they are going to Disneyland. I climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro. Then it was back to business, and we have a pretty aggressive growth plan in mind. We’re fortunate to have a great team in place, and excellent leadership throughout the company, so we are looking to grow both organically and by recruiting the right people. We are also open to mergers and acquisitions that align with our philosophy and culture. Positive energy goes a long way—and we’ve got a lot of that.
For more information, please visit www.gateway2realestate.com.