When JW Webb sold his mortgage business 10-plus years ago, he soon found both balance and success as a real estate broker in the Spokane, Wash., area. But now, Webb is looking to leapfrog standard growth patterns and expand his firm and profitability exponentially, thanks to the unmatched business model he’s found since affiliating with HomeSmart International. Here, Webb explains why HomeSmart’s system just can’t be beat.
MP: Why did you make the transition to real estate?
JWW: I started in banking 25 years ago, and in 2001, I opened my own mortgage bank. We had grown to 76 offices in 24 states when I sold the business in 2004. I wasn’t really balanced and I wanted to recenter my life. I was at a conference in Seattle when I realized I hadn’t seen my newborn daughter awake in three months. That moment completely changed the course of my life. I sold my business about four months after that. Real estate was a natural progression—it just felt like the right direction for me.
MP: Where does your firm stand today?
JWW: I opened my first real estate office as an independent company, Professional Realty Services, in 2005. In June 2015, I franchised my company under the HomeSmart brand. I plan to open two more offices over the next six weeks (at press time) and in additional markets throughout 2016.
MP: How would you describe current market conditions?
JWW: It really varies from area to area. The Puget Sound has seen really good growth over the past 12 – 18 months. Spokane is just slightly behind Seattle. Southeastern Washington didn’t really see much of a downturn in the resale market during the recession and is still a strong market. Every market is different and unique, but the overall market is good and will be for a while.
MP: What’s the greatest opportunity for your firm right now?
JWW: The greatest opportunity for us as a company is being able to offer support at levels most agents aren’t accustomed to receiving. Most agents are in brokerages that take 30 – 50 percent and many have problems getting a hold of their brokers; they have technology they don’t really use because they don’t know how. Our strength has always been our support. Our brokers are available to our agents seven days a week. Our customer service is built around our agents, and it’s a very personal thing for me.
MP: Why did you recently make the switch to HomeSmart?
JWW: I’ve been approached by several franchises over the years, but they didn’t show me anything that brought real value to our agents for the additional cost. I had heard about HomeSmart from a couple of our agents and was really intrigued. Anyone who can come in and take 20 percent of the market is a force to be reckoned with, and that is something I have seen happen in various areas with HomeSmart. Through HomeSmart, I am able to offer my agents an end-to-end proprietary system, which includes everything they need to run their businesses, including paperless transaction management and automated marketing. The more I investigated, the more I liked what I saw and I began having conversations with Ashley Bowers (HomeSmart COO) and others on the company’s leadership team. The more we talked, the more I wanted to do business with HomeSmart. The organization and the culture they’ve built is everything I wanted in my company, but would’ve taken us years to build. By joining HomeSmart, we’ve been able to leap into the future. We stopped recruiting altogether in June so we could concentrate on our switchover, yet we still doubled our agent count in 2015 over the previous year. The marketing that HomeSmart distributes on our behalf has really made agents take notice.
MP: What’s the biggest advantage HomeSmart offers?
JWW: HomeSmart filled the void where the challenges in our business used to exist. We had decent platforms and agent tools before, but nothing like we have now. Couple that with what HomeSmart brought to the table and we’re planning for pretty aggressive growth—my goal is to reach 3,000 – 5,000 agents in the next three to four years and we will do it by being able to manage that growth with the HomeSmart platform. It would’ve been a challenge without HomeSmart, and now, I’m not even concerned about it.
MP: I understand you converted a couple hundred agents when you joined HomeSmart. How did you get such widespread buy-in?
JWW: HomeSmart has a multi-million dollar technology platform that’s hard to compete with. Their systems work seamlessly with one another. The technology platform, support platform, training and everything else that’s come with HomeSmart really resonates with our agents because it’s easy to use and useful in their businesses. Every facet of the agents’ business works seamlessly with every other facet. The level of the agent experience with HomeSmart is pretty hard to beat. A lot of firms have one or two systems down really well, but no one ever seemed to have the whole package offered with such competitive fee plans.
MP: How does HomeSmart’s Centralized Services platform help you conduct business more effectively and efficiently?
JWW: Centralized Services is absolutely amazing. Agents can access training and classes seven days a week from any of our offices and get questions answered immediately by an expert team of real estate customer-service professionals. Our projection is to triple our agent count in 2016; it would be difficult trying to train hundreds of agents in a 12-month period, but Centralized Services will make that possible year after year. With HomeSmart’s Centralized Services we are also able to partner with a team of recruiters at the corporate level who are able to help us market to and recruit target agents in our markets.
We’re also in the process of launching HomeSmart’s virtual receptionist in our new Kennewick, Wash., office and will add the rest of our HomeSmart offices this year. When someone walks into our branch offices, they’ll be greeted remotely on the big screen in our lobby by a bilingual receptionist at the HomeSmart International Corporate Office. Agents can come in and get documentation or commission checks, clients can come in and sign documents—we can even sign for overnight deliveries remotely. Virtual reception takes us into the “Jetsons” age and is a technology most people have never experienced.
MP: Do you feel being part of HomeSmart will help your recruiting and retention efforts, especially with millennials?
JWW: We’re starting to see more of an influx of younger agents join us than ever before. In the next five years, we’ll see a big shift in our industry and it will become impossible for traditional brokers to compete because they’re not going to have the whole package.
MP: What will be your main area of focus in 2016?
JWW: We were recently ranked as the fastest-growing real estate company in Washington State and No. 279 on the INC 500 list for the fastest-growing companies nationally. 2016 is going to be the biggest push we’ve ever had. It will be one of the biggest growth years for us in agent numbers—we’re looking to triple this year. There are still so many agents who don’t realize that they don’t have to give away half their commissions to get great technology and even better support. My focus for 2016 is to make sure we help as many agents as we can.
For more information, visit www.homesmartinternational.com.