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merle_whiteheadThere was big news coming out of Upstate New York this summer when Merle L. Whitehead, chairman of RealtyUSA Broker Services, Inc., announced that he had sold the company to Pennsylvania giant Howard Hanna Real Estate Services, merging to create one of the largest real estate companies in the U.S.

“When you look at mergers in the past, to the best of my knowledge, this is the biggest family-owned business buying another family-owned business,” Whitehead says. “Together, we sold 89,737 houses and did $16.2 billion in volume. Eventually, we will transition the name to Hanna, but we have top-of-mind awareness and great name recognition in some areas, and we want to be strategic as we do it.”

With 65 offices covering Western, Central and Northern New York and the Capital Region, RealtyUSA is ranked the largest in the state. Howard Hanna Real Estate Services (under chairman Howard W. “Hoddy” Hanna, III) is the top brokerage in Pennsylvania and Ohio, with a total of 205 office locations in Pennsylvania, Ohio, New York, Virginia, Michigan, West Virginia, North Carolina and Maryland.

The deal came about when Hanna planned on opening a couple of new offices in Buffalo, and even though RealtyUSA had a 28 percent marketshare—compared to just 4 percent for Hanna—it got Whitehead thinking.

“I’ve been doing this for 45 years, and if it was 10 years ago, I probably would have bumped heads, but I decided to call Hoddy—who I have known for years—and asked, ‘Does it make sense for us to talk?’ We started talking in January and closed in June,” he says.

The merge fills the Upstate map for RealtyUSA, as although they were No. 1 in markets like Syracuse and Binghamton, Howard Hanna was the leader in Rochester.

Whitehead is remaining with the firm, taking the title of chairman of Upstate New York.

As part of the transaction, Howard Hanna is acquiring RealtyUSA’s mortgage banking property, which puts it in the mortgage banking business in New York for the first time.

The two companies are also sharing philosophies and programs. For instance, Howard Hanna offered a money-back guarantee for buyers, which is now part of RealtyUSA’s promise, and the consolidation is happening across the board with things like web design, offices and agents.

“My agents were ecstatic that our company was sold to another family-owned company with good core values,” he says. “Our agents have bought into their personalities, and we feel like everything we had, we got to keep, in addition to getting some new, exciting stuff.”

The combined company plans to continue expansion in Buffalo and look into growing in Syracuse and Albany next.

“Over the last 20 years, all our growth has been through acquisitions, and it’s something I enjoy and will continue working on,” Whitehead says. “We plan on continuing to grow through mergers and acquisitions and recruiting more agents.”

Vitals: RealtyUSA
Years in Business:
Size: 65 offices, 2,147 agents
Regions Served: All of Upstate New York, including Western New York, Central New York, Northern New York, Capital Region, Southern Tier
2015 Sales Volume: $3.56 billion
2015 Transactions: 20,023

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