Most of us wake up every morning knowing what we need to do and how we’re going to get it done. But do we ever think about why we do what we do? Well, at HomeSmart International, they think about it every day. In fact, “the why” is what drives the company; it’s the reason for its creation, and the compass that guides its fast-paced growth across the country. What exactly is HomeSmart’s “why?” The success of its brokers and agents.
Founded in 2000 by Matt Widdows—a former frustrated real estate agent who developed his own systems to compete, grow and succeed—HomeSmart has grown to 13,286 agents and 123 offices nationwide with a formula that provides high-level service, support and value at the lowest possible cost to brokers and agents. The proprietary technology and end-to-end solution HomeSmart delivers at minimal cost, along with the efficiencies and profitability of a flat-fee model, has driven an increasing number of brokers across the country to join what they refer to as the “HomeSmart movement.”
“Greatness comes from setting ridiculous expectations, then finding a way to make those expectations normal and deliver on them,” says Widdows. “And sometimes you have to misbehave and go against expectations in order to improve and innovate.” This philosophy—and the ability to deliver on it—is exactly what has attracted brokers to the HomeSmart model and culture. Here, four brokers from various corners of the U.S. share their “why” for joining HomeSmart…and why they’re never looking back.
Maria Patterson: When and why did you join the HomeSmart brand?
Don Sturgeon: We were all considering leaving our previous brokerage to start our own company. Jim stumbled upon HomeSmart, and we decided this model was the future of real estate. The 11 agents who were part of our teams came with the three of us on October 14, 2013.
MP: You grew pretty quickly right out of the gate—how did you manage that?
DS: When the three of us joined forces, it sent ripples through the market. People didn’t know anything about HomeSmart, so there was a lot of buzz. Then, it was just a matter of going out and talking to agents who we thought would see the value of a fee-based model. All they knew prior was the traditional brokerage that offered high splits and high desk fees.
MP: As top-producing agents, why were you attracted to the HomeSmart model?
Mark Farrow: Our agents increased their compensation by a little over 30 percent with their first transaction. With the first deal they closed, they saw a big difference.
MP: So it’s the flat fee that’s the biggest draw?
DS: We never lead with the fees. It’s always about the level of service we provide. Agents have 24/7 access to the principal brokers, cutting-edge technology, great offices, ongoing training and continuing education, all for a low transaction fee.
MP: How do HomeSmart’s services help you and your agents become more profitable?
Jim Sparkman: The agent services offered by HomeSmart International add a layer of service that we are physically unable to provide at this large of a brokerage without increased overhead and manpower.
DS: HomeSmart’s Centralized Services provides me with an assistant who can handle a lot of time-consuming tasks, like making cold calls to agents. This was especially important when we opened a second office in Portland where agents hadn’t heard of HomeSmart.
MP: How does HomeSmart keep you ahead of the curve in terms of technology?
MF: HomeSmart is constantly working to stay ahead of technology. There is a real commitment by corporate to not get complacent.
JS: With the end-to-end technology that HomeSmart provides, we have a paperless platform unlike any of our competitors, and the ability to streamline the transaction. We also have online marketing tools built into the same platform.
MP: Overall, what makes HomeSmart a better choice than the traditional real estate model?
DS: Traditional real estate companies are stuck in a paradigm and a mindset that makes it difficult for them to make the necessary adjustments. It’s hard to turn the Titanic away from an iceberg. HomeSmart has remodeled and refurbished the traditional brokerage to operate with agility.
Maria Patterson: Tell us why you made the change to HomeSmart.
Dean deTonnancourt: Having been in the real estate industry over 28 years now, my career satisfaction comes from sharing my experience with associates, and helping them achieve unlimited levels of sales success. HomeSmart allows me to do that. It’s a franchise that provides national support along with local flexibility.
MP: How do you overcome the common perceptions about flat-fee companies?
DD: The perception of the flat-fee compensation model is “low fees, low service.” This is far from the truth, as we offer all of the services other companies offer, yet we remain dedicated to the associate retaining more of their hard-earned income. HomeSmart provides technology and marketing tools for our associates on a national level, and locally, we provide education, broker support and state-of-the-art facilities.
MP: Tell us about the support you receive in terms of technology.
DD: Our sales associates have access to their own Agent Panel, which provides tools and technology that allow them to organize their transactions, as well as market themselves to the consumer in creative ways. Fully customizable individual associate websites including consumer-focused MLS searches and tracking, video marketing pieces, as well as fully customizable marketing pieces within our Design Center, are all available to our associates.
For the broker, HomeSmart provides technology that allows us to manage all details of our operation. Our Broker Panel allows us to seamlessly track our paperless transactions and ensure proper file compliance. Most traditional brokerages utilize several systems, making it time-consuming and prone to errors since the systems in most cases are not linked to each other.
MP: How do economies of scale help you grow?
DD: The HomeSmart structure and compensation model foster organic growth. Since our associates are treated like true business professionals and retain more of their earnings, they are the voice of the company. Associates at other companies are hearing about us directly from our associates, which validates our value proposition. We find ourselves responding to inquiries almost daily.
MP: How does being part of HomeSmart allow you and your agents to be more profitable?
DD: HomeSmart created a compensation model that rivals the competition with an affordable flat-fee plan that was not previously available in our marketplace. Our associates are not paying the high commission splits that many competitors collect, allowing them to increase their retained earnings.
MP: What is it about your brokerage that helps attract and retain agents?
DD: I always say that “culture is not found in a company, it is found in people.” The key to a company’s long-term success is to attract great people and foster a sharing-based environment, ultimately providing mutual success.
Maria Patterson: You had a large, successful firm in Orange County. Why make a change?
Randy Rector: Back in 2010, we were about 700–750 strong. In order to grow to the next level without overhead killing us, we had to find a system. We had companies from around the nation coming in and pitching us products, but we had to somehow figure out how to integrate these products. We needed a system to make us more efficient without adding bodies, which in flat-fee models, is the death of the model itself.
MP: So how did you find out about HomeSmart?
RR: We were at the National Association of REALTORS® conference in Anaheim and HomeSmart also had a booth. We met Matt and the next week, he called and said he’d like to come out and talk with us. What caught my attention about HomeSmart was that they had some real high-level technology—exactly what we had tried to build in 2009. We needed to find a way to streamline our back office and make us more efficient. From a cost and compliance standpoint, you have to make sure you have oversight on agents as you grow and multiply offices. In January 2012, we went to see Matt, and we were blown away by what he created that allowed him to run 3,600 agents with no staff. We joined in October 2012.
MP: How did that change the course for your company?
RR: Being part of HomeSmart has made us more efficient, so we are able to serve our agents better. We went from 750 to 1,150 agents and ranked in RISMedia’s Power Broker Report Top 500 with the same two admins processing the transactions. And we are in compliance with the Board of Real Estate. They looked at our software and said, “This is perfect. We’ve seen every major and small brand, and none have this.”
MP: How did becoming part of HomeSmart help you attract agents?
RR: In a flat-fee model, the core of the business is recruiting. HomeSmart’s Centralized Services allows us to pay a small fee and receive a myriad of services, from email marketing to a dedicated person making 100, 200, 300 calls a week. I don’t care what brand you are; it’s really hard to grow a brokerage and wear all the hats—recruiter, motivator, trainer, compliance officer. I can take that off my plate and concentrate on my agents, because all of this is being done for me.
MP: What makes HomeSmart stand out the most?
RR: Hands down, it’s the proprietary software—no one in the nation can touch it. If you’re looking to scale your business, the tools, the ability for it all to be in one system and the support we get from HomeSmart corporate is bar none.
Maria Patterson: When did you first learn about HomeSmart?
Roger Lee: Abe and I were flipping properties, and while it was fun, it wasn’t creating a future for us. A recruiter from HomeSmart called us one day and enticed us to go to Arizona to look at the systems and technology. We definitely thought this model could work in San Diego.
HomeSmart is a well-oiled machine that lets franchisees scale up without having to accumulate more manpower.
MP: You grew your agent count really quickly that first year—what was your secret?
RL: To make it within the first year, we knew exactly how many agents we needed to have to get out of the red, and we had to do it quickly. The systems in place allowed us to focus on recruiting and building the company. We currently have 548 agents and three offices.
Abe Hamideh: It was an easy sale. Because of all the systems, marketing tools and support HomeSmart offers, we had all this firepower and agents were amazed. They had never heard about HomeSmart, and when they saw what we had, they thought it was too good to be true. But they soon realized it was the real deal.
RL: In addition to the maximum commission fee plans, we have the biggest value proposition they’ve ever seen from any other real estate company they’ve worked for.
MP: So it’s more than the flat-fee model that attracts agents…
AH: A lot of agents come to us because they’re attracted to the flat-fee model. But then they see our value proposition, and then they start telling their friends. We often get three to five agents from the same office.
RL: Besides the maximum commission, they get a fully staffed office, conference rooms to meet with clients, and broker support. They see the technology package, a full CRM, and marketing tools like YouTube videos for listings and a full-on printed listing presentation. Most agents have to shop around to get tools. We give them everything all in one shot.
MP: How does the HomeSmart system pave the way for easy growth?
AH: [At press time], we have 548 agents and 13 people on staff. We could go to 700 or 800 agents and not have the need to add another person. In less than five years, we’ve grown to be ranked in RISMedia’s Power Broker Report. The HomeSmart system enabled that.
MP: Please describe your recruiting strategy.
AH: Our own agents help us so much in that department. They’re our biggest endorsement. We’ve already hit the 100 mark on boomerang agents—agents who thought the grass was greener somewhere else and then came back to us. They become our biggest cheerleaders and recruiters.
For more information, please visit www.homesmart.com.
Maria Patterson is RISMedia’s executive editor. Email her your real estate news ideas at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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