Editor’s Note: This is the cover story in the October issue of RISMedia’s Real Estate magazine. Subscribe today.
There is much discussion in the industry about the fate of the residential real estate brokerage. Traditional, commission-split brokerages are anticipated by many to be on their way out. In fact, some industry experts say the steady stream of iBuyers, virtual brokerages and other emerging models coming into the market in the last year has made that fate certain.
While many traditional brokers struggle to adapt, HomeSmart International’s high-service, high-value model—enabled by a proprietary software platform and technology toolset—continues to distinguish itself as a high-performing approach that delivers consistency and value for both agents and brokers.
This isn’t the 100-percent commission approach real estate professionals have previously discounted because of a lack of support and training. Rather, HomeSmart brokerages run on a business system where efficient operations, technology and support means more profitability for real estate businesses with less pain. HomeSmart CEO and Founder Matt Widdows started the company on the belief that real estate professionals—brokers and agents—should work smarter, not harder.
“When I was a producing real estate agent in the ’90s, I couldn’t find systems that worked for me—they didn’t exist,” says Widdows. “I had technology experience prior to getting involved in real estate, so I took it upon myself to build systems that served me in becoming a more successful agent.”
Other agents soon started to take note of those systems and inquired about whether they could also use them. That is how Widdows’ tech-first mindset led to technology being a first-thought into the software and systems HomeSmart has been designing and implementing for its agents and brokers since 2000. As the brokerage got off the ground, Widdows discovered that technologies and systems can address inefficiencies and service issues, which is how the HomeSmart model delivers a full-service experience while letting agents keep 100 percent of their commission, along with other savings.
“It’s interesting to see other brands today talk about wanting to build proprietary technology platforms. We were built on technology systems we started to create nearly 20 years ago, and have continuously updated and improved ever since,” adds Widdows.
As you peel back the layers of efficiency enabled by these long-standing systems, you quickly see why HomeSmart’s growth curve has outpaced many of its brokerage counterparts.
What 100% Means for HomeSmart Agents
Real estate agents pound the pavement looking for leads, managing transactions and closing deals. So don’t they deserve 100 percent of their hard-earned money? While “yes” seems like an obvious answer, many agents continue to settle for less than 100 percent from their brokerage every day. HomeSmart believes it is giving agents what they deserve: 100-percent commission, transparency in fees, office access, support, training, marketing resources, paperless transaction management and free technology and tools.
“Our model minimizes expenses for the agent while continuing to deliver the resources they need at every stage of their career,” says Wendy Forsythe, chief operating officer at HomeSmart. “By adapting technology throughout the process, our agents don’t have to compromise. The value proposition is incredible—from technology, to training, to compliance and more, agents truly have access to everything they need. And, because they keep 100-percent commission, they have more control and more capital to invest in their own growth.”
While many companies call themselves 100-percent commission models, agents often find they are still charged with technology, desk, training and other fees. HomeSmart offers 100-percent free technology and tools, from transaction management, CRM, agent websites and more.
Earlier this year, HomeSmart relaunched an evolved version of its proprietary RealSmart Agent software, which was introduced in 2005. This centralized system for maximizing transaction productivity while streamlining daily business tasks is completely free to access by HomeSmart agents. The platform simplifies paperwork by keeping it on-time, compliant and integrated with RealSmart Broker, the broker counterpart to RealSmart Agent. Within the system, agents can also customize marketing materials, manage websites and access business growth tools.
“Because we build and maintain our own technology, we have the ability to listen to our agents and tweak the system in a way that works better for them,” says Widdows. “We control the roadmap and what gets built based on agent needs, and that’s always changing.”
This approach also enables HomeSmart agents to have control of their data from one system. Agents have a variety of ways to use their data through the company’s SmartTools, which empower all aspects of the agents’ business—marketing, business development and more.
“Debate about ownership and control of data has made for some interesting headlines recently,” quips Forsythe. “Matt hit on that very early on because housing data in your own software was the best way to make it functional for the agent to build their business.”
The company stresses the application of technology in the right places and for the right reasons: to keep agents’ productivity focused on high-value tasks like building relationships with prospects and clients. And, while its agents are servicing clients, technology keeps HomeSmart connected with attentive and responsive support. The company’s systems allow it to support agents with quick broker assistance online and in-person, fast paperwork review and dedicated agent services available online and by phone. This means HomeSmart can assist with everything from training to technology, or just to remind agents that the brokerage is there to have their back.
With so many brokerage options available to today’s real estate professionals, agents can gain a lot from a brokerage that focuses on providing the infrastructure an entrepreneurial agent or team needs to move their transactions forward, scale their business and maintain stability.
While 100 percent of HomeSmart’s model is put to work each day for agents, how well does it work for a broker? Well…HomeSmart has that figured out, too.
What 100% Means for HomeSmart Brokers
There are sweeping trends within the industry to offer convenience, transparency, choice and control when buying and selling real estate. While most of the focus is on solving that for consumers, HomeSmart instead has chosen to focus on how its brokers can deliver that value to its agents every day, while still building a business for themselves. Not surprisingly, HomeSmart has made technology the catalyst to create a mutually beneficial business partnership between brokers and agents.
“No one goes into real estate to break even or lose money,” says Widdows. “We’re all entrepreneurs who want to build businesses. From the beginning, I wanted to find a way to let agents and brokers accomplish that in a way where everybody could make money fairly.”
As much as HomeSmart emphasizes agent success, it provides 100 percent of the resources brokers need to run a successful brokerage. That might sound too good to be true, but, again, you don’t have to look far to see its technology, systems and overall approach at work in markets big and small across the United States.
“No, it’s not too good to be true,” responds Bryan Brooks, senior vice president of Franchise Sales. “HomeSmart provides brokers with a complete list of services, systems and technologies, which result in performance and profitability for the brokerage.”
From its RealSmart Broker panel, HomeSmart brokers can conveniently manage and have complete visibility into their entire business in one place. They can manage files, communicate with agents thanks to the RealSmart Agent integration, track recruiting efforts, work on accounting tasks, and more from the single portal—not to mention, all the data is stored in the system, so they can instantly pull reports to analyze their business.
“We talk about applying technology in the right places for the right reasons to keep relationships in real estate,” says Brooks. “HomeSmart has automated the back office in order to keep brokerage personnel focused on high-touch agent interactions.”
Those high-touch agent interactions get executed on by HomeSmart personnel that extend across what the franchisor refers to as four pillars of excellence: Agent Services, Career Services, Broker Services and Transaction Services.
“Support and training are as central to the model as technology,” remarks Forsythe. “HomeSmart has taken the role and responsibilities of the broker/owner and created focus and specialization that results in service that scales. On top of that, we offer various centralized services that give our broker/owners more bandwidth, lower expenses and enterprise-level quality and strategy that powers growth as soon as the brokerage opens its doors.”
At its largest scale, HomeSmart’s model has allowed its Phoenix brokerage to support more than 6,000 agents, and process nearly 30,000 transactions a year with less than a few dozen staff. Each day, agents and their transactions engage with the systems—interfacing with technology, people and process—to accomplish exactly what they need before moving on with their day.
HomeSmart works on economies of scale and efficiencies that save dollars on payroll and allow brokers to keep more money while also letting their agents do the same. The model aims to solve for what Brooks calls “operational bloat.” More expenses, such as technologies, office space and personnel, means less profit. At HomeSmart, its systems help brokers keep expenses low, but value high.
“I love when a prospective franchise owner asks me how we make money,” says Brooks. “I tell them our brokers make money when they decide to stop doing business the hard way. Once I explain the pillars and show them the technology, the light bulb goes off and they see exactly what I mean.”
While brokers and agents have an easier time growing day-to-day, it’s not for lack of tremendous effort by Widdows and his team, who focus on improving HomeSmart’s technology and systems every day.
“I sort of have a reputation for setting ridiculous expectations and finding ways to make them normal,” shares Widdows. “It takes some getting used to, but we see and hear from our agents and brokers all the time about how all of our effort pays off in their business.”
There is one thing for certain: HomeSmart’s high-tech, high-service way of doing business builds a solid case for why 100-percent models will increasingly become the norm.
For more information, please visit www.homesmart.com.