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It’s no secret: The industry is changing, and it’s changing quickly. The word disruption is tossed around on a daily basis. But what does it actually mean for those practicing in the real estate business?

The National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) hosted a session, “NAR Talks to the C-Suite: Disrupted! Is Our Industry on a Path for Significant Change or Is It Business as Usual?”, during the 2019® REALTORS® Conference & Expo in San Francisco. The session featured some of real estate’s biggest powerhouses to find out what brokerages are doing to adapt to a shifting industry.

“One thing that seems to be becoming more predominant now and into the future is the importance of the brand,” said moderator Sherry Chris, CEO of Realogy Expansion Brands.

Panelist Adam Contos, CEO of RE/MAX, agreed, stating that the role of the brand has gone through an evolution.

“It’s more important now than ever,” said Contos. “If a consumer gets upset, they’ll often attack the brand, because that’s what they attach emotions to.”

Today’s brokers need to be more careful about how they communicate their value through their brand. Contos explained that we are living in a more emotional environment now than ever before, and “the agent has to be willing to be digitally transparent and out in front of the business regardless of the brand they’re with.”

But a brand can be a powerful tool when leveraged appropriately. According to panelist Helen Hanna Casey, CEO of Howard Hanna Real Estate Services, branding can communicate consistency and support.

“If they know you’re with Howard Hanna, they know there is support behind you,” said Hanna Casey, adding that the brand should also reflect what the company speaks every day in terms of its values. It’s what’s behind the name that matters, she emphasized.

“Tomorrow, if we became ABC Real Estate, it would still be about what’s behind the name,” said Hanna Casey. “It’s not just the brand name or the color; it’s the support we provide and who we are in our communities.”

It’s the core values that help establish that reputation. The authenticity behind core values is what helps brokerages differentiate themselves from the disruptors.

“They should be a stake in the ground and stand for something,” said Chris.

Panelist Gino Blefari, CEO of HomeServices of America, who has been part of a number of brands, said it’s about building that trust. Just like ordering coffee from the same place and expecting the same drink, Blefari said consumers expect to receive the same level of service from the same brand, regardless of the agent they’re working with.

Even the companies that are labeled disruptors themselves agree: It’s about service. Panelist Errol Samuelson, chief industry development officer at Zillow Group, explained that these new business models that are allegedly disrupting the real estate industry were simply created to solve a service-based problem in real estate.

“There’s a huge opportunity and that’s why we are investing in home sellers,” said Samuelson. “They are really frustrated with elements of the process. How can we apply tech, combined with really great agents, to destress sellers? If home-selling was less scary and less stressful, we would end up with more transactions.”

Panelist Ian Wong, co-founder and chief technology officer at Opendoor, agreed.

“You have to make sure it’s in service of the customer to get fair market value for the seller, and for the buyer to have a great experience as well,” said Wong. “We want to eliminate everything that is not essential, getting right to the advice, and the rest should be taken care of.”

The missed opportunity for traditional brokerages is not letting agents become the disruptors themselves, said Hanna Casey, but Contos added that’s part of a larger problem: Agents and consumers are confused about what’s available and how they should proceed.

“When you confuse, you lose,” said Contos. “We need some clarity as an industry and that’s why we look to NAR and business leaders in our space to decide upon what’s in our best interest. And it’s going to come down to us being really good communicators.”

For continuing coverage of the REALTORS® Conference & Expo, please visit 

Liz Dominguez is RISMedia’s associate content editor. Email her your real estate news ideas at