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Budge Huskey

Vitals: Premier Sotheby’s International Realty
Years in business:
Size: 40 offices, 1,300-plus sales associates
Regions served: Florida’s Gulf Coast from Naples to Tampa Bay, Central Florida including Orlando; and in the North Carolina regions of Charlotte, Lake Norman, Blowing Rock, Banner Elk, Linville and Asheville
2019 sales volume: $5.2 billion
2019 transactions: 6,790

Budge Huskey’s father was a real estate broker, developer and builder for more than 60 years in Central Florida before he passed away, so it’s safe to say that Huskey grew up in the business.

Still, at 17, when he left for college, like many second-generation members, he told himself the very last thing he would ever do is enter the real estate business. So after college, he went on to receive his MBA at Wake Forest and enrolled in a finance program in Switzerland, winning an internship competition for a position with a London-based insurance brokerage house.

That was Huskey’s intended career path until his father convinced him to return to Florida and join Huskey Realty, where he spent 14 years. In 1997, he struck out on his own, assuming the position of branch manager for a company-owned Coldwell Banker office, eventually becoming president and CEO of the brand. After years in the corporate franchising role, Huskey decided it was time to return to his roots in the real estate brokerage business and joined Premier Sotheby’s International Realty, where he was named president in 2016 and became CEO this year.

How has COVID-19 impacted the firm thus far?
Budge Huskey:
After 35 years in the business and several economic cycles, I thought I had seen it all. COVID was fundamentally different, as it had nothing to do with the structural health of the real estate market, but was rather a pandemic. Seemingly overnight, it was like turning off a tap even though real estate was considered an essential business from day one. It forced us to move very quickly to establish remote operations and leverage platforms to conduct business with real estate customers virtually. The good news is that our team evolved and performed to a very high level, and fortunately, we’ve maintained all employee positions.

What has the pandemic done to business overall?
Initially, new business dropped as much as 85 percent vs. the prior year, though we’ve witnessed consistent improvement as a result of our ability to perform our services with strong safety protocols. In May, we saw new business down only 20 percent, with some sectors actually outperforming last year at this time. Customers are becoming more comfortable with the new norm, and our technology has allowed them confidence in taking action. Not only is there strong local demand, but also, enormous interest from northern markets due to both the motivation to leave higher tax states as well as the desire to accelerate plans as a result of COVID.

What strategy do you have in place to recover?
Our overarching strategy is to do a year’s worth of business in nine months. At the end of the first quarter, our sales volume was 40 percent higher than in 2019, which was indicative of the robust level of buyer demand across all our markets. The interest hasn’t faltered, and our markets remain incredibly desirable. We know there is considerable pent-up demand, which we expect to see translate into sales in the months ahead. Of particular note is that home values have remained stable during this episode due to relative balance between supply and demand.

How are you motivating agents through this time?
Our global real estate advisors are all experienced and highly professional. Ultimately, they are self-motivated. With that said, we quickly established an eight-week program of intense training on virtual platforms, live-streamed virtual open houses and all the systems necessary to complete a real estate transaction whether in person or remote. We provided national trainers on a weekly basis who engaged and inspired our people in order to ensure we were all focused on leveraging this time to improve individually and as a company. We are stronger as a result.

What is your firm’s unique value proposition in your market?
Our people are the foundation of our value proposition, as they are highly experienced and perform at a level that is far above the national average for our industry. They are focused on delivering an exceptional customer experience, aided by the incredibly high standards set by both the Sotheby’s International Realty brand and our company. We are a marketing firm first and foremost, with a team of more than 30 marketing professionals and the capabilities of a true agency with millions invested each year to ensure we are the choice of an astute real estate customer.

Keith Loria is a contributing editor to RISMedia.