When Gino Blefari, the CEO of HomeServices of America and chairman of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices, selected Christy Budnick to serve as CEO of the global Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices franchise network, his decision was based upon her exceptional skills, brokerage experience, industry-wide respect and demonstrable and remarkable leadership.
Not lost on Blefari, however, was something that Christy mentioned to him during one of the many conversations they had prior to the announcement that she would lead the Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices organization. That memorable moment, according to Blefari, was when Christy mentioned what one of her major goals would be if she became CEO: she would do everything in her power to ensure that the Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices brand, its network members and their highly accomplished real estate professionals, would become synonymous amongst consumers and clients with one transcendent word, and that word is “invaluable.”
To learn more about Christy Budnick, her vision for Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices and her passion for her new position, along with her powerful preference for all things invaluable, I recently Zoomed in on this forward-thinking Floridian to find out why her global network is so enthusiastic about her role as CEO.
Allan Dalton: Since the names Blefari and Budnick sound like a law firm, and are naturally connected through the power of alliteration, it leads me to ask, will you and Gino work together as naturally as your two names?
Christy Budnick: While I have never given any thought to how our two names work together, I have always enjoyed working with and learning from Gino over the years.
Although I am new as the CEO of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices, I enjoy a significant history with both the brand—as president and CEO of one of its leading brokerages—and with Gino, with whom I’ve worked for years as CEO of our brand and now as CEO of HomeServices of America and chairman of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices. These important experiences will help me enormously, as there exists a comfortable working relationship and deep mutual respect between us. Although I have worked closely with Gino and will continue to do so, he has made it very clear that all operations within Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices are my purview and responsibility. This reality is one which I expected and enthusiastically welcome.
AD: Am I correct in saying that you are not only the first woman CEO of the Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices brand and network, but also the first leader of the brand who was a Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices franchisee?
CB: Yes, and I am very proud of both of those distinctions. Regarding leading a network brokerage, this experience will help me ensure that the resources, systems and solutions we provide our franchisees and their agents are consistent with the needs of the network. Regarding my gender, I am unabashedly proud to join the ever-growing number of women CEOs, both within the real estate industry who lead franchises and brokerages, as well as all women who make invaluable contributions in the workplace.
AD: Christy, I think you just sent me a message to ask you about what the term “invaluable” means to you, and why you plan on driving a global, network-wide campaign on the need for, and importance of, becoming invaluable.
CB: Two years ago, when I attended our conference in Las Vegas, our theme was “All In.” Last year, our convention mantra was “Unstoppable,” and the clear message was that to be unstoppable, one must possess high levels of influence with consumers, clients and communities. As I considered these strategic missions and initiatives, it occurred to me that one cannot be all-in, unstoppable, influential—or a “Forever Agent” for that matter—without being invaluable.
AD: I don’t think Real Estate magazine has ever run a cover story or feature article where the word “value” or “value-added” isn’t somehow referenced. But Christy, you are not talking about value or valuable, but instead being invaluable. Please explain the difference…and also, isn’t it enough to just be unstoppable, all-in and influential?
CB: Great question, but it will require a longer answer! Value is defined in most dictionaries as meaning useful or describing something of worth. Invaluable, on the other hand, is defined as indispensable, priceless, precious and valuable beyond estimation. These are the descriptions that I desire to have consumers and clients throughout the world associate with our network when they are evaluating the worth of our franchisees, brand and, above all, our real estate professionals.
Now, regarding how invaluability is an evolution of all-in, unstoppable and influence, my research and intuition tell me that while all members of the real estate industry, both brokerages and agents alike, would love to be unstoppable, I doubt any consumer has ever said, “I am looking for an unstoppable agent” or an “all-in” agent…or even an “influential” agent.
These important virtues and characteristics are more what we refer to as B2B aspirations. Our brand, however, compels Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices to be the globe’s most consumer- and client-centric brand and network. In fact, I believe that consumer and client centricity is the birthright of the brand. I also believe it is far more likely that a consumer would be impressed if they read an online review that stated that an agent was invaluable, or valuable beyond estimation or expectation.
AD: How does your goal of attaining supreme invaluability for your brand and network impact or influence, if you will, the entirety of your global CEO agenda?
CB: My goals surrounding recruiting, retention, agent productivity, preferred services, diversity, inclusion and fair housing, brokerage profitability, coaching, education, training, relocation, technology and community and charitable giving, are all predicated upon enabling our network to embody invaluable people and resources.
AD: Forgive me if my question seems trite, but isn’t it enough just to be valuable and influential?
CB: The role and value of real estate professionals is going to continue to be challenged by new entrants and business models that are ever emerging.
Models seeking to monetize real estate professionals want to take the first point of contact with home sellers away from REALTORS®. The real estate industry has already largely lost the first point of contact with buyers, given that over 95% of buyers begin their home search online.
This first wave of disruption has enabled third-party portals to extract hundreds of millions of dollars in the form of referrals and lead generation payments. The only place these same players and many new business models can go to further monetize real estate professionals and take large chunks of revenue from real estate transactions is to now also become the first point of contact with home sellers. For the past 25 years, consumers primarily searched the web for properties. Moving forward, consumers will now also increasingly search online to select their listing agent.
The only way to preempt this disruptive practice is for real estate professionals, in turn, to establish and sustain deeper and more relevant value-added relationships with potential real estate clients before they search for competitive agents online. This countervailing disruption cannot be achieved without first making oneself invaluable to consumers and potential clients.
CB: Yes, I think it is important to make this distinction. Hundreds of millions of dollars will be invested to encourage homeowners to search for and select their listing agent based upon fees, ratings and reviews online. The only way, in my view, to address this inevitable game where homeowners become engaged in random search or online real estate roulette is for real estate professionals to establish their invaluability before, during and after the transaction.
For example, the most that many buyers or sellers will ever say about the worth of a real estate agent during the transaction is that he or she was valuable—as in, there was a value in helping me find the right home. A value in how my home was advertised and marketed. A value in helping me arrange for appraisals and home inspections, and to manage the overall transaction process. There is clearly value associated with each and every step throughout the anatomy of a real estate transaction. Yet, many consumers and clients expect that this is what they should receive, or estimate that they should receive, for the handsome fees they believe they are being charged. Value, therefore, is more likely to be associated with professional services.
Invaluability, or value beyond estimation, leading to indispensability, is when a real estate professional—through their remarkable negotiating, staging, remodeling, social media, merchandising, creativity, innovation and high-impact communication skills—is now viewed as not merely an effective facilitator of transactions, but as a real estate trusted advisor. They now become a Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices network Forever Agent, who not only responds to real estate needs, but becomes a welcomed catalyst who influences when, where and how consumers make prudent real estate decisions.
AD: I heard you mention in your introductory CEO video to the network that you moved more than a dozen times growing up due to your father’s naval career. What influence did that background have on your life, and specifically, your real estate career?
CB: Charles Darwin, the noted biologist, is famous for the quote, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives; it is the one that is the most adaptable to change.”
Spending most of my formative years constantly having to move with my family not only made me adaptive to change, which is an invaluable characteristic for a CEO, but it also means that I possess a real estate DNA, which causes me to be forever sensitive to the ebb and flow of consumer relocation, whether those moves are discretionary or mandated.
And speaking of my father’s naval background, the military side of me is clearly from my dad; my leadership and ability to respond to the human needs of professional colleagues, coworkers and the community are traits I owe to the influence of my mother.
AD: Speaking of relocation, while I know you will remain living in Northern Florida where your highly successful brokerage is housed, you will now clearly be overseeing an organization with a far more expansive geographical area. How do you intend to physically engage your global network?
CB: Since we are in 49 states and numerous countries across the globe, it makes it impossible for me to visit every company and office in person. This is a relief, in a way, because if it were practical, I would actually visit every town, city, county, state, province and country! I am also a believer that when I do visit our franchisees, that it can’t be for just celebratory reasons, but instead, to bring value. Thankfully, the entire world, and not just real estate, has learned of the new-found efficiencies that virtual technology provides all of us regarding engagement and interaction. Consequently, I want to do everything I can to make sure my presence, value, leadership and dedication to serve the network is accomplished in the most efficient and time-effective manner possible.
AD: Christy, I began this interview mentioning Gino Blefari. Let’s end there as well—please share what it meant to you when Gino Blefari, arguably the most influential real estate leader in the entire industry, reached out to you, as his selection to become CEO?
CB: Words cannot express the depth of my emotion and gratitude when Gino most surprisingly asked me to lead the Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices organization and its illustrious global network of brokers and agents. That Gino, a person who has raised the bar of excellence throughout each and every step of his real estate journey, would ask me to assume this responsibility, makes me all the more determined and dedicated to grow and serve the network in a way that validates my selection.
For more information, please visit www.bhhs.com.
Allan Dalton is Sr. Vice President of Research and Development for HSF Affiliates LLC. HSF Affiliates operates both Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices and Real Living Real Estate brands. Dalton is CEO of the Real Living brand and the former CEO of realtor.com®.