Tougher to Be Independent, Burgdorff Joins Franchise

March 1, 1997

For Peter Burgdorff, 1996 was a stellar year. Profits were never higher. Business was exceptionally brisk.

Yet 1996 was also the year Burgdorff crossed over to the other side after many years as the owner of an independent real estate company. He joined a franchise.

''I did it because I'm looking into the future and I'm saying it's tougher and tougher to do this,'' says Burgdorff, who had 32 offices in New Jersey and 640 salespeople before affiliating with ERA and gaining a new title--president and chief operating officer of ERA Franchise Systems Inc.

''I felt it would take the company to the next level, and it brought the company things I couldn't do by myself,'' he says. ''It's becoming more and more difficult as an independent to provide the salespeople some of the things to stay competitive. Like technology. It's very costly to deliver to a group this small, along with the appropriate training. When you have a system like ERA and you deliver it to 11,000 offices--if you're [owned by] HFS--you're able to provide better technology at a lower cost.''

By forming alliances with vendors of home-related and unrelated products and services, HFS Inc., the world's largest franchiser and owner of ERA, Century 21, Coldwell Banker, and a host of hotels, has consistently taken advantage of its buying power.

''One of the things that really swayed me was HFS' entry into this business,'' Burgdorff says. ''To me, it's the first time a major corporation has gotten into the real estate business because it wanted to be in the real estate business.''

Burgdorff has been involved in the industry since the second grade. While most seven-year-old boys were outside riding their bikes, he was inside talking real estate with his parents.

It was 1958 when Burgdorff's parents opened a real estate company in the recreation room of their split-level home in New Jersey. When he wasn't filing paperwork, he was busy answering the telephone and taking messages.

A Matter of Value

''Because both Mom and Dad were in the business, that was our life. Our dinner conversations were always about real estate. I never got picked up on time because they were always stuck on a deal,'' he says with a chuckle. ''Their whole focus was the value they could provide for the customer, not how they could get a listing or a commission. Putting emphasis on integrity and doing it right--that's the emphasis.''

Although the emphasis for Burgdorff hasn't changed, the industry sure has.

''The real estate business is scary right now. Buyers and sellers are getting tougher. Every aspect of the business is getting tougher,'' he says, citing legal, environmental and agency issues. ''The economics are tougher for salespeople and companies. To make it a steady business is a real challenge.

''There's tremendous comfort in being aligned with an international company with some substance. It's m ore than just marketing and delivery of services. You're part of something bigger that's looking out for you.''

Carole Fleck is a former senior editor for REALTOR® Magazine.

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