Companies to Watch: United Country Real Estate

The best-kept secret in real estate

November 1, 1999

Why eye it: Listen up for United Country. This 75-year-old national real estate franchise has doubled its franchisees and sales volume in the past two years. And if you haven’t heard about it, it’s because United Country advertises its franchisees’ properties instead of the corporate logo, and that means, in the words of one broker, “United Country is one of the best-kept secrets in real estate.”

What it does: “We offer the premium service for rural property brokers in the United States,” says Lou Francis, president of United Country, headquartered in Kansas City, Mo. Everything’s up-to-date in Kansas City. United Country is highly computerized, and all 300 franchisees in 33 states are on the company intranet. Information from potential buyers and a confidential list of buyers and sellers are loaded on a database and sent electronically to franchisees every day, allowing brokers and salespeople to monitor their listings on the network, track their progress, and use the information to target buyer inquiries on a national level. Offices get 100–150 inquiries a week.

Background: Roscoe Chamberlain founded the company as the United Farm Agency in 1925. A Kansas City bank gave him a desk in the back to talk to people about real estate. In 1928 Chamberlain published his first rural properties catalog, featuring pictures and descriptions of rural property for sale, and sent it out periodically to his affiliates. It has been in continuous publication ever since and is the forerunner of home sales magazines everywhere; the first catalog is now displayed in the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. A group of managers purchased the company in 1990, and in 1997 changed the name to United Country. Since then the company has sold more than 150 franchises. It still puts out classy, award-winning publications about rural property, but the main communication medium now is the Internet.

How it works: The home office picks up the tab for all national advertising, placing ads in the nation’s largest newspapers and magazines. It also sends out high-quality company brochures and magazines to customers. The local brokers pay nothing until the property sells, Francis says. The split with the broker averages to about 1 percent of the sales price, or for “in town” properties, 7 percent of the gross commission.

Effectiveness: Says Francis, “A couple from Detroit saw one of our ads and got a brochure from us. Last year they called us about a farm in Tennessee, and we sold it to them. They had hung on to the brochure for 30 years.”

Case in point: Cindy Dellinger, owner of United Country–Shenandoah Valley Realty, Mount Jackson, Va., opened her own office in 1991 as an independent and soon joined United Country. “I used to get three to five inquiries a day. Now I get 40 to 50 a day,” says Dellinger. More than 70 percent of her potential buyers are from outside the area, and “my advertising dollars weren’t spent to get them,” she says. “At most companies, when times get tough and the market slows down, it’s the advertising that gets cut. Not at United Country.”

What’s next: United Country is headed for its first $1 billion in sales volume in 1999, says Francis. “We’re expanding our Internet site to make it more interactive.” And he’s quietly looking to let more brokers in on the industry’s best-kept secret.

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