Mariwyn Evans writes about commercial real estate for REALTOR® Magazine. You can reach her at email@example.com.
Top 100 Companies: Real Estate’s All-Stars
Introducing 2005's top 100 companies list.
July 1, 2005
How does your company’s performance measure up with the competition?
View a complete ranking of the nearly 300 residential brokerages that responded to our annual Top 100 Companies survey.
A great real estate market and rising home prices helped most companies large and small post new sales records in 2004. With the median price of single-family homes and condos in the United States increasing by 9.3 percent to $185,200 in 2004, according to NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®’ research, average companies might be content to coast. But not our all-stars. In the pages that follow, read about seven companies whose business practices have helped them score big in 2004. You’ll also find our Top 100 Companies lists by transactions sides and sales volume.
The Double Hitters
Not only did these three companies take advantage of rising prices in fast-paced markets to increase sales volume, but they also built total closed sides both by increasing sales activity and by growing their market shares. The result is combined annual percentage increases in sales and sides that topped 50 percent at each of these three companies—far greater than the Top 100 average as a whole.
John R. Wood Inc., Naples, Fla.
Education—in the form of its new Apprentice Center—has been instrumental in the top-level performance of real estate all-star John R. Wood Inc. (No. 171, sides*; No. 90, sales), headed by Philip Wood, president and CEO. But unlike Donald Trump’s TV show, the goal of this Apprentice program isn’t to fire new associates but to help them get up to speed quickly.
“Since we began providing associates with concentrated training, we’ve seen a 20 percent to 25 percent increase in new affiliates’ first-year production,” says Dottie Babcock, CCIM, CRB, executive vice president and chief operating officer. That’s a big reason this second-generation real estate company saw a 52 percent increase in sides and a 76.1 percent increase in sales during 2004.
The Apprentice Center, under Jeri Cobb, ABR®, CRB, director of career development, becomes the permanent home for up to 24 new salespeople for 90 to 120 days during basic training. In addition to teaching 16 training modules, Cobb helps inexperienced associates secure two listings and a sale before they’re ready to graduate to a branch office.
Recruits also benefit from an integrated approach to technology training. “If Jeri is teaching prospecting, for example, we have our E-agent trainer, Tom DesRochers, show students at the same time how to upload files to their contact managers,” says Babcock.
High-tech marketing is also key to the company’s 20 percent market share, as evidenced by John R. Wood’s Web site, www.johnrwood.com, which has won the Florida Association of REALTORS® Florida Real Estate Headlines Web site contest three times in the last five years. In all, “the company maintains more than 40 sites, some oriented toward neighborhoods, others toward special interests,” says Wood, CRB, GRI. One of the most popular is www.TeeUpFlorida.com, which provides details on local golf courses and listings near courses.
Success Financial Network, Phoenix
With more than 2,300 real estate professionals stretching from Kingman to Tucson, Arizona’s Success Financial Network (No. 13 by sides; No. 17 by sales) sells a home every 25 minutes, according to the company’s Web site. Its companies, including anchor and largest holding, Coldwell Banker Success Realty in Scottsdale, retain their brand identities. “We’re the Procter & Gamble of real estate,” says Success Financial Network CEO Bob McCord. “We have dozens of brands. These companies have spent years building a brand. We want to capitalize on that.”
McCord’s diversification strategy also extends to company operations. Acquired companies continue to use most of their own procedures and commission structures. Accounting, relocation, and training are centralized to achieve economies of scale. The strategy netted McCord a 34.1 percent increase in both sales volume and sides during 2004. In the same period, home prices in Phoenix grew by 11 percent, and those in Tucson rose by 13.4 percent.
McCord’s specialization strategy also led him, a year and a half ago, to open a separate office geared to the Hispanic market—Coldwell Banker Exito (“success” in Spanish). Last year the 115-salesperson office, headed by broker Joe Ramirez, GRI, did more than $4 million in gross commission income—95 percent with Hispanic clients. “The company gives you the standards and the vision and then lets you realize it,” says Ramirez. Despite a lack of affordable inventory in Phoenix, Exito is on track to affiliate 400 salespeople by 2007.
“We think of each company head as an entrepreneur and let the person run the operation,” says Bill Jilbert, president and chief operating officer of CB Success. “But that doesn’t mean we don’t help them with the day-to-day challenges.”
Technology plays a big part in providing that support. The company is constantly revamping and expanding its intranet—SuccessNet—to make its contents more accessible to associates. For example, the intranet features a seamless link to marketing materials on the national Coldwell Banker site. There’s also a new listing system that lets company practitioners post a listing on the company’s intranet at any time.
A golden team
RE/MAX Gold Inc., Gold River, Calif.
A relentless focus on supporting the sales associate has been the most important factor in helping RE/MAX Gold Inc. (No. 58, sides; No. 38, sales), near Sacramento, hold its lead as the fastest-growing multioffice RE/MAX franchise in 2004 (for the second time in three years), says President James O’Bryon, CRB. “Accounting, legal support, marketing, technology—all revolve around the associates. They’re the center of the solar system.”
This focus, which allowed the company to increase sales by 55.2 percent and sides by 25.4 percent in 2004, can be as complex as a companywide intranet backbone or as simple as cutting commission checks the same day.
So that practitioners won’t have to waste their time on technology glitches, RE/MAX in-house technicians make weekly visits to each of the company’s 20 offices. They inspect systems, quiz the designated broker and administrative staff about any problems—however minor—and get them fixed ASAP.
Another associate-centric support feature that’s contributed to associate productivity is the 24/7 salesperson hotline. Each week a different company broker mans a special cell phone, which salespeople can call at any time to resolve transaction questions. On average, the hotline fields between five and 10 calls a week. Rotating the phone among the company’s 16 sales managers also lets those not on call turn off their phones in the evening and have a personal life.
“If you want an extraordinary company, you have to make certain that salespeople have the best experience,” says O’Bryon. “You can’t take your eye off the ball.”
Heartland Home Runs
Heartland markets haven’t experienced the red-hot gains of the coast over the last year, though they’ve seen healthy home price appreciation. In NAR’s 2004 ranking, only one heartland market—Madison, Wis.—was within the top 50 markets for year-over-year price appreciation. That’s what makes the 20 percent-plus gains in sales or sides of our heartland heavy hitters even more impressive.
Wisconsin’s triple play
First Weber Group, Madison, Wis.
“I like to grow in steps, making sure the company is running well before expanding again,” says James R. Imhoff Jr., GRI, chairman and CEO of First Weber Group (No. 28, sides; No. 44, sales). That Midwest conservatism didn’t stop the company from posting a 25.3 percent increase in sides and a 31.4 percent increase in sales during 2004 in markets that saw growth in the 8 percent to 10 percent range.
Mergers with Milwaukee brokerage Prudential Preferred Properties in 2002 and Williams Realty in Wausau, in north central Wisconsin, have extended the 1,200-associate company’s reach statewide.
To keep its operations running smoothly, First Weber focuses on consistency. Rather than individual associates using different contact managers and marketing programs, the company’s management team researches products, buys the best, and makes the software available free to all its practitioners. Putting its forms on the company’s intranet has also helped ensure consistency and made associates more efficient, says Mike Siegel, CRB, CRS®, president of First Weber Group North Central.
The latest centralized productivity enhancer is a call center to coordinate and scrub, or qualify, the more than 2,000 leads a month from the company’s site. “We created a separate business development group in 2004 to focus on Web leads. It used to be part of relocation, but we made the split because relocation is business to business; lead generation is about consumers,” says Imhoff. “The company has already seen a substantial increase from its 4 percent conversion rate of a couple of years ago.”
“In a stable market such as ours,” says Bob Weber, CRB, president of First Weber Group South Central, “you have to provide sophisticated service because decisions aren’t driven as much by emotion.”
Winning in the Wasatch
Prudential Utah Real Estate, Salt Lake City
“It isn’t the biggest company that wins the war; it’s the one with the best managers, the most productive associates, and the highest average sales price,” says Dougan T. Jones. With a sales volume increase of 59 percent during 2004, Prudential Utah Real Estate (No. 115, sides*; No. 82, sales) and its 471 associates have established themselves as a major force in just four years. Today the company serves two distinct areas—Salt Lake City, which saw a median home price increase of 6.8 percent in 2004, and Park City, where single-family home prices have skyrocketed by 22 percent between April 1, 2004, and March 31, 2005.
These varied markets—divided by the Wasatch Mountains—have prompted the company to create two separate marketing companies with a big focus on print advertising. “Although we’ll continue to enhance our Web presence, we’re committed to print. It works for us,” says Jones.
In high-end Park City, marketing director David Ramaley produces a glossy black-covered Fine Homes book of $2 million-plus homes that salespeople distribute directly to prospects. At a printing cost of $8 each, “this book looks and feels like money,” says Ramaley. It’s also a way to keep the company in prospects’ mind.
Prudential Utah has also used its marketing expertise to gain an inside track in representing new developments in both markets. By offering to design high-quality marketing materials for developers at no charge, the company often gets the right to presell lots before construction begins. In the past year, Prudential Utah has presold more than 700 lots for developers. “Since presales don’t have tax ID numbers and therefore aren’t listed on the MLS, our salespeople get a head start of weeks or sometimes months before other companies even learn about a new project,” says Chris Robertson, manager of the Saddleview office in Park City.
To boost associate productivity, the company has connected its DPN Real Estate Accounting Software from Fidelity National Information Solutions Inc. with a graphics-based dashboard of performance information, says the company’s Chief Financial Officer Kyle England. Managers can track such key production benchmarks as listings, under-contract sales, income per side, and gross commission income—all in real time. “The managers love it,” says England. “They don’t have to pore over reports to track performance.”
Says Midvale office broker Bob Welsh, “Rather than focusing on recruiting, we’re attacking the productivity challenge one associate at a time.”
League of Their Own
Although women make up 52 percent of real estate brokers, they remain underrepresented in top ownership. A 2005 member survey by the Women’s Council of REALTORS® found that only 22 percent of its respondents had any ownership interest in the company—much less headed the team. Still, women have cracked the top 100. Here are two first-string hitters.
Scoring in boomtown
Realty Executives of Nevada, Las Vegas
Fafie Moore, CRB, CRS®, “is the brand of Realty Executives of Nevada,” says her husband and partner, Jeff Moore. As company president, “she’s opened doors through her networking that just wouldn’t be available to the good old boys,” says Jeff, who oversees the company’s facilities and office operations and supervises the branch managers.
It was Fafie’s visibility in community organizations and her contacts that helped the company become the exclusive representative for the new Majestic Conrad high-rise condo, Jeff says.
Such deals helped the company (No. 63, sides; No. 45, sales) net a 52.7 percent increase in sales during 2004.
Fafie’s outgoing ways are manifested in other aspects of the business, too. For instance, the company is a very active recruiter. The company recruiting manager interviews more than 100 people per month. But active recruiting doesn’t mean just taking any warm body. In general the company looks for experienced associates with proven skills. In the last year, the company added a net of approximately 100 salespeople.
A key recruitment and productivity tool is the high level and diversity of education the company provides for both new and experienced sales associates. A three-month boot camp focusing on basic skills as well as goal setting and business planning is a requirement for every new associate and is also available to practitioners who want to strengthen their listing and prospecting skills.
In addition, more than 80 free technology classes a year are taught; more than 100 other classes focus on such topics as advanced skill development and risk reduction, such as ensuring compliance with the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act. A new in-house course is created whenever a key industry trend or issue arises, and a course schedule is published monthly. “In this fast-paced industry,” Fafie Moore says, “you have to keep your tools sharpened.”
Sharing in the Sunbelt
Century 21 Sunbelt Realty Inc., Cape Coral, Fla.
When Century 21 Sunbelt Realty Inc. (No. 65, sides; No. 145, sales*) ranked as the top-producing office in the franchise last March, CEO Barbara Watt, CIPS, threw a party—and gave away $25,000 in bonuses in a drawing. It’s that kind of generosity and drive that has helped the brokerage increase its sides by 79 percent and sales by 74 percent in 2004.
“Nothing sits still at Century 21 Sunbelt. We’re always among the first. Our company had a Web site even before the franchise,” says Terri Lodge, broker at the company’s Fort Myers office. The latest high-tech addition is a sophisticated telephone system from Selpan Interactive Inc. that allows calls made to any office to be seamlessly routed to the correct location through a blind transfer. “I’m always looking out for what’s new,” says Watt, who spent six months researching phone systems.
Often what’s new at Century 21 Sunbelt is yet another office. Under the direction of Dan Pearce, chief operating officer, the company has been rolling out three or four new offices a year in southwest Florida since 2003. Pearce, who’s a partner in seven of the 11 offices, says the decision to build rather than buy is a cultural one. “It’s harder to change the culture of an existing company. So much of our success depends on the culture Barbara has developed that it’s easier to start from scratch.”
Watt’s giving personality and high visibility play a key role in the company’s marketing. “Everyone knows Barbara. They see her name in the paper associated with so many worthwhile causes,” says Lodge. In 2004, even with five of her offices damaged by the hurricanes that swept the area, Watt loaded up portable kitchens with food, drove to sites where people had no water or power, and cooked until the food ran out. “People appreciated it,” she says, “and people remember.”
|Hitting the Home Run|
|The winning season of 2004 may just be a memory now. Yet the skills, drive, and creativity that got this year’s all-stars to the Top 100 are still very much in evidence. When next year’s “Top 100 Companies” lists roll around, look for these all-stars in the lineup once again.|