Top 100 Companies: How They Stay Successful

Times are tougher, and the Top 100 are feeling the pain. Learn how they're embracing the challenge of a slower market. Plus, find out who's adding customer convenience — and supplementing the bottom line — with ancillary services.

July 1, 2007

It’s news to no one that sales are softer than they’ve been in several years. In the fourth quarter of 2006, sales for existing single-family homes and condominiums fell 10.1 percent nationwide over their 2005 fourth quarter levels. Prices fell 2.7 percent for the same period.

But if times are tough, REALTOR® Magazine’s Top 100 Companies are embracing the market’s new realities and staying on top. “You can’t go into hedgehog mode. There’s still plenty of business out there, even in a market like ours in South Florida where sales dropped as much as 40 percent last year,” says Mike Pappas, CCIM, CRB, president of The Keyes Co. in Miami. What’s critical, he says, is to keep control of the market by growing your listings. “In the boom of the last five years, a listing brought you 1.7 sales; now it brings you 0.5, so you need more,” he explains.

A continent away, Sacramento’s Mike Lyon, CRB, president of Lyon Real Estate, is facing similarly grim statistics (for 2006, company sides are down 25 percent. But he’s taking a similarly positive can-do approach. A big step: reorienting his training to help experienced associates brush up on the basics of prospecting and marketing. “It’s nothing new — how to get your buyers to see your value, how to educate your sellers to make a home marketable. They’re the same ideas my dad taught me in the 1970s.” He gives these basics a 21st century twist with Trendgraphix, which provides graphs to show pricing and local sale trends. “Sellers now won’t just trust the salesperson; they want proof first,” he says.

Slowed but still thriving

Strong fundamentals have kept another high-appreciation market — the Washington, D.C., metro area — from feeling the worst of the crunch, says Brenda Shipplett, president of The Long & Foster Companies Inc. in Fairfax., Va. Although her company saw sides drop in 2006 by some 9 percent, a 25 percent gain over the last five years makes a one-year slowdown easier to bear. Strong job growth promises a better 2007, but in the meantime, “I like slower markets; it puts good companies at an advantage,” says Shipplett.

Insulated from the high-octane, double-digit price run-ups of the coasts, most Midwest markets are bumping along with existing-home sales declining 8.6 percent in the fourth quarter of 2006 over the previous year, according to NAR. Prices are softening especially in higher end new construction, notes Joyce Bytof, CRB, president of Coldwell Banker The Real Estate Group in Appleton, Wis. With company sides down some 9 percent in 2006, and less activity in the high-end properties traditionally featured on home tours, the company added “affordable home tours,” so that salespeople could see more of the homes priced under $175,000 consumers wanted to buy.

Bright Spots Among the Clouds

If many companies are putting a positive spin on a rough year, the lucky few — mostly those in the South — actually had their best year ever in 2006. “It just goes to show you that all markets are local,” says Steve Brown, CRB, CRS®, executive vice president and general manager of Crye-Leike, REALTORS®, in Memphis, Tenn. The company’s 71 offices saw unit sales gains ranging from 3.2 percent to 6.5 percent. “Employment is good, and the negative press hasn’t played on people’s minds too much,” he explains.

Texas, once the poster child for real estate volatility, saw steady to rising markets in 2006. Houston saw sales gains of around 5 percent in 2006, says Marilyn Eiland, CRB, president of Prudential Gary Greene. “It’s all about price,” she explains. Strong employment anchored by oil jobs helps, too. To keep company sales gains ahead of the market (in 2006, Gary Greene had a 10 percent gain in transaction sides), the company is training an “E-team” of some 65 associates in better ways to cultivate and close Web site traffic. Training also reinforces the need for quick response. “Three strikes [for slow response], and you’re out of the team,” says Eiland. In case recent increases in MLS inventory are an early indicator of a slowdown, the company’s also holding down costs by locating more associates in each office and retooling its recruiting.

Summing up the can-do, make-it-through attitude that characterizes our Top 100 Companies this year is Tim Hatlestad, CCIM, president and CEO of RE/MAX Achievers, Scottsdale, Ariz. Despite seeing a 34 percent decline in company sides last year, he’s ready to take on the world — and win. In boom markets, leads slip through the cracks and prospecting skills get rusty, he says. Now’s the time to hone your skills, ramp up your personal development, and think positively. “The market now is where the really good sales associate or great company will excel,” he says.

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