The Evolving Brokerage Model

Changing perspectives among consumers and real estate professionals are shaking up the classic real estate brokerage. Find out how real estate businesses can thrive in a shifting market.

November 20, 2012

There has been a major shift over the past couple of decades in the way companies brand themselves to both their customers and employees. In the past, branding was generally focused on functional benefits, price competition, and commodity features.

That’s changed, said Sherry Chris, president and CEO of Better Homes & Gardens Real Estate LLC, speaking at a session during the 2012 REALTORS® Conference & Expo in Orlando, Fla. These days, the most successful brands center on experiential benefits, relationships, and relevance to consumers.

Unfortunately, many real estate brokerages and agents have not managed to keep up with this change. “There’s a huge disconnect between what [real estate brokers and practitioners] think about when it comes to real estate and what consumers’ expectations are,” Chris explained. “Today’s consumers buy lifestyle and experience.”

Real estate brands traditionally focused on concepts such as “top producers” and being No. 1 in a particular market. But consumers—particularly those from generations X and Y—don’t care much about those things anymore. And real estate professionals increasingly don’t either, Chris said.

Younger consumers came of age during the housing boom and bust, and while they’re still interested in and enthusiastic about home ownership, they want someone who will be a knowledgeable, trusted advisor in their real estate transaction, she said. This means they’re searching for someone who will look out for their best interests, not efficiently move them through the sales funnel.

The needs of real estate professionals are changing as well. Rather than isolated cubicles and lots of desktop computers, they require the ability to instantly access resources and expertise whether they’re in the office or in the field.

Chris has seen some forward-thinking brokerages move in a different direction based on these trends. “There are a lot of small real estate companies popping up that are doing things differently,” she said.

Some of these non-traditional approaches include physically smaller offices (or no office at all), an emphasis on service to consumers, and leveraging lots of “free” or very inexpensive marketing tools and techniques such as social networking, blogs, and search-engine optimization (SEO).

Based on these changing dynamics, Chris said next-generation brokerages should change in the following four categories to meet the needs of current consumers and real estate practitioners:

  • Operations: Should be paperless whenever and wherever possible; training should be created and delivered with the on-the-go associate in mind.
  • Offices: More meeting spaces and open areas; also offer ample multimedia tools for presentations, such as large, high-definition computer monitors and flat-screen televisions.
  • Tools: Leverage private and public social networks, virtual meeting platforms, and tablets that allow agents to connect and collaborate.
  • Culture: Leverage new techniques and technologies to facilitate networking and sharing of information.

Brian Summerfield is the former manager of business development and outreach for NAR Commercial and Global Services.