Growth as a Survival Option

CB Stevens extends reach to Baltimore.

October 1, 2000

Fast-Growing Company Merging Markets

The highly competitive and pricey housing market of Northern Virginia-Washington, D.C.-Baltimore is a textbook example of Darwin's “survival of the fittest” theory. Real estate companies come and go, mix and merge; some hang on and some climb to the top of their market.

One new player already laying the groundwork for an upward move is Coldwell Banker Stevens, REALTORS®, of Vienna, Va. Founded by Tom Stevens in 1993, the company has grown steadily, first in the lucrative Washington suburbs of Virginia and Maryland, then in the District.

But in the past few months, CB Stevens has accelerated from small steps to a quantum leap, making it one of the fastest growing companies in the country. Ranked 41st last summer in REALTOR ® Magazine's “Top 100 Companies,” CB Stevens since then has expanded from 26 sales offices and 1,245 salespeople to 39 offices and more than 1,400 salespeople.

Speaking to us from his car phone on the way to discuss yet another merger, Stevens says that "The Washington-Baltimore market, I think, is really one market." In September, he acted on that idea by opening four offices in the Baltimore area; more will open shortly. In early October, the company acquired the three offices and 130 sales associates of Coldwell Banker Melbourne, Feagin & Hammersmith Real Estate Inc., in Columbia, Md.--about halfway between Washington and Baltimore.

Stevens says his intent, when he started the company seven years ago, wasn’t to be the biggest company.

"I wanted us to be the best," says Stevens. But, as he points out, he had to expand to survive. The Washington-Baltimore corridor is one of the largest markets in the country and is dominated by the two largest independents in the country: Long and Foster Real Estate Inc. of Fairfax, Va., and Weichert, REALTORS®, of Morris Plains, N.J. "You have to be big to compete, to do proper marketing, to get the proper tools and equipment for your salespeople. In this case, bigger might be better.”

Stevens says his company is an attractive merger partner for companies that are growing but don't want to join an independent. "They feel the excitement of our presence in the market, and they're impressed with the Coldwell Banker brand and with the fact that we're local and our management is local. And they like that we're a leader in technology with our new e-sales platform."

The move into the Baltimore market was one of timing and opportunity, Stevens says. While the company will continue to grow in the coming months, the new expansion will not be as far flung. Stevens plans on backfilling for a while, he says, into the lucrative areas closer to Washington that he jumped over to get to Baltimore.

CB Stevens is ranked No. 3 of all Coldwell Banker affiliates nationally in sales and is the franchise's top affiliate in the Northeast.

New Realty One Store Lays Back With a Latte

Realty One, the big Cleveland-area independent, has brought new meaning to low-pressure marketing with the unveiling of its new "Visions of Home" home-shopping store in the downtown area.

The store borrows freely from the "SOMA Living" concept pioneered last year on the West Coast by Pacific Union. This new business model transforms the traditional real estate office into a retail environment where prospective homebuyers can browse online for homes and shop for the kind of services they want. "Visions of Home" is similar but with an important difference. While its concept, too, offers consumers the online opportunity to explore facts, trends, and housing news and to access information about local events and festivities, it does so without the option to close, says Anthony M. Ciepiel, Realty One president.

The new laid-back concept draws from Realty One's research showing that customers want professional guidance about homebuying earlier in the process without feeling they've got to sign a contract with a real estate salesperson right away. The cyber-savvy young professional market also wants to shop the Internet on its own. The store's computers provide quick Internet access to home and community data, including school match reports and mortgage prequalification procedures.

"We wanted to create a nonconfrontational, easy-going place to help the customer," Ciepiel told us. A licensed sales associate acting as a customer service representative is on site to answer questions and offer suggestions, but not to close. "Later--maybe up to a year and a half later--when customers are ready to buy, they'll be directed to one of our salespeople who has expertise in the market area the customer wants and who can best serve the needs and lifestyle of that customer."

To keep the atmosphere relaxed, the Vision of Home center is set up with "family rooms," says Ciepiel. "There are brightly colored couches and comfortable chairs, but where the coffee table would be, there's a table for the PC. The computer can be rotated so that all members of the family and our staff people can participate." The room also has books on architecture, design, decorating, and local restaurants. And a Starbucks is just next door.

Ciepiel says the center is a concept store, a place where Realty One can test and fine-tune marketing ideas for use in future “Vision of Home” stores. If the test data on the new laid-back concept is favorable, Realty One will open more stores. Later--after they’ve thought about it over a latte.

PCR Hitching Its Wagon

Remember the name Gretchen Pearson.

Prudential California Realty in Walnut Creek has named this rising star its new chief operating officer. Pearson, a 30-something mother of three, has set a heated pace in the PCR ranks. Most recently, in a position created for her two years ago, she made the full-service concept a reality at PCR by bringing together mortgage, title, disclosure, home warranty and related services under one roof.

Now as COO, Pearson will oversee all operations, geographic expansion, sales support and training, as well as strategic alliances. She will also continue the roll out of PCR's high-tech infrastructure.

PCR has 123 offices in Northern California and Nevada, with 3,300 sales associates. The company is predicting sales of $10 billion for 2000.

Lucien Salvant is a former managing editor for REALTOR ® Magazine.

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