Power Brokers Gaining Steam

RISMedia's Top 300 companies faced a challenging year with pluck and determination.

June 1, 2011

It’s news to no one that depressed prices, low interest rates, and high inventory make this a superb time to buy a house. But for Ed Prodehl, CRS, president and owner of Coldwell Banker Honig-Bell in Joliet, Ill., 2010 was an opportune time to buy a ­brokerage—or three.

Last year, Prodehl’s company, now lllinois’ largest Coldwell Banker franchise, acquired another Coldwell Banker brokerage and two ERA companies, boosting its standings among the country’s largest brokerages, according to RISMedia’s 2011 Power Broker Report. The report, published in April by the company’s Real Estate ­magazine, ranks the top 300 brokerages in the country based on the previous year’s closings. RISMedia is a real estate publishing company, and its annual listings are a highly anticipated benchmark for ­brokerages.

Prodehl’s company jumped from 99th in transaction sides in last year’s report to 29th in this year’s, with 8,294 sides closed in 2010. “These [acquisitions] were cash deals that were great values,” says Prodehl. “Some people in the business are shocked about our acquisitions because of market conditions. So many other companies are going out of business.”

Prodehl, who’s been working in real estate since 1971, says his investments will take some time to pay off, but he’s confident that the industry is on the rebound. In fact, the Power Broker Report contained several bright spots; some top brokerages in Florida and California reported positive sales trends for the first time in years.

Sales of distressed properties drove much of the business. Bill Plattos, CRB, executive vice president-broker of First Team Real Estate in Costa Mesa, Calif., which moved from No. 9 to No. 8 in sales volume with $4.48 billion, says the company redoubled its effort to train sales associates in how to handle short sales.

In addition, the company makes its office attorneys available to associates involved in short sale and REO transactions. “We want our agents to feel legally empowered so they can give the right advice to their clients,” Plattos says. In transaction sides, the company moved up seven notches to No. 20 on the list. “If you run your business the way you used to, you’ve probably slipped back,” he says. “We’ve always been able to see when there’s a problem, there’s also an opportunity.” The southern California company opened five new offices last year, positioning itself for continued growth.

Though existing-home sales were down 19.5 percent in 2010 from the year before, according to the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®, the ­largest companies, as a whole, didn’t see such a dramatic drop. Sales volume among the Top 300 fell 4 percent, while transaction sides dropped by just under 10 percent. Real Estate magazine Executive Editor Maria Patterson says brokers who succeeded in 2010 were those who adapted to market conditions, often narrowing their focus and building an expertise in distressed sales. The home-buyer tax credit gave a strong boost to many companies in the first six months of the year, but its expiration made the challenges of the 2010 market all the more stark in the second half, she says.

The willingness to take calculated risks was also part of the success formula for brokerages that gained ground. Prodehl says last year’s acquisitions will keep his $1.2 billion company, with 34 residential offices (up from 20 a year earlier), a dominant player in northern Illinois. “This is the greatest time I’ve ever seen to buy a brokerage,” he says.

Wendy Cole

Wendy Cole is the former managing editor of REALTOR® Magazine.