Real Estate and Retirement

Aug 12, 2017 by

Little known secret: A retirement plan that works well for agents is the Solo 401(k). You can save up to $ 54,000 ($ 60K for agents over 50) a year and deduct it from your taxes.

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A Real Estate Experience Like No Other

Jul 29, 2017 by

Being truly exceptional isn’t just a goal for Tom DeWine; it’s a business plan, a mindset and a way of life. Taking the helm of his father’s 30-year-old company, ERA Colonial Real Estate, earlier this year, DeWine set out to continue with the core values upon which his father successfully built the firm, and expand upon them to create a company that delivers a truly unparalleled experience for both its agents and consumers. Here, DeWine, along with Chief Operating Officer Linda Starr, explain their philosophy for leading the Central Texas firm into its next storied chapter.

Maria Patterson: First, let’s talk about your career paths. When and why did you join ERA Colonial Real Estate?

Tom DeWine: When I first entered the professional world, I was in sales for the medical device industry, and I stayed in that field for about 10 years. In 2005, I had a conversation with my father (Dennis DeWine), who asked me if I would consider joining him in running the business. That question coincided with an acquisition in the San Antonio market, which is where I was living. I joined the company in late 2005, having completed my licensing while I transitioned out of my previous industry. Since that time, I’ve been blessed to have occupied a number of positions and responsibilities within the company that have afforded me a valuable understanding of the challenges and requirements needed to run our operations. My dad formally retired as of the first quarter of this year and has been retained as a consultant, still passionately committed to the success of the company. We’ve had 30 years of success built around a strong culture and I take great pride in the fact that the core values my dad started the company with three decades ago are the same values that inspire us today.

Linda Starr: I had a very different path. I spent 35 years in the tech industry in various global, executive positions. Personal reasons led me to rearrange my priorities—I wanted a job where I could contribute highly, but keep my feet more on the ground. I was drawn to real estate and began to interview, but I wasn’t all that attracted to certain styles of real estate sales companies. Then I met Tom, and we very much have a shared view of things. The more we talked, the more it made sense to me. I could help on the technology side, which is coming to real estate in faster and bigger proportions. I could also help build the company from a product, sales and marketing standpoint. So, I joined the firm in the beginning of December 2016.

TD: Hiring Linda was an interesting process. I was committed to finding an individual with a fresh perspective from the institutionalized way we think about real estate. I wanted someone who could offer a different way to overcome the challenges of this industry. It’s been such a delight to be challenged by Linda, instead of just doing things the way they’ve always been done.

MP: How many offices and agents does the firm currently have?


TD: We have four offices that span the length and breadth of Central Texas. We serve the communities of Killeen/Fort Hood, Salado and Georgetown, in addition to the Austin metro areas, Greater San Antonio and the Hill Country of Kerrville and Fredericksburg. With 90 sales agents and about 30 support staff, we have ranked within the Top 15 ERA companies since 2004. We provide professional property management as well as transaction management services in each of our markets.

MP: How would you describe your firm’s positioning in the marketplace?


TD: In each of the communities we serve, we have a highly productive group of agents that make a significant impact in terms of real estate services and community involvement. We prioritize on-purpose selection of the highest quality people and then focus on the development of their skills and abilities. This has produced an exceptional per-agent productivity rate, with our agents closing an average of 23.4 transactions per year. Additionally, our client service has been at a 98 percent satisfaction rating, earning our team a coveted ERA 1st in Service Nomination four years consecutively.

LS: We’re looking to differentiate ourselves in the marketplace as providers of the best experience and customer satisfaction. Our agents know how to set expectations upfront with clients and how to pivot toward turns in the marketplace. Our agents are providing a satisfying transaction and shortening the timeframe as well.

MP: How do you go about creating the “best experience?”

TD: The goal is to create an experience for our agents, staff and clients that is unlike anything you get from another real estate brokerage. This is a tremendous standard that requires continuous innovation, diligence and teamwork. As an example, we focus on providing our agents with valuable tools and resources so they can work smarter and make more money, all while achieving life balance. This intention led us to launch transaction management services in order to free up time for agents to grow their business and make contributions to their community.

LS: It’s always about the experience—every touch point your client has with your product or service. That’s where we can keep growing.

MP: What is your strategy toward growth?

TD: Staying true to our core values is key to our strategy, and has been part and parcel of our growth so far. Right now our plans include a very selective process of growing the agent population as well as company acquisitions to expand our marketshare in every location. I also characterize our growth in terms of increasing the value we provide. This goes back to our desire to create the best experience in real estate and who we want to be in our community, for our community.

MP: What attracts agents to your firm?

TD: The core values we operate from are: professionalism, integrity, results, commitment to excellence, customer service, contribution to the community, and teamwork. Frankly, these values are what enable us to attract the right agents. Living these values each day has created the success we’ve had, the satisfied clients we do business with repeatedly and the positive environment we enjoy. This is very attractive to agents who see value in this kind of experience.

It’s also important to note that we focus on selection and development when it comes to agents. It’s not just about having a license and a heartbeat. For us, selection begins with the end in mind. What does the agent want to achieve? What are their values? What are their priorities? We’re purposeful about uncovering those things when talking to agents about joining our team because I know that the agents who succeed in this company share our core values. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t stay here.

LS: We have this philosophy of on-purpose recruitment—bringing in people who believe in and hunger for the same things we’re trying to do to grow the company. We want to have expertise in the areas we serve, as opposed to rack ’em and stack ’em agents. We want people who care about serving the specific needs of other people. That’s a hugely important factor when building out your company.

MP: Once you’ve selected the right agents, how do you keep them on board?

TD: Retention is all about value. We strive to provide value to our team by leveraging every resource available to us, from our ERA partners to third-party vendors, in order to drive sales productivity, efficiency and service. Woven into that is a tremendous amount of company-generated business and a high level of support from our sales support team. We’re not a place that parks agents. We’re a very high-touch environment. Everything is geared toward an agent making more money with us than they could anywhere else.

MP: What is your approach to coaching and training?

TD: We have a high productivity standard. We want agents to be closing at least 24 deals per year. This type of production begins with coaching and training. We reject the standard notion that an agent will spend the first six months or longer trying to chase their first deal. We believe that should happen within the first 100 days of coming into this company.

LS: We don’t go down the path of traditional teaching and training—cramming information in and hoping it sticks. Every agent is different and comes to us with different experience. The key is coaching and mentoring on a one-to-one basis. We also brought someone on board in a consulting role who can help agents with contract questions. We want to make sure the forces are here to expedite and accelerate agent growth.

TD: Five or six years ago, we decided that if we’re going to be a company that lives by our core value of being high-level professionals, we had to redefine what education and training will look like here. Most competitors had a front-loaded series of events, and agents came out of it retaining very little knowledge. They didn’t have a transitional experience to help them put it all into play. That’s why high-touch support and education is an ongoing process here. We never stop learning and teaching.

MP: What’s your strategy for effectively marketing the firm?

TD: We tend to bring marketing back down to the core element of our business: listing inventory. Just like a retailer or grocery store, if we have no inventory, then nothing else we’re doing matters. That’s why we have an ongoing initiative to develop unstoppable listing agents who win listings and get them sold.

MP: What are some of the strategies that help you get more listings?

LS: You have to keep in mind that you want the best and truest experience for clients, which means having expertise in the right areas. Are you a young, first-time buyer? Are you relocating? We help our agents look for resources online to be more prepared for the specific needs of the person they’re servicing. When someone calls, we advise our agents to take five minutes and go on Facebook and LinkedIn to find out more about them before they call back. Are they retired? Are they a military officer? A 30-something entrepreneur? The preparedness piece is a big part of the implementation as well as the experience for the consumer. It’s how you stand out as an agent.

TD: There’s an interesting evolution that’s happening in the world and the real estate industry itself. The experience of the consumer, and our marketing and preparedness, needs to be very personalized to the consumer. We’re marketing to many, but what becomes valuable to the consumer is when they feel like they’re the only person the agent is talking to.

MP: How do you stay ahead of the technology curve?

TD: It’s become easier in one respect because there’s more information at hand. You just have to look and pay attention to developments and innovations. Discernment is the real trick. We view technology as a means for creating value and sales. We’ll adopt any innovation or tool that enables us to achieve either. Linda is a game changer in this respect. She’s given us the ability to vet and filter an idea in a way that I haven’t been able to do before. 

LS: I’m looking at the horizon and seeing where things are going, and seeing what might translate to our values from a technology standpoint, and what has value to the consumer experience—because that’s what defines our value.

MP: What’s on deck for the future of the firm?

TD: We have the desire and intention to accelerate growth in the form of attracting more and more high-quality people and providing them with an exceptional level of career development and sales support. This will involve on-purpose recruiting and acquisitions when a company is a cultural fit. All of this will be underpinned by a commitment to living our core values and executing on our vision of creating an exceptional real estate experience for our employees, clients and agents.

For more information, please visit

Maria Patterson is RISMedia’s executive editor. Email her your real estate news ideas at

For the latest real estate news and trends, bookmark

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Remodeling Real Estate for the Future

Jul 22, 2017 by

Most of us wake up every morning knowing what we need to do and how we’re going to get it done. But do we ever think about why we do what we do? Well, at HomeSmart International, they think about it every day. In fact, “the why” is what drives the company; it’s the reason for its creation, and the compass that guides its fast-paced growth across the country. What exactly is HomeSmart’s “why?” The success of its brokers and agents.

Founded in 2000 by Matt Widdows—a former frustrated real estate agent who developed his own systems to compete, grow and succeed—HomeSmart has grown to 13,286 agents and 123 offices nationwide with a formula that provides high-level service, support and value at the lowest possible cost to brokers and agents. The proprietary technology and end-to-end solution HomeSmart delivers at minimal cost, along with the efficiencies and profitability of a flat-fee model, has driven an increasing number of brokers across the country to join what they refer to as the “HomeSmart movement.”

“Greatness comes from setting ridiculous expectations, then finding a way to make those expectations normal and deliver on them,” says Widdows. “And sometimes you have to misbehave and go against expectations in order to improve and innovate.” This philosophy—and the ability to deliver on it—is exactly what has attracted brokers to the HomeSmart model and culture. Here, four brokers from various corners of the U.S. share their “why” for joining HomeSmart…and why they’re never looking back.

Don_Jim_MarkJim Sparkman, Mark Farrow and Don Sturgeon
Owners, HomeSmart Realty Group
Salem, Ore.

Maria Patterson: When and why did you join the HomeSmart brand?
Don Sturgeon:
We were all considering leaving our previous brokerage to start our own company. Jim stumbled upon HomeSmart, and we decided this model was the future of real estate. The 11 agents who were part of our teams came with the three of us on October 14, 2013.

MP: You grew pretty quickly right out of the gate—how did you manage that?
When the three of us joined forces, it sent ripples through the market. People didn’t know anything about HomeSmart, so there was a lot of buzz. Then, it was just a matter of going out and talking to agents who we thought would see the value of a fee-based model. All they knew prior was the traditional brokerage that offered high splits and high desk fees.

MP: As top-producing agents, why were you attracted to the HomeSmart model?
Mark Farrow:
Our agents increased their compensation by a little over 30 percent with their first transaction. With the first deal they closed, they saw a big difference.

MP: So it’s the flat fee that’s the biggest draw?
We never lead with the fees. It’s always about the level of service we provide. Agents have 24/7 access to the principal brokers, cutting-edge technology, great offices, ongoing training and continuing education, all for a low transaction fee.

MP: How do HomeSmart’s services help you and your agents become more profitable?
Jim Sparkman:
The agent services offered by HomeSmart International add a layer of service that we are physically unable to provide at this large of a brokerage without increased overhead and manpower.

DS: HomeSmart’s Centralized Services provides me with an assistant who can handle a lot of time-consuming tasks, like making cold calls to agents. This was especially important when we opened a second office in Portland where agents hadn’t heard of HomeSmart.

MP: How does HomeSmart keep you ahead of the curve in terms of technology?
HomeSmart is constantly working to stay ahead of technology. There is a real commitment by corporate to not get complacent.

JS: With the end-to-end technology that HomeSmart provides, we have a paperless platform unlike any of our competitors, and the ability to streamline the transaction. We also have online marketing tools built into the same platform.

MP: Overall, what makes HomeSmart a better choice than the traditional real estate model?
Traditional real estate companies are stuck in a paradigm and a mindset that makes it difficult for them to make the necessary adjustments. It’s hard to turn the Titanic away from an iceberg. HomeSmart has remodeled and refurbished the traditional brokerage to operate with agility.

Dean_DetonnancourtDean A. deTonnancourt
HomeSmart Professionals Real Estate
Warwick, R.I.

Maria Patterson: Tell us why you made the change to HomeSmart.
Dean deTonnancourt:
Having been in the real estate industry over 28 years now, my career satisfaction comes from sharing my experience with associates, and helping them achieve unlimited levels of sales success. HomeSmart allows me to do that. It’s a franchise that provides national support along with local flexibility.

MP: How do you overcome the common perceptions about flat-fee companies?
The perception of the flat-fee compensation model is “low fees, low service.” This is far from the truth, as we offer all of the services other companies offer, yet we remain dedicated to the associate retaining more of their hard-earned income. HomeSmart provides technology and marketing tools for our associates on a national level, and locally, we provide education, broker support and state-of-the-art facilities.

MP: Tell us about the support you receive in terms of technology.
Our sales associates have access to their own Agent Panel, which provides tools and technology that allow them to organize their transactions, as well as market themselves to the consumer in creative ways. Fully customizable individual associate websites including consumer-focused MLS searches and tracking, video marketing pieces, as well as fully customizable marketing pieces within our Design Center, are all available to our associates.

For the broker, HomeSmart provides technology that allows us to manage all details of our operation. Our Broker Panel allows us to seamlessly track our paperless transactions and ensure proper file compliance. Most traditional brokerages utilize several systems, making it time-consuming and prone to errors since the systems in most cases are not linked to each other.

MP: How do economies of scale help you grow?
The HomeSmart structure and compensation model foster organic growth. Since our associates are treated like true business professionals and retain more of their earnings, they are the voice of the company. Associates at other companies are hearing about us directly from our associates, which validates our value proposition. We find ourselves responding to inquiries almost daily.

MP: How does being part of HomeSmart allow you and your agents to be more profitable?
HomeSmart created a compensation model that rivals the competition with an affordable flat-fee plan that was not previously available in our marketplace. Our associates are not paying the high commission splits that many competitors collect, allowing them to increase their retained earnings.

MP: What is it about your brokerage that helps attract and retain agents?
I always say that “culture is not found in a company, it is found in people.” The key to a company’s long-term success is to attract great people and foster a sharing-based environment, ultimately providing mutual success.

Randy_RectorRandy Rector
HomeSmart Evergreen Realty & Associates
Irvine, Calif.

Maria Patterson: You had a large, successful firm in Orange County. Why make a change?
Randy Rector:
Back in 2010, we were about 700–750 strong. In order to grow to the next level without overhead killing us, we had to find a system. We had companies from around the nation coming in and pitching us products, but we had to somehow figure out how to integrate these products. We needed a system to make us more efficient without adding bodies, which in flat-fee models, is the death of the model itself.

MP: So how did you find out about HomeSmart?
We were at the National Association of REALTORS® conference in Anaheim and HomeSmart also had a booth. We met Matt and the next week, he called and said he’d like to come out and talk with us. What caught my attention about HomeSmart was that they had some real high-level technology—exactly what we had tried to build in 2009. We needed to find a way to streamline our back office and make us more efficient. From a cost and compliance standpoint, you have to make sure you have oversight on agents as you grow and multiply offices. In January 2012, we went to see Matt, and we were blown away by what he created that allowed him to run 3,600 agents with no staff. We joined in October 2012.

MP: How did that change the course for your company?
Being part of HomeSmart has made us more efficient, so we are able to serve our agents better. We went from 750 to 1,150 agents and ranked in RISMedia’s Power Broker Report Top 500 with the same two admins processing the transactions. And we are in compliance with the Board of Real Estate. They looked at our software and said, “This is perfect. We’ve seen every major and small brand, and none have this.”

MP: How did becoming part of HomeSmart help you attract agents?
In a flat-fee model, the core of the business is recruiting. HomeSmart’s Centralized Services allows us to pay a small fee and receive a myriad of services, from email marketing to a dedicated person making 100, 200, 300 calls a week. I don’t care what brand you are; it’s really hard to grow a brokerage and wear all the hats—recruiter, motivator, trainer, compliance officer. I can take that off my plate and concentrate on my agents, because all of this is being done for me.

MP: What makes HomeSmart stand out the most?
Hands down, it’s the proprietary software—no one in the nation can touch it. If you’re looking to scale your business, the tools, the ability for it all to be in one system and the support we get from HomeSmart corporate is bar none.

Roger_AbeRoger Lee and Abe Hamideh
HomeSmart Realty West
Carlsbad, Calif.

Maria Patterson: When did you first learn about HomeSmart?
Roger Lee:
Abe and I were flipping properties, and while it was fun, it wasn’t creating a future for us. A recruiter from HomeSmart called us one day and enticed us to go to Arizona to look at the systems and technology. We definitely thought this model could work in San Diego.

HomeSmart is a well-oiled machine that lets franchisees scale up without having to accumulate more manpower.

MP: You grew your agent count really quickly that first year—what was your secret?
To make it within the first year, we knew exactly how many agents we needed to have to get out of the red, and we had to do it quickly. The systems in place allowed us to focus on recruiting and building the company. We currently have 548 agents and three offices.

Abe Hamideh: It was an easy sale. Because of all the systems, marketing tools and support HomeSmart offers, we had all this firepower and agents were amazed. They had never heard about HomeSmart, and when they saw what we had, they thought it was too good to be true. But they soon realized it was the real deal.

RL: In addition to the maximum commission fee plans, we have the biggest value proposition they’ve ever seen from any other real estate company they’ve worked for.

MP: So it’s more than the flat-fee model that attracts agents…
A lot of agents come to us because they’re attracted to the flat-fee model. But then they see our value proposition, and then they start telling their friends. We often get three to five agents from the same office.

RL: Besides the maximum commission, they get a fully staffed office, conference rooms to meet with clients, and broker support. They see the technology package, a full CRM, and marketing tools like YouTube videos for listings and a full-on printed listing presentation. Most agents have to shop around to get tools. We give them everything all in one shot.

MP: How does the HomeSmart system pave the way for easy growth?
[At press time], we have 548 agents and 13 people on staff. We could go to 700 or 800 agents and not have the need to add another person. In less than five years, we’ve grown to be ranked in RISMedia’s Power Broker Report. The HomeSmart system enabled that.

MP: Please describe your recruiting strategy.
Our own agents help us so much in that department. They’re our biggest endorsement. We’ve already hit the 100 mark on boomerang agents—agents who thought the grass was greener somewhere else and then came back to us. They become our biggest cheerleaders and recruiters.

For more information, please visit

Maria Patterson is RISMedia’s executive editor. Email her your real estate news ideas at

For the latest real estate news and trends, bookmark


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Amazon Getting into Real Estate?

Jul 17, 2017 by

Is Amazon getting into real estate?  If so, what would that mean to Zillow?

The post Amazon Getting into Real Estate? appeared first on National Real Estate Post.

National Real Estate Post

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For Chinese Real Estate Investors, U.S. Is Tops

Jul 16, 2017 by

The U.S. housing market is a draw for foreign real estate investors, who continue to express assurance in either becoming or remaining active in U.S. real estate. One of the most considerable countries of origin is China, where, according to a new report by, investors are slated to pour $ 80 billion into international real estate in 2017, with the U.S. at the top of the list.

The projection, though a pull-back from 2016’s record $ 101.4 billion, is historically one of the largest sums ever.

“2016 [was] the first time in history that Chinese buyers acquired more than $ 100 billion of international real estate,” says Sue Jong, chief of operations for “The 2016 total represents a 25.4 percent increase over 2015 and an 845 percent increase over five years. For the Chinese buyer, the United States is a near-perfect market. The United States received more than $ 50 billion, the greatest share of total mainland Chinese real estate investment, last year.”

China has been the top country of origin for residential real estate investment in the U.S. in recent years, according to the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR), surpassing all other countries in terms of dollar volume. China has also made waves on the commercial side, making the most investment of all countries in the sector in 2016.

“Foreign buyers—especially those from China—continue to see the U.S. as a solid investment opportunity and an attractive place to visit and live,” says Lawrence Yun, chief economist at NAR.

China, in addition, is ranked relatively low globally in terms of foreign real estate ownership, making it ripe for expansion, according to the report, which approximates over $ 1 trillion in international investments in the next 10 years.

“We believe we estimate conservatively when we forecast that Chinese investors will acquire more than $ 1.5 trillion of overseas assets in the coming decade or so as they close the underinvestment gap,” Jong says. “Up to half this new investment could go to property.”

Several real estate brands and brokerages have recognized China’s impact on the housing market, forming strategic partnerships with, a Chinese real estate portal, to ensure exposure. They include Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices, Engel & Völkers and Long & Foster Real Estate.

“There is no denying the impact Chinese buyers are having on the North American real estate market,” says Anthony Hitt, CEO of Engel & Völkers North America. “We want to ensure that we are marketing to this population in the right way and we have found that through our relationship with Empowering our advisors to market to Chinese buyers gives them another competitive edge in winning listings and selling homes.”


Suzanne De Vita is RISMedia’s online news editor. Email her your real estate news ideas at

For the latest real estate news and trends, bookmark

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