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Going to Work for Agents

Mar 9, 2019 by

Coldwell Banker Advantage/Sea Coast Advantage/Chicora Advantage Flips the Pyramid and Puts People on Top 

Of course, Gary Rabon, Ralph Huff and Tim Milam are proud of the fact that their firm ranks among the Top 3 Coldwell Banker franchises in the country—but what matters even more are the people in each of their 44 offices throughout the Carolinas.

“We put people before profits,” says Milam. “It’s not so much about the numbers, but about focusing on our agents.”

In this exclusive interview, Rabon, president and CEO, Coldwell Banker Advantage – Triangle Region; Huff, president and CEO, Coldwell Banker Advantage – Sandhills Region; Milam, president and CEO, Coldwell Banker Sea Coast Advantage; and Rick Gregory, COO, Coldwell Banker Advantage, explain how inverting the pyramid and putting agents and consumers on top has shaped the firm’s massive growth over the past five years.

Maria Patterson: Please begin by telling us about the current size and scope of the organization.
Tim Milam: Our company has five regions: Raleigh, Fayetteville, Southern Pines and Wilmington, N.C., and Myrtle Beach, S.C. We have about 1,400 agents and 44 offices. At the time of this interview, our projected sales volume for 2018 is around $ 3.7 billion in volume with a little over 16,000 transactions. We have three different names we market: Coldwell Banker Advantage; Coldwell Banker Chicora Advantage; and Coldwell Banker Sea Coast Advantage.

MP: Those are impressive numbers. How does that compare to where the company was five years ago?
TM: Five years ago, we had about 700 agents, and sales were approximately $ 2.3 billion. Transactions were around 9,000.

Ralph Huff: We’re among the Top 3 Coldwell Banker franchises in the nation, and we’re No. 1 in North Carolina.

MP: So, what would you most attribute your growth to?
TM: Organic growth has been a big part of it. We’ve made some acquisitions, but I would attribute a lot of our growth to our focus on our agents’ success, which has led to other agents seeking to join our company.

Rick Gregory: The majority of our growth has been done with purpose. All of our acquisitions have involved filling in gaps that are part of a larger strategy. We look to where we believe we can serve agents in a way that helps them serve more clients.

Gary Rabon: In addition to our real estate company growth, all regions are now in the mortgage and title business to offer specific services and products that serve the customers of our agents.

RH: Agents embrace who we are as a firm. We go to market with people in mind and build around those people.

(L to R) Tim Milam, Ralph Huff and Gary Rabon

MP: You are in very competitive markets with a lot of new entrants into the area. What do you do to set yourselves apart?
TM: We put people before profits. It’s not so much about the numbers. We work for the agents—they don’t work for us. We’re focused on helping agents and their clients succeed.

GR: We have some unwritten rules: Do the right thing; do whatever is best for the client; treat others like you want to be treated. We really push our agents to get involved in the community and help others.

TM: Our culture includes giving back. We had 34 agents and three employees from the Wilmington office displaced from their homes after Hurricane Florence. All regions came together to send trucks of supplies down and raise cash donations. This big Advantage family helps out no matter what region is affected.

RG: What we’ve seen is that new entrants in our markets tend to focus on price, but being cheaper is not a compelling differentiator. When you’re focused on service, it causes you to think about all service experiences a customer may have, no matter what they’re shopping for. Tim, Ralph and Gary really focus on the service component and make sure our agents absolutely know they’re behind them.

MP: How do you ensure your level of service stands apart from other real estate firms?
RG: When consumers are buying or selling a home, they’re not comparing that experience against another home they bought or sold; they’re comparing it to other purchases or sales in their lives. We’re constantly focused not just on residential real estate, but other industries, as well. Everything we do is centered around making sure agents are positioned to service customers at an extremely high level. We’re ardent in our quest to constantly develop and secure the tools, systems and training to execute on the developing needs of our various markets and consumers.

MP: Can you give me an example of that?
GR: Our new voice search skill is a great example. If you look at the No. 1 product purchased this past holiday season, it was the Amazon Echo. Fifty percent of searches by 2020 will be on voice, and 14 percent of consumers are investigating home value information on voice. We’re investing in where the consumer is going.

Putting agents and consumers on top has fueled Coldwell Banker Advantage/Sea Coast Advantage/Chicora Advantage’s massive growth.

MP: Do you worry about the so-called “disruptors”?
TM: We think that we are a disruptor. We don’t consider ourselves a traditional real estate company. We’re laser-focused on service to consumers and agents. What’s more, we built a strong culture that enables agents to be very successful. There’s a lot of value and stability in what we offer.

GR: People want to do business with people. We provide this level of support to agents so they can have interpersonal relationships with consumers. The so-called “disruptors” are about price or speed—not about relationships.

RG: To Gary’s point about price, a disruptor is somebody who’s identified a gap in a service experience based on consumer sentiment, and goes to exploit that gap with a new service model. In all the qualities that differentiate a company, a focus on price is neither rare nor hard to replicate.

RH: A focus on service also allows the organization to have the retention necessary to push forward from a growth perspective. Growth is not about sign-on bonuses and discounting.

MP: You really emphasize the fact that you, as the company’s leaders, work for your agents. What does that look like?
TM: Communication is a big part of it. We’re constantly reaching out to agents to find out what’s going on in their lives—we’re very much like a family. We also want to know what they don’t like…what problems they’re having. Agents know they’re fully supported and that we’ve got their backs. If a mistake occurs with a customer, we will make it right.

GR: I pride myself on the fact that we’re out in the offices with agents constantly. I know most agents on a first-name basis, as do Tim and Ralph. We have almost 1,400 agents, but the number is irrelevant. We value the relationship with all of them, and we want them to know that.

MP: How does this type of personal connection resonate with the younger generation of agents? Does it matter as much?
GR: Absolutely. We recently had a 23-year-old join the firm and I called him to say, “Welcome,” and gave him my cell number. At a company event, he introduced himself and told me how much he appreciated that phone call.

RH: No matter the generation, everyone craves communication. The way they want to communicate might be slightly different (social and otherwise), but they love engaging with the leadership team.

TM: We basically have an upside down pyramid with the owners at the bottom, and the agents at the top. We’ve been blessed to do some good things for people, and we ask all of our agents to do something nice for someone every week. Having good, quality people is more important than the number of people we have.

At Coldwell Banker Advantage/Sea Coast Advantage/Chicora Advantage, everything revolves around making sure agents are positioned to service customers at an extremely high level.

MP: How do you ensure your agents are getting everything they need to deliver for consumers?
GR: We listen to what their needs are. We ask, “What can we do better, and how can we help?” Agents know they can give us constructive criticism. Also, Rick and the management team are involved in a lot of national groups that keep us innovative and current with the times.

RG: There is thought leadership throughout our organization at every level. If we’re listening to people and asking really good questions, it generates insights that help us serve our agents better. It’s our responsibility to help our agents understand where consumers are going, and to give them what they need to set them up for success.

MP: What keeps you up at night regarding your agents or consumers?
TM: I worry about the media portraying REALTORS® as a dying breed. But a computer can’t talk a homeowner or buyer off the ledge over a home inspection that goes badly. REALTORS® who provide the best service will always have a place in the real estate market.

GR: I worry about complacency. When someone asks me, “Should I think about taking this course?” I say, take it. Never stop learning…every day, every week. If you stop growing, you’re shrinking.

MP: Finally, gentlemen, what’s in store for your future?
GR: I’m excited about 2019. A focus on fundamentals is the foundation of the business. Good brokers providing great services to agents and consumers make money in a good and down market.

TM: The real estate industry is changing at a rapid pace, and we have to stay focused on serving our agents and consumers better than everyone else. If you do the basics well, you can adjust to the market. I’m excited!

Giving Agents the Advantage
Agents at Coldwell Banker Advantage and Coldwell Banker Sea Coast Advantage share how being “part of the family” has been integral to their success.

Tony de la Vega – Coldwell Banker Advantage
Celebrating his two-year anniversary with the firm, Tony de la Vega was attracted to Coldwell Banker Advantage after hearing about the volume of business other agents were generating. Now he understands that it’s all about the culture.

“The culture of professionalism and performance are evident and very appealing to me,” he explains. “The leadership is super competent, super experienced and super trustworthy. And the Coldwell Banker brand is well-known and reputable.”

All of this has helped de la Vega’s business take off. “The leadership has given me all the tools I can possibly need to produce a good volume of business, and empowered me with everything I need,” he says. “The culture and professionalism allowed me to brand myself in a way that complements my style. Coldwell Banker Advantage doesn’t limit you; they empower you.”

Sharon Webb – Webb Realty Group/Coldwell Banker Advantage
Sharon Webb has been with Coldwell Banker Advantage for five years and started a team two years ago. Several factors make the firm a great fit for Webb, such as its commitment to ongoing training and education.

“I consider myself an experienced agent, but I like to stay on the cutting edge with the latest tools, and knowing what’s going on in the industry is very important to me, since it’s always changing,” explains Webb.

She also appreciates the firm’s approach to leadership. “My broker in charge is a huge supporter and mentor, yet he gives me freedom so I don’t feel micromanaged. I have the opportunity to grow and expand. Whatever I need, they listen and provide me with. They fuel my fire.”

Shane Register – Coldwell Banker Sea Coast Advantage
Shane Register has been with Coldwell Banker Sea Coast Advantage since May 2007,   and in the real estate business since 2005. Among the things he appreciates most about the company, in addition to its prime office locations, are its leadership and winning culture.

“When I was recruited to Coldwell Banker Sea Coast Advantage, President Tim Milam communicated to me that he and his entire staff and managers work for the agents,” recalls Register. “Although this sounded positive, I really didn’t totally ‘get it’ until I was with the company for the first couple of weeks. This caring mindset permeates throughout the entire organization, resulting in a positive work environment and highly successful agents. The unique difference between Coldwell Banker Sea Coast Advantage and other real estate companies is the willingness of the agents to support each other, openly share ideas and understand that everyone wins when their fellow agents thrive.”

For more information, please visit www.cbadvantage.com, www.seacoastrealty.com,  www.chicora.com and www.homescba.com.  

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

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The Evolution of Office Space: Where Are We Going?

Aug 8, 2018 by

Editor’s Note: This is part three of a series that takes an in-depth look at how brokerage offices have transformed. You can find part two here and part one here.

What will the brokerage office of tomorrow look like? There’s no crystal ball, but brokers are seeing a trend toward a stronger dependency on technology. The question is: How deeply entrenched will the real estate community become in the cyber world?

Many, including chief operating officer of HomeSmart International Wendy Forsythe, believe the hybrid model that is becoming increasingly popular will win out in the end.

“I believe we will continue to see a hybrid of virtual and brick-and-mortar offices,” says Forsythe. “Our world is mobile—agents need the flexibility and support to do business anywhere. This is also a relationship business, and having a physical connection through sharing a common space, like an office, is important to many people.”

How soon will change come? The industry may not experience a large, perceivable shift for a number of years. Lynsey Engels, president of Mel Foster Co., a member of Leading Real Estate Companies of the World®, strongly believes in listening to client and agent feedback in order to determine the best course of action, especially in a people business, where distinctive personalities are an asset and office preference should be taken into consideration.

“Our agents always ask how [their clients] prefer to communicate, and they deliver on that preference,” says Engels. “In this market, customers still want to come in and see the homes in person before making such a big decision and investment. While many start their search online, they also start by touring open houses to get a feel for the market. It allows them an opportunity to meet some of the agents and see how personalities may click.”

Can in-person showings become a thing of the past? Robot-led tours are already available in some markets, and with the implementation of cyber technology, consumers could start to see a phasing out of open houses, as well as a reduction in number of physical tours taken before purchasing a home. If so, will these cyber showings be hosted online, from the comforts of one’s own home, or will consumers be making the trek to a broker’s office to visit a cyber showing room?

“I think the next iteration of a real estate office will be massively more technology-forward than today’s, and it will have other attractions to pull consumers into the space,” says Keith Robinson, chief strategic officer at NextHome, Inc. “What about a virtual reality showing room where you can walk five or six properties, then drive to see the one or two you actually want to tour in real life?”

By that prediction, some will argue that brick-and-mortar office spaces could continue to play a significant role, as consumers may still need to visit a concrete office to access a virtual tour, and an all-encompassing cyber experience could make the home-buying and -selling process less personal and meaningful.

“I think virtual communities will never fully replace real-life office space, but can be a positive addition,” Forsythe says. “As powerful as technology is, human connection is more powerful. When you combine the online and offline world, there are real benefits. One without the other will never reach its full potential.”

Many brokers understand the importance of agent-consumer relationships and how in-person meetings help these to form and flourish. When it comes to agents’ day-to-day operational tasks, however, some foresee a full-scale virtual experience, but only on the agent-broker side.

“I believe the real estate office of the future will be 100-percent cloud-based and technology-driven,” says Josh Harley, founder of Fathom Realty in the Dallas-Fort Worth market, emphasizing only the office, and not the brokerage. “It will take time for that to fully become a reality, but we can already see the trend happening. I believe there will always be a true need to bring local agents and brokers together on a regular basis, because no matter how much technology advances, it cannot replace the innate desire for human interaction.”

“It’s very difficult to develop and maintain a meaningful culture online, so marrying the online and the in-person experience must remain part of the equation for real estate brokerages,” Harley says. “We can bring our agents together weekly if we desire and use that personal touch to build a powerful culture, all with without paying for an office space the other 26 days of the month.”

Is the future already here? Some brokers believe so. With eXp Word, the virtual community created for eXp Realty, agents and brokers use a cyber space for transaction-related tasks and communications.

“Obviously, agents need to continue to have one-on-one, in-person meetings with their current or potential clients, but when it comes to operational needs, or [meeting with] other agents across town or across the country, a virtual office is an easy choice,” says Mitch Robinson, senior vice president of Marketing and Communications at eXp Realty. “Our agents tell us they feel more connected and love the instant support in eXp World.

“If you asked our agents, they would say they already work in the real estate office of the future,” Robinson says. “As a virtual space, we can and do constantly add new things. Our agents and staff asked for coworking spaces, and we were able to build that quickly. Today, every state and province has a coworking space where they can meet as one or in small groups. There are many more things we will be doing in this environment,.”

On the other side of the coin? A more flexible future that understands the importance of technology, while still prioritizing the client-agent relationship above all else—which could mean taking a new look at how concrete office spaces could significantly benefit the industry if only implemented differently, adapting to this swiftly changing real estate landscape.

“When I think about what the future real estate office looks like, I envision high-tech and integration wrapped around a more collaborative shared environment,” says Charis Moreno, vice president of Sales at NextHome, Inc. “Brokers will need to find better ways to provide value through technology that agents want and need. The key to this will be offering ways to automate integral areas of the business so REALTORS® can spend more face time and less screen time, but in a way that is contextual to their clients. Just providing more tools will not cut it.”

Dominguez_Liz_60x60_4cLiz Dominguez is RISMedia’s associate content editor. Email her your real estate news ideas at ldominguez@rismedia.com. For the latest real estate news and trends, bookmark RISMedia.com.

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Going Green in Your Home for St. Paddy’s Day

Mar 16, 2018 by

Going green for St. Paddy’s doesn’t need to mean wearing your favorite emerald t-shirt or adding dye to a batch of cookies. You can make eco-friendly choices to “green” your life, starting with your home.

Appliance upgrade. If you have a tired old appliance, like a fridge, washing machine, dishwasher or toilet, consider a new, energy approved version to slash energy costs and consumption.

Switch to less caustic cleaners. Choose a natural cleaner to keep your home spotless. You can make your own easy with vinegar and baking soda, or head to the natural aisle of the store for premade options.

Lights out. Choose one or two days a week where the lights are out early in your house to slash energy consumption. You don’t need to send everyone to bed early. Instead, have the whole family congregates to one room to make use of light for reading, web browsing, or even better–game night!

Buy local. Creating a St. Paddy’s feast? Consider buying as many local ingredients as you can, which supports the local economy and cuts down your carbon footprint as the goods did not need to travel. Local farms often have cabbage and potatoes this time of year, or seek out locally produced canned goods, bread, and even beer!

Use less. Put a paper ban on your home. Make grocery lists digitally, keep a white board for notes and reminders, and stash reusable bags in the car for trips to the store.

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Values going down and so it begins….

Aug 28, 2017 by

Home values are going down in Texas and the rest of the Nation will soon follow, watch todays show to find out why.

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What To Do Now That LIBOR is Going Away

Aug 27, 2017 by

The LIBOR is going away.  You more than likely have borrowers that are on this index so it’s important to take action on this news.

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