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A Commitment to Community and Professionalism: Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices New Jersey Properties

Nov 18, 2017 by

Ramping Up for the Next Generation of Real Estate

For the ownership team at Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices New Jersey Properties, it’s all about focused growth—and maintaining a company culture that thrives on performance and professionalism. The company, which reported volume last year of over $ 1.5 billion, has grown its agent population by nearly one-fourth in the last three years alone, from 650 to more than 800. “Our approach to building the company is to focus on people who can make a full-time commitment to the industry, their customers, and our company,” says Chairman and CEO Bill Keleher. “We excel at helping this type of individual reach the next level of growth both personally and professionally.” In this exclusive interview, Keleher and company President Chris Brown discuss the team’s singular strategy: a collaborative, people-centric culture that inspires ongoing quality, performance and innovation for the next generation of real estate.

Barbara Pronin: Let’s begin with a recap of your individual career paths, and how you got on this present road together.
Bill Keleher:
I grew up in Kansas City, Mo., went to college in Virginia and then came to New Jersey for a month to visit my two best friends in Westfield. When I decided to stay longer, I got a temporary job in a clothing store where I met a couple of young men who were in the real estate business with a local firm. After getting to know them, I made a decision to try real estate, as well, and 48 years later, I’m still in New Jersey and still in the real estate business.

I began in sales in a small office in Westfield, went on to become a manager, sales trainer, regional manager and finally president of the 12-office company that I ultimately purchased. I sold that company in 1986 to Schlott REALTORS® and worked for them until I had the opportunity to purchase Prudential New Jersey Realty from Prudential Real Estate in 1991. In the ’90s, I acquired numerous other small Prudential companies in New Jersey, and in January 2001, I merged the company with Prudential Pioneer (Seymour and Nancy Litwin’s company) and Prudential Brown-Fowler (Chris Brown’s company), forming Prudential New Jersey Properties. Steve Janett joined our ownership team in November 2006 when we acquired his company, Prudential Janett Real Estate.

Chris Brown: I, on the other hand, grew up in real estate, but swore I’d never get into this hectic business because I saw my dad always running out to his next appointment. So, in 1980, I graduated with a business and forestry degree from the University of Vermont and went to work for the Aspen Ski Corporation in Colorado. Returning to New Jersey that summer, but on my way to Norway to pursue a relationship with Brit, a girl I had met there during my junior year of college, my father convinced me to get my real estate license. I actually did, and soon after, sold my first house for $ 350,000, making more in that one transaction than I had made the entire year living in Aspen. Not a bad start in 1983, and it convinced me to stay East and launch my real estate career at my dad’s company, where I sold houses for many years and took on ever-increasing responsibilities. Brit and I married in 1984, and I was appointed manager of our Summit office four years later. I held that position until the untimely death of my father in 1994, when I purchased the company from his estate. In the mid-’90s, Bill, Seymour, Nancy, Steve and I came together to form a successful mortgage joint venture, which gave us the working relationship needed to later form our current company and ownership team.

BP: When and why did you become Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices, and how does the brand help support your success?
BK:
At the end of 2011, Brookfield Residential Property Services, now BGRS, acquired the Prudential Real Estate Franchise Network and subsequently sold a controlling interest in the network to HomeServices of America. In 2014, we had the opportunity to join the new brand that HomeServices had created, Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices. It was a natural fit for us to align with the prestigious Warren Buffett brand. It’s unique in the real estate space, one of the most widely recognized and respected brands on earth, and it gave us, among other things, a tremendous opportunity to grow our company through recruitment and acquisitions, and also expand our footprint in the luxury home market.

CB: There’s a distinct energy inherent in the Berkshire Hathaway brand, and it delivers on every level in terms of innovation and support.

BP: How would you describe your positioning in the marketplace today? What is it that sets you apart from the competition?
BK:
We are one of the leading real estate companies in the New Jersey marketplace, the largest independently owned and operated Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices affiliate in the state, and a member of the prestigious Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Elite Circle—and its predecessor, the Prudential Real Estate Gibraltar Circle—since their inception. Our overall closed volume last year was over $ 1.5 billion. The key to that kind of success, I think, is really what sets us apart: our total commitment to the professionalism of our agents, and their total commitment to excellence.

CB: Communication is a good part of that. We see ourselves as being large enough to provide our people with everything they need to succeed, but small enough so that every voice counts. Our ownership team is never up there in an ivory tower. We’re all accessible, involved in the day-to-day, and we build relationships with each and every agent. We have a caring culture, competitive in the very best sense, and that’s a valued and motivating asset.

BP: How, specifically, have you been able to grow the company as you have?
CB:
It starts with the people we hire. Whether new or experienced, we are only interested in full-time, professional commitment—and because of our reputation as a company of achievers, many new and experienced agents seek us out. We are willing, able and happy to provide personalized training, coaching, and support, but only to those with an unwavering commitment to be the best.

BP: What is it that attracts agents to you, and why do they stay?
BK:
They are attracted, primarily, by our standing in the industry as a whole and our strong presence in the many communities we serve. They know we want and expect the best from our agents, and that we operate in ways that inspire success—and they want to be a part of that. For our part, we try to make very sure that the people we bring on are truly a good fit with our culture.

CB: And they stay with us, basically, because we deliver on our promises. People enjoy and thrive when working with successful colleagues and mentors, where success is celebrated, great training is ongoing, and support is available whenever needed.

BP: What is your approach to coaching and training?
BK:
We’ve been able to augment our own effective training systems with proven Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices strategies—and as president of the company, Chris has stepped up in the area of coaching and training. He hired a vice president of Learning and Development who is building a great curriculum. It’s very personalized and goal-oriented—for example, working with an agent who’s ready to navigate the leap from $ 5 million in production to $ 10 million.

CB: And at the branch level, every one of our managers is focused on coaching and training. They are very hands-on, with specific curricula designed for agents at every level of experience. Success is a partnership, and we respect that and encourage it. With our agents, as with our customers, we understand the value of face-to-face. We’re very much into building relationships, making “warm calls,” and maximizing the value of one’s personal sphere of influence.

BP: What’s your strategy for marketing the firm to serve the needs of prospects and clients?
BK:
We have an excellent chief marketing officer who understands our core belief in building customer relationships and doing so in a variety of ways, from social media engagement across many platforms to proprietary market reports to a full luxury marketing system, and more.

CB: Part of our visibility in the community comes from our longstanding commitment to the Sunshine Kids, a national organization devoted to helping children with cancer. We “adopted” the Sunshine Kids years ago as a Prudential franchise and we support them to this day, having raised over $ 1.5 million from our offices’ local efforts, our annual corporate golf outing and generous donations from the community. Steve Janett, our COO, spearheads our committee and is committed to reaching our annual Sunshine Kids goal by working with and supporting our office liaisons, as well as chairing our annual golf event.

BP: How do you stay ahead of the curve on technology, online marketing and social media?
BK:
We provide our agents with the cutting-edge tools they need to compete in an aggressive marketplace. We are engaged heavily in digital marketing, and we empower our agents to use our tools as touchpoints to remain top-of-mind with their spheres of influence. We have e-marketing campaigns and automated systems, and tech gurus who keep us on track—but we’re also aware of just how vividly a personal phone call stands out.

CB: It is always a mix of technology and personal touch. Our top four agents last year closed some 200 transactions and did $ 80 to $ 100 million in volume—and much of that was accomplished by reaching out and staying in touch in the most traditional ways. Others have embraced our online technologies including our CRM, our back-office business center and our brand’s resource center. We also encourage agents to work with industry thought leaders, such as Brian Buffini and Tom Ferry, who both deliver different messaging and strategies for agent growth.

BP: What’s on track for the future of the firm?
BK:
Our goal is to be sure that every buyer and seller with whom we work has the best possible customer experience, because we know that is the basis for growth. So, we continue to look for the best agents to represent our banner—and we are always open to new opportunities, including strategic acquisitions, that will help expand our statewide footprint.

CB: Changes to our industry and growing demands from today’s sophisticated consumer seem to be coming at a faster and faster pace. It’s a critical balance to achieve—embracing new technologies while honoring what made us successful in the first place: integrity, trust, experience, and an overarching commitment to excellence. Millennials are the future, and there is a sharp focus on understanding what makes them tick—I know, I have two. While having great technology plays an important part in attracting them to our company, treating them with respect and earning their trust is crucial to keeping them engaged. It’s still a people business, after all. That’s why our brand is more important than ever. In this day of new and emerging business models, the Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices brand is a promise of the highest standard, and it compels us to constantly reinvent ourselves in order to remain relevant and valuable to today’s real estate professional and our buyers and sellers.

For more information, please visit www.bhhsnj.com.

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HomeServices of America, Inc. Acquires Houlihan Lawrence

Jan 17, 2017 by

HomeServices of America, Inc. has acquired Houlihan Lawrence, adding the firm’s 30 offices and 1,300 sales associates in the northern suburbs of New York City, the company announced on Tuesday. Houlihan Lawrence President and CEO Stephen Meyers and Managing Principal Chris Meyers will continue to lead the firm, which will retain its name, while Chairwoman Nancy Seaman will step down. The regional leader, which ranked No. 15 in RISMedia’s 2016 Power Broker Report for sales, closed $ 6.7 billion in sales volume last year.

“We are joining an organization known for its strength and stability,” says Stephen Meyers. “Our partnership secures the future of the firm without changing the exceptional culture that is core to our storied brand. We are thrilled with this announcement and the many benefits it brings to our clients and agents.”

“Nancy, Stephen and Chris, together with their team of sales managers and agents, have built an extraordinary organization and exemplify a level of expertise and leadership that is second-to-none in the real estate business today,” says Ron Peltier, chairman and CEO of HomeServices. “Their culture of integrity and innovation closely aligns with our corporate vision and our emphasis on customer value and results.”

“When you combine the incredible strength of our people and the remarkable history of our success with the unsurpassed financial stability of HomeServices, there is no limit to what we can accomplish,” says Chris Meyers.

“The acquisition of Houlihan Lawrence by Berkshire Hathaway’s HomeServices of America is the beginning of a new stage of growth for the local entity as well as the the entire Berkshire national network,” says John Featherston, president, CEO and publisher of RISMedia, noting HomeServices of America’s prior acquisitions of regional leaders. “HomeServices of America’s system of acquisition is well-respected, and they have done an incredible job of retaining sales associates and management. I expect the same will happen with Houlihan Lawrence.”

“This is an important transaction to HomeServices,” says Peltier, “and we are very proud to welcome Houlihan Lawrence to the HomeServices family.”

Financial terms of the transaction were not disclosed. Houlihan Lawrence serves Dutchess, Fairfield, Orange, Putnam, Ulster and Westchester counties in Connecticut and New York.

For more information, please visit HomeServices.com.

Stay tuned to RISMedia.com for more developments.

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Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Georgia Properties Launches New Website and Innovative Search Platform

Aug 11, 2016 by

Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Georgia Properties introduced a new company website and an innovative new property search platform.  The website is fully responsive for all devices and features immersive video on the homepage.  The design was created in partnership with RealTrends, Nebo Agency and Reliance Network.  The company has also launch the SEARCH3 platform from Reliance Network on all company, office and agent websites.

Over 65 percent of the company’s website visitors are using mobile devices so the company has adopted a “smartphone first” approach.  The content of all pages are designed to be effectively viewed on a smartphone as well as tablets and desktop/laptops with larger screens.  Immersive video increases traffic, improves retention and achieves higher conversions according to studies by Marketing Sherpa, comScore and Social Media Today.  The company is initially using video scenes of happy people enjoying their new home and others searching for a new home or commercial property.  Plans include testing video scenes that highlight company programs such as MEGA Open House events and other scenes that create emotional connections with consumers and real estate agents.

SEARCH3 is a very innovative new property search platform that is also mobile responsive for all devices. The platform provides a map-based search that is very fast, shows more properties, offers more custom search options and includes usability attributes that make the experience better for consumers. The interface is touch-centric for mobile devices and also works great on larger ultra HD displays.  Unique local searches include Search by DriveTime, Search by School, Search by Neighborhood, Search SOLD Properties from the MLS and many more customizable options.  This is the most advanced search platform available for Metro Atlanta real estate.

“Our associates are very excited about these new platforms. Property search is a fundamental part of the real estate business and we are committed to provide the best tools for our clients and associates,” says Dan Forsman, president and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Georgia Properties. “These new solutions also provide foundations that will allow us to innovate faster.  Look for a series of new releases this fall as we continue to refine the real estate experience here in Metro Atlanta.”

For more information, visit www.BHHSGA.com.

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Welcoming the World: Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Goes Global

Aug 7, 2016 by

Editor’s Note: The following is the cover story from the August issue of RISMedia’s Real Estate magazine.

From the widespread ripple effect of the Brexit vote to the staggering investment made by Chinese homebuyers in the U.S., there’s no denying residential real estate has become a global industry. With a parent company that already has worldwide recognition, Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices had global expansion planned when the brand launched in 2013. Now, heralded by a new website designed to facilitate international business like no other, the real estate brokerage franchise network readies itself for phase two of the plan: awarding Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices franchises in key markets around the world.

“Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices has grown remarkably in the U.S. and we’re now extending our brand, value proposition and culture abroad,” says Gino Blefari, network chief executive officer. “Our expansion plan takes place in two phases with carefully measured steps and milestones. Our first priority is to help our domestic franchisees conduct more international business, and then add high-quality brokerages abroad that will uphold our network’s values and meet its rigorous standards.”

To head up global expansion, Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices brought on global real estate franchising veteran Peter Turtzo one year ago this month. Serving as the brand’s senior vice president of International Operations, Turtzo has been responsible for establishing the strategy and process for growth into international markets.

According to Turtzo, global expansion was part of the brand promise Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices made to its franchisees from the outset. “This is something our entire organization not only looked forward to but also expected as part of the Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices value proposition,” he says. “I plan to deliver on this promise.”

Phase One: Bringing the World to the U.S.
Phase one of the two-pronged plan rolled out with the May release of the new BerkshireHathawayHS.com, replete with rich features to engage a global audience. Thanks to sweeping upgrades nearly a year in the making, BerkshireHathawayHS.com has become the industry’s first site to showcase the complete U.S. property database—translated into 10 foreign languages—to the world.

“We had two primary goals for our website: to promote the Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices brand beyond U.S. borders, and to connect international real estate consumers with our U.S. franchisees,” explains Stephen Phillips, COO of HSF Affiliates, which operates the network. “We addressed both goals with our site’s powerful search platform, which enables consumers to look for real estate in their native language. We offer a consistent experience for customers regardless of the language they choose. Other brands’ sites require you to jump to a different site for translation.”

BerkshireHathawayHS.com translates property information into: Chinese; French (European); French (Canadian); German; Italian; Japanese; Portuguese (Brazilian); Portuguese (European); and Spanish (Latin American) and Spanish (European). The most striking feature of the site, however, is its ability to bring full MLS data to buyers around the world—a feat that has yet to be taken on by other brands.

“Compliance represents a high barrier to entry into the full MLS data space,” explains Phillips, preventing brokers from making the leap to this point. BerkshireHathawayHS.com now breaks this mold by presenting full MLS data in home-search results.

“By contrast, other brands’ sites show only their listings or use advertising data (IDX) to power their websites,” says Phillips. “The latter does not contain full MLS data, as many brokers opt out entire listings and others opt out pieces of information, such as street addresses. Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices is the only franchise that empowers its franchisees to bring full MLS data to their registered customers, international or domestic.”

The bold move is a smart one considering the significant influx of foreign buyers in the U.S. According to the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) 2016 Profile of International Activity in U.S. Residential Real Estate, between April 2015 and March 2016, foreign buyers purchased $ 102.6 billion of residential property in the U.S. A total of 214,885 U.S. residential properties were bought by foreign buyers (up 2.8 percent), and properties were typically valued higher ($ 277,380) compared to the median price of all U.S. existing-home sales ($ 223,058).

“Roughly 4 percent of the U.S. housing market is consumed by foreigners, and we expect that number to continue to grow,” says Turtzo. “Our first objective was to capture those buyers who are looking at the U.S. We did that by expanding the website to be multilingual for all of the listings in the MLSs across America. So now, somebody in Germany looking for properties in Naples, Fla., would be able to see all of the listings that are available for sale translated to German, not just those available through Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices. They’re not just seeing a slice of the listings pie; they’re able to see the whole thing.”

The decision to offer the full swath of U.S. listings in 10 languages was made with the consumer in mind, underscores Turtzo. “We put ourselves in the shoes of the consumer and asked, ‘If we were in Germany, what would we want to see? Only Brand X’s listings or all of the listings in the marketplace?’ We felt that Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices, being a consumer-focused brand, should deliver all of the listings.”

To develop the site’s global MLS platform, HSF Affiliates’ IT group worked with Aliso Viejo, Calif.-based Real Estate Digital (RED). “Since providing full MLS data was important to us, we needed an ally that understood what was required to obtain and properly use that data,” says Phillips. “Real Estate Digital has a strong MLS data-aggregation team that ensures compliance with every MLS.”

Adds Phillips: “Our IT team performed far beyond our high expectations in developing the site. The group, which is led by CIO Grady Ligon, brought innovation and perspective to the year-long project at every step.”

The user experience for the foreign buyer was designed to be simple and welcoming. With one click, BerkshireHathawayHS.com visitors can choose their language, and the website instantly translates. Site translations are performed and checked by linguists—not machines—so they are clean, accurate and respectful. The site seamlessly converts currency and measurements. As consumers register on the site, they unlock proprietary “Inside Access” features, including the latest pending and sold information, specialized market reports and property-price history.

“BerkshireHathawayHS.com also showcases the industry’s most accurate automated valuation model, which uses pricing data generated for banks and mortgage lenders,” adds Phillips. “When consumers enter a property address, they not only receive a highly accurate home-price estimate and compelling analytics, but also the important ‘take the next step’ prompt that connects them with their local Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices affiliate.”

To augment global business for its U.S. franchisees, Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices teamed up with Worldposting to syndicate most of the network’s residential listings priced at $ 200,000 and above to 70 global websites serving consumers in 37 countries on five continents. Text and pictures are updated daily and sent automatically to many of the world’s hottest search sites.

According to Blefari, this new global reach gives Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices associates a distinct advantage at the listing table where today’s sellers—particularly in the luxury arena—are looking for the best-possible exposure. Now their homes will be brought to an international audience.

“We believe Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices network sales associates have the best story to tell in the market,” Blefari adds. “Our mindset is…one world…one real estate market…one brand—Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices.”

Looking ahead, the technology component of the global plan will only increase. “Over time, we will add new languages to the website,” says Phillips. “As we name franchisees outside of the U.S., you can expect to see the same consistent customer experience expanded to include those franchisees and their listings.”

Phase Two: Bringing the Brand to the World
With the global website strategy well underway, Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices is now looking to phase two of the plan: establishing franchises in key markets around the world. Initial focus includes London, Berlin, Munich, Paris, Madrid, Rome, Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Beijing, Shanghai and Singapore, major financial centers where Berkshire Hathaway’s corporate name recognition runs high.

“Our plan’s guiding principle is to grow strategically and not merely in response to random opportunities,” says Blefari. “We will be disciplined in this approach.”

The network will use similar restraint in its selection of franchisees. “Our objective is quality affiliations with established, reputable real estate companies who will properly represent the Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices brand,” says Turtzo, who expects a positive roll-out of international franchisees—and is already fielding an increasing number of inquiries.

In June, the firm gained favorable reviews among the British press after the brand announced its expansion plans to international media. At press time, Turtzo was soon to announce the appointment of a managing director of Franchise Sales for the EMEA region.

“Our managing director’s No. 1 responsibility is to identify eligible, qualified candidates in key markets in Europe,” says Turtzo. “And those franchise relationships will differ considerably from the way a lot of real estate brands have expanded globally.”

Contrary to the global franchise business model most U.S. real estate brands employ, Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices foreign franchisees will operate under a direct franchise model, linking them straight to the brand’s home-base in Irvine, Calif.

The unique and ambitious strategy ensures a strong relationship with the brand’s U.S. headquarters. “We will provide direct support to global franchisees through professionals deployed locally in their respective regions, as well as from our U.S. staff,” says Turtzo. “This is a dramatic departure from most models that work with master franchisors in other countries who then have the right to sub-franchise.”

The direct franchise model also means that Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices will provide customized training and tech support for all international franchisees. “We’re not simply taking American training programs and translating them into Spanish and French,” explains Turtzo. “The programs will be adapted to the local market. In many markets around the world, getting a listing is a very different process from what we’re used to in the U.S.”

For Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices, the investment required to facilitate the direct franchise model is well worth it as it will help ensure the brand’s quality around the globe.

“Consistent protection of our brand is our No. 1 priority,” says Turtzo. “It is my No. 1 marching order.”

All Roads Lead to Brand Quality
According to Turtzo, Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices’ path toward global expansion will be an “inch-by-inch” process.

“Again, we are going to be very selective and very deliberate with our international expansion strategy,” he explains. “We won’t be putting ads in the newspaper that say, ‘Call us for franchises’. This will be a strategic and thoughtful process as to which real estate companies would share the values of our organization.”

With an eye to the future, Turtzo says: “If we are in 20 countries by 2020, we will be very happy.”

International franchisees, similar to their domestic counterparts at Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices, should anticipate a culture of growth and support from the network. “We are successful when our franchisees are successful,” says Blefari. “We focus all of our energy and passion on our franchisees’ success, whether they operate in the U.S. or abroad.”

Global-Ready REALTORS®
As Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices franchisees in the U.S. prepare to service a new pipeline of foreign real estate consumers, the brand is focused on increasing training through the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) Certified International Property Specialist (CIPS) designation.

“CIPS is the approved designation of NAR, and we currently have two full-time certified trainers who are delivering the CIPS program across the country,” reports Peter Turtzo, SVP of International Operations for Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices. “Our objective is to continue to provide that training to more and more agents to make them better prepared, and to expand their knowledge and skill set as to how to deal with different cultures.”

According to Turtzo, CIPS training is in line with the brand’s overall philosophy. “The theme is the same as everywhere else: What does the consumer need and want? Someone who understands them—not just their language, but the way they do business.”

For more information, visit www.BerkshireHathawayHS.com.

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HomeServices of America, Inc. Announces Acquisition of Allie Beth Allman & Associates

Nov 14, 2015 by

HomeServices of America, Inc., a Berkshire Hathaway affiliate, has announced the acquisition of Allie Beth Allman & Associates, a recognized leader within the Dallas luxury real estate market. Terms were not disclosed. Headquartered in Dallas, Allie Beth Allman & Associates serves the Dallas–Ft. Worth metropolitan area and surrounding communities with 335 sales associates. Since 2007, […]
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