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Sherry Chris, president and CEO for Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate — the newly launched Realogy franchise brand — was in an airport when she saw the Twitter message.

"I thought, ‘This has to be an industry first.’ " It was a query from a broker who wanted to learn more about the upstart franchise network. "We’ve picked up two franchising leads from Twitter," said Chris. Twitter allows people to communicate via text messages that are posted online, and to follow others’ Twitter posts.

The franchise company, which licenses its name from Meredith Corp., the publisher of Better Homes and Gardens magazine, has embraced social media during the run-up to its debut today.

Company officials have posted items at the corporate Clean Slate blog and used Twitter and social networking site Facebook to generate buzz and communicate about the new arrival. The modern, tech-savvy marketing push isn’t surprising given the ground-up approach to the brand.

Chris, who formerly worked for Coldwell Banker, Prudential CA/NV/TX, Real Living and Royal LePage and was the first hire for Realogy’s Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate franchise, said, "We started with a completely clean slate in a challenging real estate market."

The well-known brand name does provide some solid footing for the franchise, Chris noted, and company officials plan to leverage the popular brand name by advertising real estate services in the Better Homes and Gardens magazine and by promoting its real estate site at the magazine’s companion Web site, BHG.com.

Next month, for example, the BHG.com site will feature a property search bar throughout the Web site that will lead visitors to the real estate site, at BHGRealEstate.com.

"We’re taking not just the name of Better Homes and Gardens but a lot of what the brand stands for itself," Chris said. The company has licensed some content from the publishing company to include at the real estate site, and officials recognize that there may be synergies in the audience of Meredith Corp. publications, which also include Ladies’ Home Journal, Family Circle and Parents, among others.

"Because of our partnership with Meredith we have access to an 85-milllion-consumer database," she said. "We’re going to differentiate ourselves by allowing our affiliates to target market in a much different way than agents are doing today."

The Better Homes and Gardens magazine, by itself, has an estimated 40 million readers and a subscription base of more than 8 million, and the companion Web site draws 5 million unique visitors per month, Chris said. "That is our natural demographic," Chris said, and includes baby boomers and echo boomers.

"We are launching what we believe to be the first real estate lifestyle brand," Chris said.

So the real estate brand is intended to appeal to much the same crowd as the Better Homes and Gardens magazine — those home enthusiasts who enjoy remodeling, cooking and decorating, for example.

"It is not just a transaction-oriented real estate franchise. We offer a franchise that truly speaks to the lifestyle surrounding of buying, living in and selling the home." There are other cross-promotional opportunities within the brand — Chris noted that the publishing company has licensed the Better Homes and Gardens name for a line of indoor and outdoor furniture, and there may be opportunities for the company’s franchisees to populate their offices with the furniture.

The real estate company’s Web site will feature a blog, videos and articles ranging from kitchen remodeling to ideas for "green" living.

The real estate search tools are a central feature of the Web design, Chris said. "We decided that having a dynamic search was a very important, basic component that consumers would be looking for."

The site will feature detailed information on schools, including enrollment and staffing, and neighborhood demographics. Property search results at the site will initially be populated by several Realogy brands in order to present a wider range of available properties.

Realogy in October announced a 50-year licensing deal for the Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate brand. A 10-year licensing agreement between Meredith and GMAC Home Services to use the Better Homes and Gardens trademark ended this year.

Meredith had operated its own real estate franchise network from 1978-98 before selling off to GMAC and entering into the licensing deal with that company.

The first Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate franchise under the Realogy deal is with Wilkins & Associates, a company in northeastern Pennsylvania. That company has seven offices and about 130 agents.

Realogy operates several other major real estate franchise networks, including Coldwell Banker, Century 21, ERA and Sotheby’s International Realty, among others.

The Better Homes and Gardens licensing deal is similar to a 50-year licensing deal announced in the formation of the Sotheby’s real estate franchise network in 2004.

Chris said Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate is seeking mid-size to large brokerage companies across the nation and internationally to join its franchise network.

The Better Homes and Gardens brand is known internationally, and Chris said the company is licensed to sell real estate franchises in 26 nations — parent company Realogy has operations in 90 nations. "The Better Homes and Gardens trademark is widely known and recognized," Chris said, in markets ranging from Australia to China.

Chris noted that the housing market has presented many challenges for the industry, and the franchise company seeks to be a "financial partner" in working with its affiliates.

"It’s safe to say most brokers are challenged right now," she said. Franchisees will be required to submit quarterly financial reports. "We are very serious about right-sizing companies now and into the future," she said, and that are either unaffiliated with a franchise network or are non-Realogy affiliates that are considering a move to a new brand.

The company offers assistance in evaluating the commission structure between brokers and agents, the office structure and number of agents per office, and expenditures on equipment and technology, as examples. There is a national online recruiting platform built into the franchise network that seeks to attract and qualify agents, Chris said.

A post at the company’s blog discusses possible ways to rethink and retool the layout of brokerage offices, too, to suit fundamental industry changes.

"We believe the offices of the future need to look a lot different than they do today," she said.

Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate officials unveiled the new Realogy franchise offering Wednesday at the Real Estate Connect conference in San Francisco. Chris; Gayle Butler, senior vice president and editor in chief for Better Homes and Gardens magazine; and Alex Perriello, president and CEO of the Realogy Franchise Group, discussed the launch during a press conference and webcast at 8:30 a.m. PDT on Wednesday. The event was held at the Palace Hotel. The webcast and slide presentation can be viewed at: http://tinyurl.com/65lo82, and company Twitter posts from the conference can be viewed at: bhgrealestate.

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