Re/Max CEO: Success is still about relationships

Real Estate Connect speaker profile: Margaret Kelly

Margaret Kelly, CEO of Re/Max, a global real estate franchisor with 90,000 affiliated professionals in 80 countries, will give a keynote talk and lead a broker session during the Real Estate Connect San Francisco conference, which runs from Aug. 1-3 at the Hilton San Francisco Union Square hotel.

Kelly, who joined Re/Max in 1989 as a financial analyst, was named president in 2002 and CEO in 2005.

In her Connect keynote talk, "Adapting for Success," Kelly will share how Re/Max responded to the quick-changing and uncertain climate that characterizes the real estate industry today.

Her broker talk, "Running a Real Estate Business in a New Real Estate Market," will explore where a real estate professional’s real value lies.

On technology

The new real estate market, Kelly said, is a lot like the old one, but with more technology. "It’s still a relationship service business," she said. "The Internet will not replace the real estate agent." 

"Consumers will buy an airline ticket online, but they won’t buy a home online," Kelly said.

Kelly estimates that she travels about 130 days a year to give talks, meet with Re/Max brokers and agents at their offices, and establish, maintain and grow relationships.

Technology — like her iPad, which takes the place of her laptop when she travels — helps maintain relationships. But without face-to-face time, she said, relationships can suffer.

Kelly said no technology is generally allowed at Re/Max group meetings, in order to emphasize the relationships between people at the table and the job at hand.

When she gets home, Kelly said, she puts her phone in the closet, where its charger lives. Then she has dinner, takes her dog on a walk, and checks the phone once more before turning it off for the night.

It’s her way of dealing with "the only difficult thing" about technology — the temptation and ability to always be accessible.

The new consumer

Today’s consumers are more educated, Kelly said. They have searched for homes online and checked out real estate professionals too — via LinkedIn, for example. That speeds up the home search and homebuying process, she said, because consumers know what they want.

The rapid evolution of technology means real estate professionals have to be ready and able to communicate well with four distinct homebuying generations: traditional, baby boomers, Generation Xers and Millennials.

Housing market outlook

Kelly says three things can get the real estate industry humming again: removing artificial stimuli (like tax credits) to the housing market; the return of a healthy job market; and a relaxation of lending guidelines to facilitate consumer borrowing.

Now that consumers and real estate professionals alike have have had some experience buying and selling distressed homes, Kelly thinks the remaining backlog of foreclosures will be processed much more smoothly. As prices start to go up, underwater homeowners will begin to recover some of their lost equity, she said.

Perception of real estate professionals

The real estate boom and bust, followed by the slow recovery that’s played out over the last several years, hasn’t tarnished  real estate professionals’ reputations, Kelly said.

"Real estate didn’t get us into this," she said. People are always going to buy and sell homes, and will continue to need real estate agents to advise them on what, for many, will be the biggest transaction of their lives.

"Our biggest focus has been on educating our real estate professionals," to ensure a quality transaction, Kelly said.

Franchisor value

What can a franchisor do that a brokerage can’t do on its own? When a broker buys into a franchise like Re/Max, Kelly said, "it’s buying a proven, existing, successful system." National advertising; group purchases on products and services, which lead to discounts; and lead generation all make the franchise relationship valuable to brokerages, she said.

On branding

According to a 2011 study, Re/Max has a 91 percent brand recognition. Maintaining the brand involves advertising in a variety of mediums, Kelly said.

"In many parts of the year, we’re the only real estate brand that advertises on TV," she said. Recently, Re/Max launched a social media compaign that asks consumers, "What moves you?"


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