Prudential Real Estate Affiliates president Earl Lee is an understated man who appears to be on a mission, buying eRealty earlier this year and announcing a significant   distribution deal with Yahoo! yesterday.

Prudential has teamed up with Yahoo! to provide visitors to Yahoo! Real Estate pages access to comprehensive and detailed real estate listing information from a Prudential broker in their selected market area. The service will be available immediately in the Austin, Texas; Baltimore; Boston; Chicago; Dallas/Ft. Worth; Houston; Lexington, Kentucky; and Washington, D.C.

Prudential is the first franchise to launch an aggressive strategy to capture Internet consumers. The move seems obvious, as real estate brands become increasingly associated with Internet services as most home buyers now start their house search on the Web.

Industry observers say that Lee is personally driving this new vision with support from Prudential executives who see the power of the Internet for a real estate franchise. Plus it could differentiate the New Jersey insurance giant from the franchise pack.

When he purchased eRealty, Lee’s plan was to take eRealty technology nationwide and thus enable Prudential’s 46,000 real estate brokers and sales associates to take advantage of it. The goals are to improve those brokers’ and associates’ abilities to obtain business from the Internet, communicate with online prospects in their preferred way (i.e., through e-mail) and convert them into closed transactions even many months later, based on eRealty’s experience with the technology.

“Finding customers upstream, knowing who they are and having the ability to communicate with them on their terms is clearly an advantage the system will have,” Lee said. “If there is a tool that we should provide (our affiliates) that will help them work with buyers who are six, nine, even 12 months away, then we are bringing tremendous value” to them.

A native of Hawaii, Lee is proving to be a tenacious leader.

Lee was born on an Indian Reservation in Spokane, Wash., and reared in the Hawaiian Islands. His father is Korean and was a Methodist minister on the reservation, where the family lived until Lee was six years old. His mother was born in Indiana to Korean parents.

“I lived on the Reservation, rode the Reservation bus to school every day and frankly, thought I was an Indian,” Lee said.

Lee had an eye-opening experience when he first arrived at his chosen college, Southern Methodist University in Dallas, and realized the school was segregated. Coming from Hawaii in the early 1960s, he hadn’t even thought to question the college’s policies on racial segregation.

“It was a shock for a little bit because I had never faced overt prejudice,” he said.

In 1966, when Lee was in his junior year of college, he received a draft notice for the Vietnam War. A woman at the Dallas Draft Board office was surprised to discover he had been drafted since she immediately assumed he was Asian, rather than a U.S.-born citizen.

The racial atmosphere has changed some in the 37 years since then, but Lee points out that ethnic diversity is still lacking in the real estate business. Experts predict minorities will make up the bulk of population growth in the country over the next 10 years, and Lee believes the agent’s ethnic background is an important consideration for many minority home buyers.

Lee likes to talk about his family’s remarkable history and he isn’t shy about the details. He shows great admiration and appreciation for his father, who sacrificed many personal luxuries to help his children earn success.

***

Send tips or a Letter to the Editor to jessica@inman.com or call (510) 658-9252, ext. 133.

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