Those bright yellow and red real estate signs are hard to miss – Help-U-Sell Real Estate now has about 825 offices across the country, and those signs are popping up in a lot of yards.
A pioneer in flat-fee real estate services for sellers, Help-U-Sell is expanding its business model as it grows its territory. The company, which as its name suggests was formed to serve real estate sellers, continues to test service offerings for buyers, and is implementing a new compensation and recruiting strategy for its agents and staff.
Help-U-Sell hasn’t gotten so big by standing still, said company president Rick O’Neil, who joined the company in 1999. “We see our company changing everyday. I see everything that is happening today in real estate as an opportunity. A person has to look at that – try to identify what the opportunities could be and then go seize the moment,” he said.
In June the company made a large investment in Internet advertising, O’Neil said. And with the growth of the company’s network of offices “we’re starting to get some critical mass in certain areas,” he added.
The Help-U-Sell brand officially launched in 1976 with an office in Mission Viejo, Calif. After growing to 150 offices, the owner sold the company in 1986 to Mutual Benefit Life Insurance Co. The company was later purchased in 1996 by Roger Steiner, president of Realty Information Systems, and resold in 1997 to American Pacific Financial Corp.
O’Neil rose through the ranks of industry giant Century 21 before joining Help-U-Sell. He worked for Century 21 for 20 years and served as vice president and regional director for the company’s Northeast region. At Help-U-Sell, he worked to secure an agreement with Bank of America that allows home buyers to pre-qualify and apply for mortgages online, and he has supported other Internet-based initiatives.
Help-U-Sell sellers have the ability to conduct their own open houses, though they also can pay a fee for a Help-U-Sell representative to show the home. O’Neil said that despite the company’s set-fee prices, its services are comparable to traditional, full-service companies.
The company is pursuing a recruiting strategy through which it will hire some people who will serve as customer-service specialists and others who will serve as local real estate experts. While all of these workers will be licensed real estate professionals, he said this specialization will better serve consumers.
“Instead of going out and hiring real estate agents, per se, we are hiring people that will be doing various aspects of customer-service performance at various levels. They don’t have the mindset nor do we expect them to function as a conventional agents,” he said.
So there will be real estate customer-service experts to help guide consumers through the process, and real estate experts who can assist with the transaction. The company has also been transitioning its agents from a commission-based compensation model to a salary, with opportunities for bonuses based on office profitability.
The company will continue to expand with new start-up offices, O’Neil said, and the company also is seeing some interest from brokers who want to convert their office to a Help-U-Sell franchise office. “In the last two and three years, more and more conversion offices are coming to look at us and join us…and I think that trend is continuing,” O’Neil said.
O’Neil, when asked about the number of agents Help-U-Sell employs, said he couldn’t come up with a quick number. “The number of agents to us is less important than the productivity of each office,” he said, and many offices run with a staff of four or five people. California is the top market for the company, and Chicago, Florida and Dallas are also big markets. Help-U-Sell has a goal to grow to 1,800 franchises within four years.
Legislators in several states have passed legislation that effectively outlaws some limited offerings for real estate services, including the ability of companies to list a property in a multiple-listing service for a flat fee while offering no other services to clients. O’Neil said he opposes laws that reduce competition or restrict consumer choice, though such laws have not impacted Help-U-Sell.
“I’m opposed to any legislation that would curtail either the full competition within the real estate industry or curtail choices by the consumer. You fight competition through strategy, not legislation,” he said.
O’Neil said his company strives to be consumer-centric. “Most people in our company feel like we’re on a mission,” he said.
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