If you haven’t heard of Envirian, you will.
The technology-focused real estate company, which launched its first franchise office last year in Pennsylvania, now has 53 franchises either open or in the process of opening.
As the real estate market cools in many real estate markets across the country, Envirian is gearing up for expansion. By the end of the year, company founder and CEO Lee Konowe said he expects that the number of franchise offices will double.
Konowe, a former forensic profiler who worked with the intelligence community in the Washington, D.C., region, and wife Denese, a former restaurateur, took up a career in real estate as a husband-and-wife team in 1995. They worked for several real estate companies before setting out on their own.
In 1999, the Konowes launched Reston-Homes Realty, a brokerage company based in Reston, Va. And in 2001, Konowe launched e-Agent, a company that provides online marketing products and services for real estate professionals, including lead-generation services. E-Agent serves about 820 cities nationwide.
The Envirian franchise model aims to to supply 100 leads per year to every agent. Envirian also supports its franchise offices with marketing services and a range of technologies that were developed in-house. The company generates leads through a Web site registration process. Envirian (pronounced en-VEER-ee-en) maintains several Web sites for each of its franchise offices, and these regionally focused Web sites serve as a primary source of leads. Konowe said the company now controls about 1,000 Web sites.
Basic online search tools at Envirian sites do not require registration, though registration is required for more advanced tools such as a consumer-friendly map-based property search that is built on a Google Maps platform. The mapping tool includes separate icons for single-family homes, apartments, condos and vacant lots, and all of these icons are color-coded based on price. The property information is supplied by local multiple listing services.
Konowe said that the Envirian business model allows agents to focus on the business of selling real estate while the company handles marketing and technology. “This is … a company that essentially says to brokers and Realtors, ‘You came into this business as salespeople, not as marketing people. The skill set is very different. We will take on the marketing responsibility for you, allowing you and your brokers to focus on the thing that brought you into the industry, which is sales,'” Konowe said.
Franchise owners exclusively serve an town, city, or county area with a population of at least 50,000, so there is a finite number of franchises the company will award – Konowe said there are about 1,400 or 1,500 possible territories nationwide. “On average our typical franchisee has been taking two or three territories – we should not end up with any more than 500 franchisees.” He is also eying international growth, with plans to launch in Canada before the end of the year and in Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom by 2008. This week, Konowe was promoting the company in New Zealand.
The company maintains an in-house television production staff that work with agents at franchise offices to produce one-minute advertisements for properties. This approach seems to have a more direct impact on a sale than a generic company ad that does not focus on individual listings, Konowe said. “Putting a one-minute movie up on prime-time TV is a tremendous amount of attention,” Konowe said, and those videos can also be viewed at company Web sites. Agents pay for the costs of producing the ads.
Envirian agents can receive leads and access the MLS via their cell phones. The company does not charge a fee for company-generated leads that it supplies to agents, and it has a blanket policy for commission splits for agents: Agents keep 70 percent of real estate commissions that they bring in, and give 30 percent to the company.
How did the company get its name?
“It was a very good bottle of California red wine and a very long weekend that finally produced ‘Envirian,'” Konowe said. The name is not particularly relevant to real estate, though it is unique – and that’s a tall order these days, he said. Lawyers advised him to pick a name that did not pop up in Google searches, had an available Web address, did not appear in U.S. Patent and Trademark Office archives, and had no prior meaning.
“The name has done very well,” he said, though he acknowledged that some people jokingly ask if there is a connection to a certain bottled water company – Evian. (There isn’t.)
As for changing market conditions, Konowe said he thinks the company will do well as the market transitions toward a buyer’s market in some areas, particularly because about 65 percent of the company-generated leads are prospective buyers.
Russell Cohn, president of Envirian San Francisco, which opened in March, said he was drawn to the franchise by the company’s approach to marketing. Cohn, a longtime mortgage professional, said Realtors can spend hundreds and thousands of their own dollars on direct-mail campaigns and other advertising and lead-generation services, and he appreciated that the company had built an in-house marketing system.
Leads are distributed to agents equally by a computer program, “and not selectively to the favorites of the brokerage,” he said. “When you give someone a continuous supply of leads it takes away some stress. The biggest burden (agents) have today is generating leads – we’ve really taken a lot of that burden away from them.”
Cohn said Envirian agents are expected to work full-time – there are a lot of part-time agents out there “who are really unemployed and don’t want to admit it,” he said.
Cohn studied whether to open his own independent real estate office before he learned about Envirian, he said, adding that the company’s exclusive franchise territories were a draw.
Linda Caoli, broker-owner at Envirian of Sacramento in California, has taken a unique approach to her franchise office that includes mechanical massage chairs, coffee bar, juice bar and yoga classes. Caoli purchased a 5,000-square-foot building to realize her “dream franchise.” The Sacramento franchise opened in a smaller space about three weeks ago, she said, and the building should be ready in five to six weeks.
“Too many agents are working out of the trunk of their car and pulling over to the local coffee shop to do business. I’m bringing the coffee shop to the office,” she said. On Wednesday, Caoli treated agent trainees to lunch and a limousine ride.
She said that she is seeking to respond to more than just the educational and training needs of her agents. “(Agents) say they have support and training and classes but there is something missing. I think training is important, but I think (the issue) is caring about the agent – caring about their health, caring about their families, helping them to be successful,” said Caoli, who formerly worked for Coldwell Banker and has three years of experience as a real estate professional and 10 years as an investment advisor.
She said the agents at her office seem to enjoy her approach with the new franchise. “It’s been positive. They are thrilled to see a broker who is really giving back to the agent. I’m showing them, ‘I deserve a part of your commission because I’m working for it.'”
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