LAS VEGAS — Real estate brokers and agents have a key role to play in guiding consumers through these troubled times in the real estate market, said participants in a Tuesday panel discussion during the National Association of Realtors’ annual conference.
“I think that in uncertain times the number one thing everyone is looking for is certainty,” said Tami Bonnell, president of U.S. operations for EXIT Realty.
Brokers must work to train their agents, she said, and agents in turn must work to educate consumers. “We need to reach out. We need to be the ones who are certain in uncertain times: ‘We have accurate information and we’re going to help you through this.’ “
Sharing market information with clients can help to dispel inaccurate or misleading information that they may be getting from other sources, panelists said.
The panel, titled, “The Power Broker Perspective: The Female Point of View,” featured seven women who all serve as managers for large real estate companies.
Annie Hanna Cestra, who oversees administrative services for Howard Hanna Real Estate Service, said that many real estate companies offer mortgage services to consumers, and that can work to their advantage as so many mortgage companies are struggling these days.
“If you don’t have a mortgage company now as a (real estate) brokerage you should soon have one,” she said.
When problems in the mortgage market became pronounced, Dottie Herman, president and CEO for Prudential Douglas Elliman, said she took the matter into her own hands to learn more about how the problems would impact her clients.
“The first thing I did was call up the banks and different lenders myself. What I found out was that the banks themselves did not know what they were going to do — did not even know how to qualify people,” she said.
This uncertainty in the mortgage and credit markets can actually make real estate professionals more relevant, she said.
“What an opportunity, because your seller doesn’t know who’s going to qualify today if the banks aren’t really sure of how they’re doing it. The seller is going to need you more,” Herman said, adding that brokers can arrange buyer seminars to educate them about what to expect in the transaction process.
Sherry Chris, president and CEO for Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate, a new franchise brand for brokerage giant Realogy, said that tough times will likely bring agents closer to brokers.
“Agents for the first time in a long time are going to their broker-owners for help,” she said, with some agents leaving the business and others seeking more assistance from their brokers to stay afloat.
Chris said that brokers can reestablish their relationship with agents and serve them by building tools for them to use and by working to sort through “what’s going on with technology and listings syndication and blogging.”
She said she expects that broker-owners will become “more important as time goes on.”
Panelists also discussed and debated the importance of corporate branding, and how they police agents’ use of brand.
“As an industry we’ve been branded almost at the agent level than at the company level,” said Pamela O’Connor, president and CEO for Leading Real Estate Companies of the World.
“I think the really progressive companies are going to have to do a much more well-defined job of identifying (their brand),” she said. “I think it’s not only important — I think it’s critical.”
Companies must work to develop a strong brand identity and to set parameters for quality control.
In some cases the company brand is not even clearly visible in agents’ marketing at Web sites and billboards, panelists noted.
Margaret Kelly, CEO for RE/MAX International, said that her company spends more than $1 billion each year to advertise the RE/MAX brand. It’s a mystery to her why affiliated agents would not want to identify with the brand, she said. “Why would you not put that brand out there?”
Herman summed up her views: “If you don’t like my brand, you should go with somebody else’s brand.”
Panelists reported the widespread use of real estate agent teams in the industry, and noted that brokers can play a role in training and establishing guidelines for teams.
Kelly said that 26 percent of RE/MAX associates are members of a team. “It isn’t the way of the future. It’s here now.” The emergence of teams may be attributed to the increasing complexity of the real estate business, she said.
“The broker has to make money, too,” from the teams, said Chris. “It’s up to the broker to train the teams, establish a training program for team members and make sure that you’re making a profit as a broker-owner.”
From a consumer’s perspective, team leaders should take note that consumers who hire them want to work specifically with them, and not be passed along to another team member.
“You have to remember that that’s the agent they hired. That’s a caveat we have to remember,” she said.
The industry is becoming more consumer-centric and tech-focused, panelists said. Chris said that real estate technology companies “that we thought of as our enemies” have actually propelled the industry “to move forward, and created what I call healthy tension within the industry. They forced us to open our minds.”
Kaira Sturdivant Rouda, president of Real Living, said that real estate companies should work to build up the technology features of their own Web sites so they don’t end up forfeiting their intellectual property to other sites. Technology companies that appear to be friends now could quickly emerge as foes, she said.
Panelists also shared their thoughts about their own successes in the industry, and they said that in their experience the real estate industry has few barriers for women.
“The thing I love about the real estate industry is whether you’re a male or female agent you still get the same commission. From the ground up it doesn’t have a glass ceiling,” Kelly said.