Steve Ozonian, the much-traveled real estate executive who took a leading role at flat-fee brokerage company Help-U-Sell in 2006, has resigned from his management role to serve as an adviser.

In a message to Help-U-Sell brokers this month, Ozonian detailed other corporate management changes, including the formation of a new board of directors.

Ernie Recsetar, who has served as president and CEO for Stirling Capital Co., a Phoenix, Ariz., company that arranges capital financings, has been named the company’s new chairman of the board. Ash Asensio, who assumed the company’s chief financial officer position in an earlier management restructuring in 2005, has moved into the "day-to-day management role of the company" and is "responsible for all daily company activities."

Ozonian told Inman News that there were multiple reasons for his departure. The mission that he was hired for — to rapidly grow the company — became impossible to achieve given the dramatic downturn in the housing market, he said. He also cited a family illness that prevents him from devoting his full attention to company matters.

"This real estate recession, almost a depression, that we’re in really needs a full-time focus by someone focused on cutting costs, making things as efficient as possible, and really buttoning down the hatches," he said. "I told the board I’m not the guy right now. I don’t have the time that it takes personally right now. I came here to help you grow and build at a time when the market was healthy."

Board members, he said, "really weren’t all that surprised" by his decision to resign. "They understand that the original vision and mission is curtailed by what’s going on now."

He also said that the pain that Help-U-Sell is experiencing is not isolated to alternative business models, and that real estate companies of all types are suffering. "The fact is everybody is on their knees now. Nobody has escaped the trauma of this market."

Ozonian said that a prolonged housing slump has the potential to upend any company in the industry. It just depends on how the market plays itself out. "The real issues for the industry right now are so big and broad and reside at the highest levels of government and the industry. We are all at the mercy of these mega-decisions being made to stop this hemorrhaging and reverse this downfall of the credit markets."

He added that Help-U-Sell "is continuing to manage itself against the devastation that the market has caused, and believes that it has options. Those options are driven by the amount of time that the market stays deeply divided."

Ozonian has seen the real estate industry from many sides. He is a former CEO and president for popular home-search site, was a national home ownership executive for Bank of America, and also served as a senior executive at major franchise company Re/Max International. He also has held management positions at Prudential Real Estate and Coldwell Banker, and has served as chairman for Global Mobility Solutions, a relocation support company.

Help-U-Sell has reported that its office numbers have declined during the housing downturn, falling from about 820 offices in 2006 to 650 offices in 2007. There has been some accompanying unrest within the ranks of Help-U-Sell franchisees, with some office managers questioning whether there was adequate support from the corporate headquarters.

The company has made some changes, offering a new franchise fee program and establishing an advisory council that is composed of franchisees, regional directors and staff from the corporate office.

It’s not the first time the company has experienced a rough market or a management restructuring. Help-U-Sell was founded in 1976 and began franchising in the 1980s. The company was purchased by Metropolitan Benefit Life, which expanded the company to a couple of hundred franchises before it went bankrupt. Some of the franchisees dropped off, and the company was acquired in 1997 by American Pacific Financial Corp. In 1999, the company had 89 franchises.

In his adviser role at Help-U-Sell, Ozonian said he plans to help the company find some investment capital or partners to assist the company. "Help-U-Sell wants to make sure it has the financial wherewithal to withstand a continuation of the market for a sustained period of time. All of us aren’t quite sure quite how long all of this is going to go on. It’s very unpredictable. I think all of 2008 is going to be a challenge and a struggle."


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