After college, some graduates may take time off and travel the world, or apply for grad school. Others head right into the workplace, where some are lucky enough to find themselves on a career track.

For Alain Pinel Realtors President Larry Knapp, a post-college opportunity led him down a path to becoming one of the real estate industry’s most innovative leaders.

After college, some graduates may take time off and travel the world or apply for grad school. Others head straight into the workplace, where some find themselves in a job that’s the first step in a long and successful career.

For Alain Pinel Realtors President Larry Knapp, a post-college opportunity led him down a path to becoming one of the real estate industry’s most respected and innovative leaders.

It was 1969 and Knapp was just out of college and in need of a job. His father-in-law owned a small real estate company and suggested Knapp try the business. Twenty-two-year-old Knapp became a salesperson and started selling real estate in the Sacramento, Calif. area.

"It was a job that wasn’t behind the desk in the office," Knapp recalls. "It was meeting and working with people, and I enjoyed that, and the opportunity to help people buy real estate — one of the great financial opportunities that we have. And each situation was different."

Thirty-nine years later, Knapp is president and chief operating officer of Alain Pinel Realtors Inc., a privately-held real estate brokerage with 27 offices serving upscale communities in Northern California.

"As it turned out, I was a good salesperson, and I had the opportunity to manage an office, and I grew to manage a larger office, and became a regional manager," Knapp says.

Path to success

Knapp’s responsibilities grew over time. After becoming part of Coldwell Banker through a 1981 acquisition, Knapp became president of Coldwell Banker of Northern California four years later.

In 1997 Knapp became the Western U.S. senior vice president for Cendant operating arm NRT Inc., directing the acquisitions and mergers of many independent and boutique real estate brokerages in Northern California.

By the time of his departure, Knapp was managing companies with 200 branch offices, 9,000 sales associates, and $50 billion in sales in California, Oregon, Washington and Colorado (Today, NRT LLC operates Cendant spin-off Realogy Corp.’s company-owned real estate brokerage offices including Coldwell Banker, ERA, Sotheby’s International Realty and The Corcoran Group).

Knapp left NRT in 2001, and after a two-year hiatus became president of Alain Pinel in July, 2003.

Tim Murray, Alain Pinel Realtors regional manager of the San Francisco and North Bay counties, calls Knapp "an exceptional leader" and "a man of integrity," with unparalleled knowledge of the industry.

What’s kept Knapp in the business for nearly four decades?

"Constantly changing markets, constantly changing competitive environments, and the great people that I work with in the company and the industry," he says.

Technology leader

Since Knapp became president, Alain Pinel has added five new offices located in Burlingame, San Jose, Oakland’s Montclair district, Livermore and San Francisco. More importantly, Knapp says, Alain Pinel has continued to grow on the company’s strength — the technology tools it provides to its clients.

That includes data feeds to "lots of Web sites" and "constantly broadening the expansion of where our clients’ listing are seen on the Internet and how clients can get in touch with our agents electronically," Knapp says.

Alain Pinel was formed in 1990 and launched its Web site in 1993, when the World Wide Web — the system of interlinked hypertext documents that allows Internet surfing — was still in its infancy.

Knapp says the company has been a leader in marketing technology, customer service and brand image. Another goal is raising standards in the luxury home market, an area the company specializes in.

"As is the case in all competitive environments, good competition is raising the bar of what is provided to consumer," Knapp says. "When you come out with a good business model, other people tend to follow, and we have been a leader in that area."

Pam O’Connor, president and CEO of Leading Real Estate Companies of the World, said Knapp has strengthened Alain Pinel’s dominance in international, senior and other customer segments.

"Larry has a strong appreciation of the importance of technology and is continually guiding the company to experiment in new areas, including beta social networking project his IT team is currently engaged in with our company," O’Connor says.

The Leading Real Estate Companies of the World is a network of independent real estate companies that generates referral, real estate and corporate relocation business for its subsidiaries, affiliates, clients and partners. Knapp member of The Leading Real Estate Companies of the World and a founding member of its Luxury Portfolio division

Knapp also exerts influence on the industry through his membership on the National Association of Realtors’ Executive Committee, to which he was named this year by NAR President Dick Gaylord, and as chairman of MLSListings Inc., one of the largest multiple listing services in California.

MLS Listings and other MLSs are working with California Real Estate Technology Services Inc. to create a listings database that covers the entire state — in direct competition with a similar effort by the California Association of Realtors (see Inman News story).

Housing markets

Currently, Knapp sees the housing market regaining its composure when investor confidence in secondary mortgage markets is restored.

"That more than anything would reopen the opportunity for home buyers to enjoy the American dream of homeownership," Knapp says. "The federal government is trying to establish guidelines that will earn back the confidence of investor that will give them real security in mortgage investment. It would be a discipline on the part of a mortgage lender to make sure the loans they make are solid so the second investor will want to buy them."

Having seen the ups and downs in the past, he believes housing markets can overcome any hardship. As for the real estate brokerage model, Knapp says there will always be a need for a broker and agent relationship.

"In the challenging times of both markets and competition, the need for stronger relationship will continue, (and) both have their own role to play in serving the client," Knapp says. "In the face of challenging markets, they need to work more and more closely to make sure the whole bundle of service is properly delivered to the client. I would describe it as a partnership arrangement that will simply grow stronger."

As the industry changes, so do ways of communicating. The industry must find ways to stay connected to individuals, communities and entire regions.

"We’re seeing a shift. Clearly social networking has been a buzzword," Knapp says. A dizzying number of new social networking tools have been created, and some will rise to the top and offer more opportunity to communicate.

Similarly, the MLS has a specific function that Knapp does not want to lose sight of.

"Most people lose sight of the MLS of an offer from a broker to their brokers to cooperate on sales of properties and compensation of doing that," Knapp says. "Many people look at it as a public site where the public can find out properties; it’s really an industry tool to serve the buying selling public through cooperative efforts."

Knapp sees third-party property listings sites continuing as well, but thinks there are too many and that they will need to consolidate.

"There is an industry need for the MLS that’s often confused with the marketing (of properties) side," he said. Third-party property sites will grow to serve the public’s needs — which shouldn’t be confused with the industry’s — while the industry will improve its own public-facing sites.

The brokerages that stay on top of it all will continue to consolidate and grow in importance, he says.

That philosophy guides Alain Pinel’s growth, which Knapp says is driven by stiff competition that "forces us to be on our toes and the cutting edge of our industry."

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