SAN FRANCISCO — Realogy Corp.’s Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate LLC continues its rapid expansion, with company officials today announcing a 20-year franchise agreement with a former Prudential Real Estate brokerage that has 1,900 agents working out of 36 offices in Northern California and Nevada.

Handling $2.8 billion in home sales in 2009, Pleasanton, Calif.-based Mason-McDuffie Real Estate Inc. — which has done business for the last 13 years as Prudential California Realty and Prudential Nevada Realty — was ranked by Real Trends as the 19th-largest brokerage in the U.S. by sales volume. The company claims to be the sales leader in the San Francisco area’s East Bay market.

Prudential Real Estate and Relocation Services Inc. — which oversees Prudential’s real estate franchise network of about 60,000 sales associates and 1,700 offices (as of June 30) in North America — was prepared for the switch, announcing a new affiliation with a 200-agent brokerage in San Ramon that expects to sign Mason-McDuffie agents who wish to remain affiliated with the Prudential brand.

Mason-McDuffie, which remains independently owned and operated, will now be known as Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate Mason-McDuffie.

Sherry Chris, president and CEO of Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate, who served as Mason-McDuffie’s chief operating officer for two years before launching the Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate franchise in 2007, said she had been talking to Mason-McDuffie chairman Ed Krafchow about making the switch for nearly two years.

Chris, Realogy CEO Richard A. Smith, Realogy Franchise Group President and CEO Alex Perriello were all in attendance at an event in San Francisco where the agreement was explained to Mason-McDuffie agents. The event, which had the feel of a pep rally, packed the Grand Ballroom of the San Francisco Hilton hotel.

Sherry and Perriello said the franchise agreement is the largest in Realogy’s history — and among the largest in the industry’s history — in terms of associated gross commissions.

"Probably within a year, or perhaps less, this room will be too small to handle the growth Ed (Krafchow) and his senior management team expect to have for this company," Smith said to loud cheers.

Mason-McDuffie training director Kathy Ollerton said the brokerage hopes to grow to 10,000 agents. "We have companies on the waiting list" that are poised to come aboard, she said.

In the talks that led to the franchise agreement, Smith said Krafchow’s "focus from the beginning has been on you, your growth potential, and prospects for future growth."

Smith noted that real estate "is our only business — we are not distracted by any other industry or any other sidelines," a jab at Prudential Real Estate and its parent company, insurance and investment giant Prudential Financial Inc.

Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate’s presence in California had previously been limited to one brokerage, Ventura Barnett Properties, which claims about 150 agents working out of offices in San Jose and Campbell.

Signing up Mason-McDuffie not only gives Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate a dramatically bigger footprint in one of the nation’s priciest housing markets, but boosts the franchise’s total agent count by more than one-third, to 7,000. The franchise can now claim 180 offices in 20 states, including Florida, New York and Texas.

In another announcement, the owner of Walnut Creek-based brokerage Security Pacific Real Estate announced he intends to merge the company with Mason-McDuffie. The company’s website lists more than 80 agents.

"We’ve been the ‘Lone Ranger’ for a long time," said broker-owner Mike Clancy. "We need not bells and whistles but real power tools that can make us money," which he said Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate Mason-McDuffie can provide.

Launched in July 2008 when parent company Realogy licensed the Better Homes and Gardens brand name from publisher Meredith Corp., the franchise more than doubled in size in December when it lured Atlanta-based Metro Brokers and its 2,300 agents away from what was then GMAC Real Estate (GMAC Real Estate has since rebranded as Real Living).

Prudential to maintain, grow presence

But Prudential Real Estate and Relocation Services Inc. doesn’t plan to abandon the Northern California market, announcing a new affiliation with Pearson Properties Inc. today.

Formerly known as Windermere Welcome Home brokerage, the 200-agent, San Ramon-based brokerage became the new Prudential California Realty at 5 p.m. Monday, said broker-owner Gretchen Pearson.

Pearson said the company expects to attract many Mason-McDuffie agents who want to stay with the Prudential brand.

A former Prudential branch manager who helped Mason-McDuffie transition to the Prudential brand in 1994 before resigning in 2005 to start her own brokerage, Pearson said Prudential’s corporate symbol, "The Rock," is a known quantity to consumers and agents in Northern California.

"Better Homes and Gardens (Real Estate) may be a fine brand, but their footprint prior to this is two offices in the South Bay," Pearson said. "The Mason-McDuffie agents I’ve talked to who want to stay with Prudential (say) it’s too far of a brand transition — it’s not translating with them."

Pearson said the newly launched Prudential California Realty plans to expand its base of existing East Bay offices in Castro Valley, El Dorado Hills, Livermore, Pleasant Hill, Pleasanton, Stockton and San Ramon.

Over the next two years, she said, the plan is to expand from the seven offices her brokerage operated under Windermere to 30-35 Prudential offices.

"We’re already rolling into the Walnut Creek marketplace, Oakland, and Berkeley, and expanding our lease space in Pleasanton," Pearson said.

The company will also look at expanding in San Francisco, Marin and Sonoma counties, and "Lamorinda" — an acronym for the neighboring cities of Lafayette, Moraga and Orinda.

Pearson said Prudential approached her in July about carrying the franchise flag in Northern California, and that Windermere has been accommodating of the switch.

Agents are using the Prudential trademark in e-mails today, and their personal websites will be redirect to Prudential-branded sites this week, she said.

Prudential California Realty agents will use the Blue Book platform, which is based on CoreLogic’s AgentAchieve virtual office application that’s been customized for the brokerage.

In Northern California, Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate Mason-McDuffie serves the counties of Alameda, Contra Costa, Solano, Napa, Lake, Sonoma, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Sacramento, El Dorado, and Placer. In Nevada, the company serves Washoe, Carson City, Storey, Lyon, Churchill, and Douglas counties.

Mason-McDuffie agent Debbi DiMaggio, who specializes in East Bay communities including Piedmont, Oakland, and Berkley, said she and her husband Adam Betta had known for about three weeks that the switch to Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate was in the works.

After meeting with Chris and Krafchow at a dinner, DiMaggio said she was "so excited about this new launch. Change is great."

At the event today in San Francisco, Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate executives listed a number of tools the franchise provides to agents. At the top of the list was PinPoint, a direct marketing platform with a consumer database of more than 85 million consumer contacts. The database is owned by Meredith Corp.

Mason McDuffie has also been appointed as a principal member of the Cartus Broker Network, a real estate referral network serving clients and customers of Realogy’s Cartus Corp., which provides relocation services for corporations and government.

Not counting today’s expansion in California, so far this year Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate had previously announced new franchise agreements with seven brokerages with more than 1,000 agents:

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