Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate, which launched in July 2008 as a franchise brand under brokerage giant Realogy Corp., announced today it has signed a master franchise agreement to expand the brand across Canada.

There is already brand recognition for Better Homes and Gardens in Canada, noted Sherry Chris, president and CEO for Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate LLC, as the Better Homes and Gardens magazine published by Meredith Corp. has readership in Canada and Meredith had operated a real estate brokerage brand in Canada and the United States that it later sold to GMAC Real Estate.

GMAC’s 10-year license to use the Better Homes and Gardens name expired in 2008, and Realogy stepped in to announce a 50-year licensing agreement to use the real estate brand in October 2007.

The master franchise agreement in Canada is the first step in global operations for the young Realogy Corp. franchise network, which now has about 200 offices and 7,000 sales associates in 23 U.S. states and in Canada.

The 25-year master franchise agreement in Canada creates Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate Canada, a Toronto-based company that is led by Rob Vanden Broek and Nelson Goulart. Vanden Broek and Goulart also own a real estate brokerage company that is the first affiliate of the Canadian franchise.

Their brokerage firm, formerly affiliated with GMAC Real Estate in Canada, has two offices and 90 agents in the Greater Toronto area and will operate as Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate Signature Service.

Other sister franchise brands under parent Realogy already have a substantial international presence, and Realogy also has company-owned brokerage operations — as of June 30, 2011, Realogy reported that it had about 14,400 offices — including company-owned and franchise offices — and about 256,000 sales associates working in 100 countries and territories.

Other major Realogy brands include Coldwell Banker, Century 21, ERA and Sotheby’s International Realty.

Chris, a Canadian native who still maintains a home in the Toronto area, told Inman News that the brand’s move into Canada was "the logical first choice" for the brand. "Geographically it makes sense — there are a lot of similarities between the two markets in business practices," such as the existence of multiple listing services.

She got her start in real estate as an agent in Canada in the early 1980s, and worked up to executive roles at Canada’s Royal LePage, later moving to Real Living, Prudential CA/NV/TX Realty and Coldwell Banker Real Estate LLC before launching the Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate franchise under Realogy.

"This is a very exciting personal achievement — bringing a brand that I launched three years ago back to my home country," Chris added.

The presence of the magazine in other nations will also be synergistic for the real estate brand’s expansion, she said.

"The magazine is in India, China, Australia, and Meredith Publishing is actively working to expand the magazine’s reach into other countries. For us, that’s important as well. So this (Canadian launch) really marks the first of an ongoing expansion internationally. We’ve had inquiries from a number of countries."

Like the magazine, the real estate franchise company has also worked to build up its reputation as a lifestyle brand. The company launched a lifestyle search option on its website in July that allows users to specify whether they prioritize"family friendly" qualities in a community, top-rated schools, access to cultural activities, or access to public transportation, for example.

"We believe we have built a brand proposition that does speak to the global market. The brand as a magazine and as a website is recognized in many countries as a lifestyle brand. The whole lifestyle and community piece is important," Chris said.

Goulart, who joined the real estate industry in 2004 after working in the commodities trading business, said his firm had been operating under the GMAC banner for about seven years, and was drawn to the lifestyle focus of the Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate franchise.

"Many of the players in the (real estate) market are more transaction-based. This brand identifies itself with the essence of homeownership as opposed to having a house. It’s very focused on the home. It’s very lifestyle-oriented."

Vanden Broek, who has worked in the real estate industry since 1990 and worked as a business partner with Goulart since 2004, said, "The philosophy (of our company) and a lot of our culture has been very much in line with what Better Homes and Gardens has brought to the marketplace, as far as innovation and technology."

Goulart said there is an important shift among real estate consumers that the new affiliation will help the company to tap into. He recounted the example of a couple of homebuyers in their early 60s in the small Canadian community of Moose Jaw, in the province of Saskatchewan. The couple performed the bulk of the research and communication about the home using online communications, including social media, he said.

"The marketplace is changing. There is an entire population that really is drawing on social technologies) for real estate buying activities. The consumer is becoming very forward-thinking," he said.

And he said he sees opportunities for "significant growth" of the Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate franchise business in Canada "in the short to medium term," with Ontario serving as a strong focal point for expansion.

He said there isn’t a rigid template for what types of companies will be considered to join the Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate franchise network in Canada. "We are going to find organizations that will be small, some will be large, some will be startups, some will be conversions (from other brands)."

Vanden Broek said Canada, while its economy has taken hits, has been buffered from some of the severe economic pain that has hit in Europe and the U.S. Unemployment has been low, in-migration has been strong, and interest rates have been low, he said.

Chris said in a statement, "This is the first chapter of an exciting story of continued international expansion for Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate." She also told Inman News that there are a series of additions to the U.S. franchise network planned this year.

The company last year announced a 20-year franchise agreement to add Prudential California Realty and Prudential Nevada Realty to its list of affiliates — that firm now operates as Mason-McDuffie Real Estate Inc. and had 1,900 agents and 36 offices in Northern California and Nevada at the time of the announcement.

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