The nation’s second-biggest real estate broker, Berkshire Hathaway Inc. affiliate HomeServices of America Inc., has entered the franchising business by acquiring a majority interest in the Prudential Real Estate and Real Living brands from Brookfield Asset Management.
The Prudential Real Estate and Real Living affiliate networks will be rolled into a new franchise brand, Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices, that will come online in 2013, the companies said.
HomeServices and Brookfield have formed a joint venture, HSF Affiliates LLC, to operate the Real Living and Prudential Real Estate affiliate networks, whose member brokers employ 53,000 sales associates and closed more than $72 billion in home sales last year.
HomeServices is the majority owner of HSF Affiliates, with Brookfield Asset Management retaining joint ownership. Brookfield’s relocation business, Brookfield Global Relocation Services, will remain wholly owned by Brookfield. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.
"Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices is a new franchise brand built upon the financial strength and leadership of Brookfield and HomeServices," said Warren Buffett, chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway Inc., in a statement. "I am confident that these partners will deliver value to the residential real estate industry, and I am pleased to have Berkshire Hathaway be a part of the new brand."
Ron Peltier, chairman and CEO of HomeServices, said the company was "honored and proud to be entrusted with the use of the Berkshire Hathaway name as our new real estate franchise brand."
Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices will be based in Irvine, Calif., and led by Earl Lee, who will serve as chief executive officer. Other key management executives named today are Chief Operating Officer Stephen Phillips, Chief Financial Officer Brian Peterson, and Chief Marketing Officer Aleya Chattopadhyay.
Lee has worked under the Prudential brand since his Hawaii-based company, Locations LLC, joined the Prudential network in 1995. He was president of Prudential Real Estate and Relocation Services when it was acquired by Brookfield Residential Property Services for $110 million last year.
Real Living founder and president Harley Rouda Jr. will take over as CEO of Trident Holdings Inc., the parent company of Ohio-based HER Realty Real Living. Rouda said HER Realty does not plan to be affiliated with Real Living or Prudential Real Estate.
Phillips served as executive vice president and chief operating officer for GMAC Home Services from 2001 to 2006, and as interim CEO of the GMAC Relocation Services business. Peterson has 24 years of experience in the real estate brokerage and franchising business, including 14 years with Brookfield and GMAC. Chattopadhyay has been with Brookfield since 2003, holding roles in Canada, India and the U.K.
Peltier said that while Minneapolis-based HomeServices is getting into the franchising business to accelerate its growth and build a website that will be a destination for consumers, the company will continue to expand its company-owned brokerage operations.
"The business model we have used to grow for the last 15 years was to identify great companies, regardless of their brand, and own and operate those local companies," Peltier said.
Since HomeServices was acquired in 1998 by Berkshire Hathaway subsidiary MidAmerican Energy Holdings Corp., the "independent brand" acquisition strategy has helped the company grow from 4,000 agents in three markets to more than 16,000 agents in 21 states who last year handled sales of homes valued at nearly $32 billion.
Peltier said that while HomeServices will continue to identify brokerages to acquire, own and operate, "being a franchisor, we’ll be in a lot of markets much quicker than (with the) existing strategy" alone.
With consumers typically starting their home search on the Internet, creating a single destination website under the Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices brand will benefit both company-owned brokerages and franchisees, Peltier said.
"At some point, you can’t ignore the fact that if you want to attract customer eyeballs, you have to have a presence on the Internet, and you can’t do it with local independent brands" alone, Peltier said. "You have to have a single brand."
Company-owned brokerages that operate under independent brands will continue to have the option of pursuing that strategy, while still benefiting from the exposure they will receive from the Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices website, he said.
"We will continue to grow and support the independent brand strategy as well," Peltier said. "We’re adding to our strategy — this is not deleting."
HomeServices of America’s business model now looks more like the one employed by competitor Realogy Holdings Corp. Although Realogy operates the nation’s largest brokerage company, NRT LLC, most of the company’s 2011 adjusted net earnings came from providing real estate franchise services to companies operating 13,800 offices under the Century 21, Coldwell Banker, ERA, Sotheby’s International Realty, Coldwell Banker Commercial, and Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate brands.
HomeServices owns nine brokerages affiliated with Prudential Real Estate, including three acquired this year: Portland, Ore.-based Prudential Northwest Properties, acquired in February; Seattle-based Prudential Northwest Realty Associates, acquired in April; Prudential Connecticut Realty, also acquired in April.
The six other HomeServices brokerages affiliated with Prudential Real Estate are and Prudential California Realty (Southern California), Prudential First Realty (Iowa), Prudential Rhode Island Realty, Prudential Carolinas Realty, Prudential York Simpson Underwood Realty (North Carolina) and Prudential Yost and Little Realty (North Carolina).
HomeServices also owns Koenig & Strey Real Living, a dominant brokerage in the metro Chicago area, which it acquired from Brookfield in 2009.
"This is not a new thought," Peltier said of the decision to create a national franchise brand, noting that HomeServices was interested in acquiring the Prudential Real Estate brand two years ago.
When Brookfield acquired the brand instead, it did so knowing it would eventually have to transition to another name — parent company Prudential Financial Inc. made that a condition of the sale.
"They were looking for a great brand, and we were fortunate in that we’d been given permission by our parent" company to use the Berkshire Hathaway name to create a new brand, Peltier said. It’s "an internationally recognized brand that’s currently not being used in commerce."
According to an amended registration statement Prudential Real Estate Affiliates filed on Jan. 19 with the Minnesota Department of Commerce, Brookfield was barred from signing up new franchisees to operate under the Prudential Real Estate name. Brookfield had the right to renew the right of existing franchisees to operate under the Prudential name for up to five years, but only if their franchise agreements expired on or before Dec. 6, 2013.
All rights to use the Prudential Real Estate name expired at the end of 2027 — when the franchise agreement with the longest term was set to expire — or on the date on which no franchise agreement is in effect, the registration statement said.
Brian Boero, a partner in the real estate technology consulting firm 1000watt, said in a blog post today that while many existing Prudential affiliates "are deeply invested" in the brand, "I think most will jump at the opportunity to associate with Berkshire Hathaway. I’ve heard from some already, and they’re enthused. A conversion process that could have taken a decade will be collapsed into months."
In filing its updated registration statement with Minnesota regulators, Prudential Real Estate also disclosed recent litigation with several franchisees.
Last year, Prudential Real Estate said it received $1.9 million from Mason McDuffie Real Estate Inc. to settle a breach of contract lawsuit Prudential Real Estate filed against the Pleasanton, Calif.-based brokerage after it switched its franchise affiliation to Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate.
Prudential Real Estate also disclosed that it had received settlement payments in 2011 from Prudential Texas Properties and Missouri-based brokerage Carter Duffey Inc.