How are real estate broker-owners responding, adapting or changing? Here’s what Vanessa Bergmark, owner of Red Oak Realty, is doing.

This is part of “Fighting Back,” a new series of profiles on how broker-owners are responding to industry disruption. 

A raft of new business models are entering the real estate scene — Purplebricks, Opendoor and eXp, and new tech brokerages such as Redfin and Compass are rapidly getting market share.

Vanessa Bergmark

How are brokers adapting or changing? We put that question to company owners around the country. This is the first in a series of how they responded.

Vanessa Bergmark, owner of Red Oak Realty in Berkeley, California, is a negotiation specialist, certified in conflict resolution, which comes in handy in real estate transactions.

She holds a California real estate license and a bachelor’s degree from Penn State. She bought her company in 2007 and had been a leader in the new indie broker movement.

What is your no. 1 asset in this environment?

Bergmark: We emphasize our seriously local brand to differentiate ourselves from national companies.

Also, our ability to adapt. Whether we change our own model on our own or not, someone is changing it for us. And the consumer is asking us to change (improve, compete and perform).

Now more than ever, you must step up and meet the challenge to stay relevant. Not just real estate, but in life.

Plus, you must embrace change. Have fun with it. Look at it as an opportunity to get rid of things you tolerated or disliked — not just as the annoyance of constantly having to improve.

When others see you getting curious and inspired by it, change can get contagious and exciting.

How do you leverage what you have?

There’s a lot of us who got here first, and we need to take note of that. We already have the relationships, so they are ours to lose if we don’t honor and care for them. If we take any of it for granted — our reputation, our market share, our sales volume and particularly our agents, we will lose that leverage, and deservedly so.

There’s no such thing as an overnight success, so we should use this time wisely to improve, re-engage and re-examine what we still have with the purpose of making it better.

We need to face new competition and embrace that fear, not let it debilitate and exhaust us, but to invigorate and inspire us. It comes down to attitude and confidence in many ways.

I hold my team to higher standards now more so than I ever have. As my team has changed over the years, any new hires are also held to a higher standard. They have to be informed not only on our local market, but our industry. They have to stay not only up to date on tech and product offerings, but informed on what is up and coming in the near future and how it may apply to and benefit our business.

We did a company overhaul, including changing our logo after 40-plus years, with the help of creative agency 1000watt. We position ourselves as a straight talking, data driven brokerage that lives and works in the community we serve while backing our agents on all fronts — a David and Goliath approach in the world of big brokerages and Wall Street.

Are acquisitions the way to fend off change?

Being acquired is another option in the variety of choices you have as your business evolves. Getting acquired or acquiring another firm does not fend off change in and of itself. It’s got to fit within your overall strategy, not your reactionary counter move.

Being bigger is certainly not always better, so adding shear volume doesn’t necessarily increase your chances of success or even get you out of the woods.

If your resources are compromised, you don’t have the team necessary to do the work, and you are seeing revenues and market share dwindle, then joining forces may be the way to go.

But you still need to change even after an acquisition, it does not solve all of your problems. If you stay the course, and focus on small, purposeful improvements, the changes may be subtle but the impact may yield meaningful results. Not everything requires a moon shot.

Do you explore alternative business models yourself?

Yes. We sell homes, we sell lifestyles in diverse neighborhoods in a variety of communities.

Once you get out of fear mode and into inspiration, you realize there’s huge opportunities out there in ancillary but complementary business models.

This disruption may be inciting fear in many, but it’s inspiring a whole new group of people to get motivated to create new ways of doing business. You must be open to these possibilities. 

Does your technology strategy change?

No, but my real life people strategy has. And I still haven’t met an agent, a homebuyer or a homeseller who has ever said, “Oh, thank God more technology, this process will get so much better now.”

Such people may exist. I just haven’t met them.

Perhaps because they are sitting in a basement in their underwear somewhere, chain smoking and dancing around in a virtual world as some bikini-clad Kim Kardashian look-alike avatar.

Who knows? But it is not who I deal with every day. Most people are looking for a home, and we help them do that, using whatever tools we think make sense.

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