Realogy announced Monday that it has launched a new benefits program that will give agents access to things like health insurance at rates that the company manages to negotiate down due to its massive size.
The program is called Spark and, according to a company statement, provided exclusively to Inman, will give agents access to “individual healthcare, disability insurance, life insurance, auto and home insurance, identity theft protection, human resources solutions, workers’ compensation insurance and commercial property or building insurance.” Realogy describes Spark as a “membership association,” meaning agents — who are typically independent contractors — can opt into and sign up for whichever benefits suit their specific needs.
Spark is already available to agents working in brokerages that Realogy owns outright, most of which operate under the Coldwell Banker banner. Realogy also owns brokerages that are part of the Sotheby’s International Realty, Corcoran, Climb and Citi Habitats brands, and agents in those firms also now have access to Spark as well.
Additionally, Realogy said in its statement that the program is “currently being expanded” to agents in Coldwell Banker franchises, and that the company is exploring “opportunities to extend access to Spark across all of its franchise brands.” Overall, Realogy includes more than 100,000 agents in the U.S. alone, meaning that as Spark expands it could become a massive program.
In a conversation with Inman, Ryan Gorman — currently CEO of Realogy’s NRT subsidiary and the soon-to-be chief of all of Coldwell Banker — said that Spark will take advantage of Realogy’s “economy of scale” to negotiate for better deals with insurers.
“It’s truly about the benefit of scale,” Gorman explained. “As we can put larger groups together, we’re able to create a large enough group with a diverse enough cost for an insurer that they can bring the overall group price down to something that’s very accessible.”
Gorman said the specific benefits that are available vary from state to state, much as benefits offered through government exchanges differ by location, but that so far among agents who have taken advantage of Spark “the reception has been excellent.”
Charlie Young, the current CEO of Coldwell Banker who plans to step down next year, directly linked Spark to Realogy’s recently announced restructuring, which included the decision to merge the company-owned and franchise sides of Coldwell Banker.
“In the past, I couldn’t negotiate a deal on a benefits package or a tech package or some other product,” Young explained to Inman, “because I’ve got 700 franchisees who have 45,000 independent contractors.”
However, the merger of the two sides of Coldwell Banker lets Realogy get the ball rolling with the company-owned operations while also using the combined size of the company including franchises.
“We’ve got a company-owned operation that can make that initial investment so we can commit to X, which seeds the deal,” Young said. “It’s going to get you that pricing scale to push out to the rest of the market. Nobody else has that seed base of 45,000 agents in company owned operations, and so it gives us a huge competitive advantage.”
Realogy agents at company-owned brokerages have in the past had the ability to opt into company-supported benefits programs. But Spark represents a broader, more ambitious move by the company to leverage greater scale, drive prices down and give more agents across the company a chance to opt into the program.
In its statement, Realogy further pointed out that currently “most agents are forced to pay out of pocket, and often at full market value, for” the kinds of benefits that other kinds of workers typically get from their employers. Spark contrasts with that approach by allowing “independent contractors the ability to leverage their collective power to enjoy personal and business benefits.”
“The launch of Spark is an evolution in our strategy to provide affiliated agents with access to personal and business benefits to protect their families and businesses and leverage our scale for great perks along the way,” Gorman added in a statement.
Spark’s launch comes at a time of intense competition among real estate companies for agents. In just the last six weeks, for example, a top Coldwell Banker agent in California decamped for Compass and a top Coldwell Banker NRT team jumped to Keller Williams.
Agent recruiting tactics are also at the heart of a bitter lawsuit between Realogy and Compass. In the suit, Realogy accuses Compass of unfair business practices and of trying to build a monopoly. Compass has countered that the case stems from Realogy’s struggles in the stock market, where its share price has consistently dropped in recent years.
While commission splits, signing bonuses and other high-profile perks often dominate these debates about agent recruiting, Realogy’s new benefits program hints at a pragmatic approach to the industry: Everyone needs insurance and it can be genuinely challenging for independent contractors to come up with cost-effective solutions. The launch of Spark consequently suggests a bet that agents will be attracted by good benefits options, in addition to the array of other programs Realogy has recently launched in a bid to remain the largest company of its kind in the U.S.
How the program ultimately influences agents remains to be seen, but Realogy at least struck an optimistic tone in its announcement about Spark.
“Real estate agents are entrepreneurs who face numerous challenges managing personal and business needs,” Scott Reid, Spark’s national membership director, said in the statement. “We are pleased that the SPARK Association of Real Estate Professionals has the platform and ready access to services to help agents take full advantage of the benefits they require and deserve.”