As “motivator and chief encourager” of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices, Budnick said she’s bullish about the upcoming year. Agents who get down to business will thrive, she added.

What decisions and paths should the real estate industry be prioritizing? And how can you, whether managing a team or an entire company, bring those best lessons to bear where you work? In February, in advance of building an industry blueprint at Inman Disconnect, we’ll plumb the topic of leadership with Q&As with top industry leaders, contributions from esteemed Inman columnists and more.

Christy Budnick has spent the past two decades of her career refining her leadership skills.

Following a nearly 10-year stint in banking, the Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices CEO started as a broker in her family’s real estate company, Prudential Network Realty. The company was one of the first to sign on with BHHS when it launched 10 years ago, following Berkshire Hathaway’s taking ownership of HomeServices of America in 2013.

After transitioning into real estate, Budnick gradually rose the ranks to become executive vice president and ultimately president and CEO of what became Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Florida Network Realty.

Then in the spring of 2021, BHHS Affiliates Chairman Gino Blefari asked Budnick if she’d be interested in applying for the company’s CEO role, and she jumped at the opportunity. Suddenly her scope of responsibility shot up from 500 agents to 50,000 — but she learned to take it in stride.

Inman recently sat down with the CEO to discuss her new-ish role, the franchise’s 10-year anniversary and a recent rebrand, among other topics. Here’s what she had to say, edited for brevity and clarity.

Inman: BHHS recently underwent a brand refresh — what was the inspiration for that, and why did you decide to tackle it now?

Budnick: That’s a project we’ve been working on for the past year, and the impetus is really twofold: This year, it’s our 10-year anniversary, so part of that is to commemorate our 10 years as BHHS. But equally important, and frankly probably even more important, when we launched 10 years ago, digital was coming on strong, but it wasn’t where it is today.

So with the digital-first approach to marketing these days, we wanted to make sure that our brand really resonates and stands out in digital print. That was a big push behind the brand refresh. And frankly, it just feels really good. It really stands out, it’s bold. And we’re thrilled with the feedback that we’ve received from clients, from our franchise network and associates, so it’s really gone over better than we could have hoped.

Yes, I feel like it has a little bit more of a modern edge to it.

Exactly, that describes it perfectly. Modern edge, bold and it just jumps off the page at you.

Yes. So do you have any other new branding or marketing initiatives coming up as part of BHHS’s 10-year anniversary?

One of the things we’re doing is we’re working on all the different materials that go along with the brand. So, not in terms of a media campaign or anything of that nature — we do have a media campaign launching in about a month or so, but that’s not really part of the brand refresh.

One of the advantages of coming out with it right now is that lots of different companies are very publicly talking about making cutbacks and things of that nature. And we really did feel that it was a great time to come out with [the brand refresh] because it makes a bold statement. We’re BHHS and with that comes financial stability and the ability to weather storms like these much better than most of the brands out there. So we felt this was really good timing.

Since this is Leadership Month at Inman, I wanted to ask you a bit about how you recently transitioned into your current leadership role as CEO at BHHS.

Yes, I adopted this role in 2021, but I’ve been a part of the network for 22 years. My family owned a company, Prudential Network Realty, and we were one of the first companies to convert to BHHS just under 10 years ago. So I was president and CEO of that company prior to my role as CEO for BHHS.

I see. Have there been any big learning moments for you since you adopted your most recent role?

Absolutely. Over the last 20-plus years, I’ve had a really great opportunity to meet and get to know so many of the BHHS company owners, their top executives and more and learn from them and work beside them. Moving into this role felt like an opportunity to go to work with friends that I’ve had for over 20 years. So that part wasn’t much of a learning curve.

The part that has been the most fascinating to me is moving into a global world. By that, I mean my world was Jacksonville, Florida, prior to taking on this role and Northeast Florida was my stomping ground and my true focus. Now my focus is the globe and how people do business in different parts of the globe and different customs and all the things that go along with that.

I have learned so much and really have a great appreciation for the company as a whole. To take on the globe is pretty remarkable, and it’s just been a great learning opportunity for me, and I really enjoy working with our global partners.

It must be a lot of fun getting exposure to all these different places and new people.

Absolutely. As Gino [Blefari] put it when he offered me the position, he said, ‘It’s very similar to what you do now, except instead of overseeing 500 agents and a title company, a mortgage company, relocation, etc., now you’ll be overseeing 50,000 agents in 12 countries and three continents.’ And I was like OK, that makes sense.

At the end of the day, regardless of where they live, people are people and being able to get to know people on that very personal basis — I’ve just enjoyed every second of that. But getting to know the different business customs has been a learning curve and one that I’ve really enjoyed.

Interesting. So, we’ve already touched on the fact that a lot of businesses in the industry have faced layoffs in the last several months. What have been some of the challenges for you as a leader as the market has shifted in supporting your agents, your staff, everything?

One of the things our company is known for is financial stability — it’s one of the pillars of our company. Even in really robust years like 2020, 2021, we’re very lean; we’re a lean organization. So the cutbacks that many are making, we really haven’t had to experience that because we run lean on a day-t0-day basis.

Now, are we prepared to make some cutbacks if needed, meaning layoffs, things of that nature? Certainly. We have plans in place in the event the market really takes a turn dramatically different from where it is today.

But really, I feel my job is to be the motivator and the chief encourager of our people because to me, in this market, we’re still in a great market. You hear the media, you hear so much out there about how the sky is falling, and frankly, anybody that has been through 2007 to 2011 — the 2013, 2014, 2015 markets — which is what we’re mimicking right now, were pretty spectacular compared to those prior years. So, I guess I just come at it from a much more positive aspect.

I’m certainly having conversations with our company leaders about how now is not the time to go out and open up a bunch of new offices. Cash is king. You want to hold onto cash, and retention is extremely important — and attracting talent. With a company like ours with our financial stability, we do attract talent in times like these and clients as well that want to do business with a company that has weathered and has been here for forever and will continue to be in business forever, despite market conditions. So that’s really the encouraging messages that I give when I’m talking with agents.

I talk about how right now is a great opportunity for professionals in this market. And professionals are really defined as people who work this business like a business. It’s not, ‘If I don’t make it, I’ve got a fallback plan.’ It’s, ‘This is my chosen career. I have a business plan. I work my plan.’ And those are the people who will really thrive in this business right now.

Absolutely. As we think about the spring market coming right around the corner, what do you anticipate? How will it compare to last spring?

I certainly think we are seeing units slow down. We’re seeing price increases slow down. And I think we needed [that]. The markets that we had in 2020 and 2021, those weren’t sustainable. They weren’t markets that could continue at that sort of pace. However, having said that I also think as we start to see inflation curb some, hopefully, employment will start to slow down just a little bit some of those key indicators as we start to see normalization.

And as we see the Fed continue to respond with lower hikes — instead of half-a-point or one-point hikes, a quarter-point hikes — and less frequently, I think that’s going to speak to consumers and some of the folks that have been sitting on the sidelines. Particularly sellers, I think, will start to list their homes, we’ll start to see inventory increase some, and that will also incentivize buyers.

Right now with the low inventory and the rates where they are — which, frankly, a 6 percent rate is not a bad rate, but after being in 2s and 3s it probably does appear [higher] — I think we’ll start to see more buyers reenter the market. So, I’d say the spring is going to be a little bit slower than we would typically see, but as the year goes on, we’ll start to see a little bit more movement in the market.

So, it sounds like the advice that you are giving agents is to simply be professionals and be focused and make their business their priority. Do you have any other advice as they prepare for spring and summer?

In the last couple of years, the business has been so crazy that there has been a bit of a disconnect in terms of agents with their clients being able to spend that face-to-face, nose-to-nose, toes-to-toes time. A lot of the interpersonal relationships have been set aside a little bit in order to get business done. There was so much business and it was so difficult to get transactions together and keep them together and get them to the closing line.

So, the first thing I would recommend for any agent is reinvest in your relationships to make sure you’re doing those interpersonal reach-outs, whether it’s real estate reviews with your clients to update them on the value of their home today or just reaching out to say, ‘How are you doing?’ But truly, the personal relationship is king, even small gatherings.

For a couple of years we locked down, and now more than ever, people are longing to get together. So, small group gatherings with your clients to show them appreciation and have some fun together too. I think things like that are going to be very, very meaningful. And people that are really purposefully taking care of activities like that are the ones who are going to really win in this marketplace.

Great advice. Is there anything else you’d like to share?

I’m excited about this market. I’m a little bit more bullish than a lot of people out there. Again, I believe it’s a market where professionals are going to shine and I’m excited about it. It’ll be interesting at the end of the year to look back and see if the predictions are accurate, but I’m excited for it.

Email Lillian Dickerson

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