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It’s been 51 years since Jim Jackson founded ERA Real Estate, based on the vision of utilizing the day’s groundbreaking technology — a fax machine — to provide cutting-edge service to buyers and sellers.
Since then, ERA has continued to innovate, with the brand being the first U.S.-based real estate franchise to expand overseas in 1985 with ERA Japan and the first to launch a listings site in 1996.
Despite a laundry list of bragging rights, ERA president and CEO Sherry Chris said the 42,000-affiliate company has been relatively quiet about its success, deciding to value kindness, trust and collaboration over flashy displays of influence.
“I just feel that this brand is quietly strong,” she said in 2022 during the brand’s 50th-anniversary celebration. “It’s not a brand that goes out and beats its chest at every opportunity with the media. It’s just a brand that understands itself and is quietly strong and there for one another. I think that is very powerful.”
Although ERA still treasures its quiet strength, Chris and ERA CMO Amory Wooden told Inman they plan to make more noise about the 51-year-old brand, starting with the franchise’s Fuel conference at Caesar’s Palace this week.
“ERA has always been a brand very focused on the local presence, the majority of our [marketing] campaign stands on that,” Wooden said. “Once I got into this role as [chief marketing officer] and I started listening to our affiliates, what I heard was, ‘Hey, we see a lot of other brands out and they’re really focused on the brand on a national level.”
Here’s what Chris and Wooden had to say about taking a streamlined approach to tech, maintaining a collaborative culture, remaining agile in during a market shift, and building a CEO mindset — no matter your position.
Inman: Thanks for making time to chat, Amory. What are you most excited about for the upcoming week? What insights are you most excited to share?
Wooden: A lot of what I’ll be talking about at Fuel surrounds three main priorities that we have for the network. The first is around enhancing the local presence. What ERA agents need on a daily basis is support standing out in their local market. So we have a number of tools and initiatives that are going to help them push their presence even further.
This includes things like automated advertising campaigns on Facebook and Instagram, and premier websites at no additional cost. We’re also investing in a really interesting tool that pulls in MLS info, so you can easily share listings on social channels.
The second priority is around better and fewer tools. I’m relatively new to the real estate industry and what struck me as I got on board in this role was the number of tools and products being promoted to agents right now. There are lists and lists and lists of tools for them, and the reality is that not all of those tools are great. And specifically, not all of those tools help to drive productivity. So it’s not about liking a tool, right? It’s about providing a tool that is going to help them drive leads, close deals, and make more money.
So at ERA, I have been with my team taking a hard look at what tools we’re offering and looking at the data to understand if this driving productivity for our network. If it’s not, let’s be really honest about how we want to think about the road forward. So we’re streamlining and focusing to support our network.
The first priority reminded me of the conversation about spring homebuying. There’s an imbalance between the number of agents in the U.S. and the number of available listings to sell, so it’s more important than ever for agents to stand out and work fast. So what are your thoughts about the current market and what your agents and brokers are facing?
Of course, thank you for that. The market is, is tricky right now. So we have 1.5 million agents for a projected 4.5 million homes. That’s a tough, tough market to be in, and there are really three things that can support agents right now. The first one is efficiency, and this relates back to what I was saying about tech and tools — agents need to pick a few tools that are going to help them be more successful and drive productivity. If they’re focusing on 15 to 20 tools, they’re not going to have the time to do what they do best. They need to pick a few tools that work and enable them to focus on selling, building relationships with the clients, etc. Tools are supposed to be in the background.
The second one is around differentiation. There are 1.5 million agents, and we think they’re going to be 4.5 million sales. That’s tight but the reality is not all of those agents are exceptional. So we want to help our agents, many of whom have been in business for decades, continue to be successful and lean into what is unique about them. What are they known for? Are they known for being central and really part of the local community? Is that something that is part of who they are? Do they have a social presence? Are they an agent who has a lot of advice and tips and tricks?
We have to help them identify their superpower. I like to say everybody has a superpower. We then must enable them with some digital tools to help really emphasize that and make that stand out. That’s how we think we’re going to drive some of the differentiation.
Speaking of digital tools, I know the conference will focus a lot on MoxiWorks and getting attendees acclimated to that platform. But what are some other things that you’re watching on the tech front? Inman has done tons of coverage about like ChatGPT and artificial intelligence and what it could mean for real estate. What do agents need to keep an eye on when it comes to their marketing and branding so they can stay ahead of the curve?
There’s a lot of noise around tools and technology right now. Everybody wants more, better, and we’re in a situation where the playing field is up here (Amory lifts her hand above her head). It’s not about just having a website or a good social media presence. It’s about having a great website with beautiful pictures that load immediately and that’s easy to use. It is about having an exceptional social presence with content that resonates.
Anything that an agent or broker is doing in the digital space needs to be done exceptionally otherwise, it’s not worth doing right now.
When it comes to what excites me, ChatGPT is obviously a hot topic right now and AI continues to be something that we think and talk about. But for me, I’m focused on what can help our agents close more listings today, and ChatGPT can’t do that today. So the majority of my focus is on what we have, that our agents can execute and get into the world flawlessly and beautifully. And then some percentage of my team’s time is focused on the back-end and tools that can take on the backend so agents can spend more time selling out in the world.
Something like a ChatGPT could be really interesting down the road in automating some of that backend work. I certainly think there are a lot of AI opportunities around data and predictive technologies.
That makes a lot of sense. I’ve been with Inman for almost eight years, and I’ve seen a lot of tools come and go. So what you said is a great reminder to stop chasing the next shiny thing. Let’s shift gears to what you said earlier about brand pride. I spoke to Sherry [Chris] a couple of years ago, and she noted ERA’s quieter approach to marketing and brand pride. So as ERA navigates its 51st year in the industry, what are your thoughts on ERA’s approach? What’s the opportunity to make more noise about all of that wonderful agents and brokers in the network?
I was fortunate enough to go to one of our very big events right after I started my job this fall, and I was so struck by the level of community and collaboration amongst the ERA network. Every brand has a different ethos, but it’s really like a family at ERA. That sounds like lip service, but it’s not. That sounds like lip service, but it’s not. So when we think about brand pride, it’s really about supporting and enhancing this community and sense of pride and legacy that’s already in place.
What do you think Sherry?
Hi, Sherry! Thanks for joining in. Let’s pick up from what Amory said about the passion and pride at ERA. What are you most proud of when you think about ERA agents and brokers and how they’ve navigated this market? And then how your team has been able to navigate what’s going on?
Chris: Great question, and thanks, Marian. The ERA brand itself is bursting with pride because many of the brokers are second-generation broker-owners. There’s been a changing of the guard over the years, and that will certainly continue. And that just builds on the pride of the brand. It allows the brokers to feel as though they’ve been a part of something for a long time, and one of the things that strikes me with ERA is that there’s probably not a broker in the network that wouldn’t put down what they were doing, hop on a plane and fly to meet another ERA broker to help them solve it.
It’s that type of relationship that’s so important in our industry, and it’s often lacking. One of the things that I like to talk about publicly, is the fact that post-COVID, deeper relationships are very important everywhere, not just in real estate, but everywhere. As we do more and more online, the importance of that deeper human interaction becomes greater, and the great thing about ERA is that it’s already there. And so I look forward to this week because it’s just going to be a reunion of like-minded people who are just so proud to be associated with the brand and with each other.
As you were talking, it reminded me about a lot of the challenges with recruiting and retention at the moment. A lot of brands are retooling their recruitment and retention strategies right now, and it seems ERA really hasn’t had to do that. As you’re thinking about ERA’s trajectory for the year, how does that help to have such strong brand loyalty? And how will it play into the conference this week?
Culture is woven into this conference. You can’t talk about culture and hope that it happens. It’s something that takes place over an extended period of time and continues to grow. But a couple of the other things that we’ll be talking about this year are the importance of community, the importance of the end consumer and the importance of managing your cash flow as a broker-owner, and as an agent. When I address our agents, I talk about the fact that they’re CEOs of their businesses as well. Everyone is a CEO and should be strategizing, long-term planning, short-term planning, concentrating on your customer, concentrating on cash flow, and concentrating on going deeper into your community. And then, of course, that culture builds from there and it’s something that is going to really explode once again here in Las Vegas this week.
Speaking of buyers and sellers, the spring homebuying season officially kicked off. With your long experience in the industry, what do you think the end consumer is most looking for right now? And how do you think ERA and its affiliates are best positioned to meet those needs in the market?
Today’s buyer is looking for validation that the purchase that they made, really serves two purposes. One is that it’s a good investment. And I believe that real estate is always a good long-term investment, a great place to put your cash, and it will grow over the long term. But the second piece of that from a purchasing perspective is that they want to move on to the next phase of their lives with their families, so there’s an emotional component and a business component to it. With interest rates going up and slowing market, consumers are looking for even more validation that they’re doing the right thing in buying real estate.
From a seller’s perspective, we need to help sellers feel comfortable with the fact that moving is okay. Even though the market has shifted and interest rates are higher, they should look at selling and relocating into another property as a long-term strategy as well. So I think that it’s our job as human beings to talk to other human beings and guide them through the process and allow them to see that every market has strengths, and this market has strengths as well.
What are those strengths?
From a historical perspective, interest rates are still low. And so if we look at who might be likely to buy a home right now, I would bet on first-time homebuyers because they don’t have a history with a 2 percent interest rate. And going in, at a market like this, which has slowed a bit, allows buyers to take a little bit more time, look at properties and choose the property that is right for them rather than navigate the frenzy of an overheated market.
Another piece is that investors are coming out and looking for great opportunities for both long-term and short-term growth. And then there are the cash buyers that are not going to care about certain market factors — they’re just looking to add to their portfolio and they can make decisions without again being in a frenzied or overheated market. So there’s always a way to find qualified buyers and sellers. And as real estate professionals, we need to shift our mindset as well and get out in front of where the current market situation. We also need to strategize about what the market is going to be like, six months to a year from now, and get out in front of that as well.
So I know we’re coming towards the end of our time, and you guys have a lot to get started on for this week. But as you’re thinking about the conference and all of the wonderful sessions you have lined up, what is the number one takeaway you hope attendees will take with them?
That’s the best question because what I’ve always said no matter what the market conditions, no matter what the speaker lineup is, is that if an agent is investing their own money to travel to Las Vegas to pay a registration fee to attend a conference, they need to look at their return on that investment. If they are able to make contacts that bring them referrals, i.e. other ERA agents, then it’s all been for the good. So if you end up in a better place financially than when you came here, that is always my goal.