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In mid-March, Engel & Völkers wrapped up its annual EVX conference having unveiled a major brand refresh to the event’s roughly 1,500 attendees in Miami.
The refresh, which the brokerage dubbed “Refinement,” made subtle adjustments, including a new custom font, updated villa graphic and updated website pages for advisers, among other changes.
Although the move was not a huge overhaul for the brand, it was still a significant update for a brokerage that has not touched its branding in the last 40 years.
And that kind of slow, intentional upgrade is emblematic of Engel & Völkers’ overall desire to stick to what it’s good at — selling luxury real estate — while recognizing that it must also move forward to remain relevant in the future, Americas President and CEO Anthony Hitt told Inman in a recent conversation.
In upcoming months, he said the brokerage will continue rolling out additional technology updates to better arm agents to serve the clients of tomorrow, all while sticking to its core values. What follows is a version of that conversation, edited for brevity and clarity.
Inman: Engel & Völkers Americas expanded into nine new markets in the first quarter of 2023 alone — could you tell me more about that significant growth?
Hitt: We’ve been around for going on 50 years globally. [Engel & Völkers launched in Germany in 1977 and in the Americas in 2008.] People sometimes don’t think of us as being established at the same time or before a lot of the big brands that you think of in the Americas, but this has been our story for a long time.
I think because we are gaining a certain size now in the Americas people are paying attention a little bit more, and they’re realizing we’re not just something that’s a flash in the pan and we are absolutely here to stay.
Our growth to me is a testament to us knowing exactly who we are. I also believe we’re an aspirational brand, meaning that we know who we are today, but we know what we strive to be and we’re all heading in that direction constantly.
So many brands seem to be reinventing themselves on an annual basis, at the very least, to say, ‘oh we’re now a training company,’ ‘we’re now a technology company,’ ‘we’re now a whatever company.’ We just know who we are, we know what we do well and we keep moving in that direction.
I think one of the reasons why the growth we’re seeing is notable right now — in Costa Rica, the Carolina foothills, Cleveland, Tulum, Rapid City — I think what’s happening is, enough people are seeing us now and they know what we are and they see that we’ve been doing it this way for a long time, and they feel safe because we are a stable brand. We [have] a sustainable growth model, and I think there are a lot of people who are very attracted to that smart, strategic, sustainable way of doing things.
Yes, you mentioned that really stable foundation as a company at the EVX conference recently.
We’ve had double-digit growth numbers ever since I’ve been here, since 2010. Most companies are very happy to have that for one or two years, let alone for 12 years. Last year the market shifted a little bit, so we didn’t have that same level of growth, but we still added to the number of shops in our network, we still added to the number of advisers that we have in our brand. And that’s an accomplishment in any market, let alone the market we’ve been in for the last eight, nine months now.
Is there any one sort of unifying principle that has made you want to enter the markets that you have most recently?
We are very strategic about what we do and when we do it and why we do it. That said, it’s also in our DNA. Christian Völkers says, ‘We are where our clients are in the world’s best places.’ And that said, the brand starts in Hamburg, Germany, it expands out to Frankfurt and Dusseldorf and up to Berlin. Then the brand goes down into the Balearic Islands, Spain, where Germans vacation, and that’s kind of how the brand came to the U.S., because Europeans love Florida.
And that’s how our expansion has always kind of spidered out. When we open in a market, it’s usually because we can draw a direct correlation to what markets it’s feeding and what markets it’s getting buyers from. So that being said, we are very strategic and making sure that as we add a shop we’re looking at those markets that the shop can support and receive referrals from.
Every brand talks about their in-network referrals. I will put our data up against anybody — I’m blown away by how many in-brand referrals we have on a regular basis. It’s phenomenal. But it’s also by design because we are a collaborative network.
The other constant in all of those acquisitions is that we found the right partner. For us, it’s not just about selling a franchise, it’s about finding the right person, the right team, the right advisers who are going to be successful, because we pride ourselves on our advisers being some of the most successful in the industry.
So we’re looking for people who share a similar mindset, who operate a similar way, who have a [similar] level of success, so that if we’re all together, we can continue to evolve. We don’t want to be stagnant or left in the past, but we can grow together in a way that is productive for everyone.
More than 20 top producers from The Agency have joined Engel & Völkers in the last six months, including Tracy McLaughlin, Keri O’Reilly, Taso Tsakos and Lindsay Wing. What do you think drew them?
Ultimately, there are a lot of advisers out there who are looking for a certain type of home. They’re looking for a brand that is collaborative, they’re looking for a brand that has a global footprint. They’re looking for a brand that will position them right in their market and in that luxury price point. And that’s who we are, while other brands I think have tried to present themselves as that, or have even tried to create their marketing and their image to look like we do. At the end of the day, it’s not just the style, it’s the substance behind that.
Again, we’ve been doing this for a long time. I think a few brands out there have tried to impersonate us or try to find some pieces of us that might work for them, but at the end of the day, we are the real McCoy and I think some of the advisers who have come from that brand or other brands just believe this is ultimately what they want and that’s why they join this organization.
Another part of Engel & Völkers’ recent evolution is your brand refinement. Could you say more about that and the inspiration behind it?
It’s absolutely stunning and beautiful. It’s back to the fact that we are very much a history and a heritage brand. On the other hand, we are a progressive brand and we have been leaders in every market that we’ve been in. While most brands are a little more subtle about doing it and [do it] a little more often, we’ve been a little slow on this.
This is our first brand refinement in 40 years. And the world has changed in 40 years and a lot of our assets were not really designed for the digital world in the way they need to be. The advisers and shops in our network use our brand a lot differently than other brands do because our brand is the core, is the oneness that holds us all together.
Christian Völkers has talked about this probably for as long as I’ve known him — he knew this is something that needed to be done, but he absolutely did not want to damage or lose who we are. And we certainly don’t want to send a message that we needed to change. This is not a reinvention of us. This is actually an affirmation of who we are.
So to me, this brand refinement is just that — it’s just a little bit of polish, a little bit of tweaking, a little bit of making things fit more in the digital world that we live in so that we can continue to look and present ourselves in a way that is aligned with who we are as a brand and where we’re growing. That’s the story about why we’re doing it.
The story is also about how successfully we’ve done that, because other brands have done this and you know how they go over usually … This one is going over extremely well. We have a 90 percent satisfaction rate on this — people are actually giddy about it. It’s also a nice foundation for a lot of other things that are coming from us in the next weeks and months.
Great. Can you say more about what’s to come?
We do have a brand new digital experience that we’re rolling out, which I believe is what will put us as a leader in the pack. And in all honesty, I don’t think we’ve been a leader when it comes to our consumer digital experience. I think we’ve absolutely been in the pack, but what we’ve got coming is going to be something that will just blow the market away. The internal digital experience that we’ve created for our advisers and our shops is also a next-generation [experience] on the horizon that we hope to have out soon.
All of this is driven by a huge effort on our part, which is our EVI, Engel & Völkers Intelligence, which is our artificial intelligence data factory — data we’ve been putting together and the interpretive interpolation of that data. So we’ll be providing a lot more actionable intelligence to our organization as we keep moving forward.
Again, we’re not usually positioned in the tech space or the AI space or the data space. We’re ok with that because we’re a real estate brand. But, we certainly want to make sure we’re using the latest and greatest to help our network continue to grow as we’ve done for so long.
I’m sure agents will be very excited about that. And, as we get deeper into spring, what are your agents seeing in the market?
We did our first-ever Engel & Völkers sentiment survey index about a month ago. What I heard from our network, anecdotally and on the survey, is that when you ask our advisers and our leaders about the market, they feel better about the last 30 days than they’ve felt in close to a year. They feel a little more positive when it comes to the next 30 days, and when you ask them how the next six months feel, again, the positivity is increasing.
It’s slight, but it definitely seems to be the turn we’re feeling in the market that maybe a bottom is upon us, and that we really do feel pretty optimistic that things are going to start moving in the right direction.
And that seems to align with what economists are saying — you’re still hearing the negative stories and the positive stories about the market, but you’re hearing more positive stories now. And I think that’s what we’re getting from our network as well.
You know how when you get everybody together, it always multiplies the sentiment, whatever it is? Our group is feeling good, and we have a great EVX event every year, but if I look at how they were feeling this year versus how they were feeling a year ago, this was far more positive and more excited and optimistic.