Editor’s Note: This is the cover story in the July issue of RISMedia’s Real Estate magazine. Subscribe today.
On the heels of commemorating its 20th anniversary in 2018, HomeServices of America has a new milestone to celebrate this year: taking the No. 1 spot in U.S. residential transactions.
While you could attribute several factors to the firm’s place at the top of the leaderboard—the advantages of being a national network with local leadership; a seasoned and accessible executive team; technology and core services that help agents serve consumers for life—one reason trumps all others: HomeServices of America’s steadfast commitment to putting people first.
The HomeServices Mission: Still Going Strong
According to HomeServices Executive Chairman Ron Peltier, the company’s success has and will continue to hinge upon staying true to the vision the company was founded upon in 1998: serving the consumer.
“Being No. 1 is an exciting achievement,” explains Peltier, “and it’s the result of a lot of diligent work by a lot of people who are committed to helping the consumer navigate the biggest financial and emotional decision of their life. We want to create the best, most positive consumer experience. That’s our mission, and we try to execute on that every day.”
According to HomeServices Senior Vice President and Chief Administrative Officer Dana Strandmo, this relationship-centric mission has been the real difference-maker for the company. “Ever since we began in 1998, we’ve not strayed from that course. Relationships have to be first—with the consumer, with the agent and with the broker. I think that’s carried us to the No. 1 spot—sustaining that people-first strategy.”
Peltier also stresses that success has come through a focus on being the best, not the biggest.
“We have a lot of people who are passionate about being the best,” says Peltier. “We are fortunate to occupy the No. 1 space, but I think I speak for everyone when I say that our goal was never to be the biggest, if we’re not the best. I would trade being the biggest for being the best any day.”
Credit: AJ Canaria of PlanOmatic
Exemplifying Leadership at All Levels
HomeServices of America’s track record of steady growth, financial strength and operational excellence merges with parent company Berkshire Hathaway’s pillars of trust, integrity, stability and longevity to create an exemplary model of leadership in today’s often-fractured real estate landscape.
This past year, HomeServices expanded its executive leadership team with the promotion of Gino Blefari to CEO. Blefari also serves as chairman of HSF Affiliates, which operates Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices and Real Living Real Estate, while Peltier steps into the role of executive chairman of HomeServices, emphasizing that he has no intention of retiring.
The move, Peltier explains, is about building an even stronger company. “We have grown significantly in many ways since HomeServices started 21 years ago, which requires a lot of engaged leadership. Gino is a leader with proven skills and a long track record of success. This reflects our commitment to continue to grow and innovate.”
Meanwhile, Blefari describes the opportunity as an “immense privilege and challenge.”
“Throughout my career, I have consistently believed that challenges bring out the best in all of us,” he explains. “I now get to work alongside Ron to impact the future of our HomeServices of America-owned brokerages. And, as chairman of HSF Affiliates, I get to continue supporting and collaborating with colleagues there and the network professionals across the country and around the world.”
That begins with Chris Stuart, whom Blefari promoted to CEO overseeing all operations pertaining to Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices, Real Living Real Estate, the new Berkshire Hathaway Commercial Real Estate and the Real Living Real Estate brands, and Allan Dalton, CEO of Real Living Real Estate.
“The enormity of this combined constellation of companies and their ever-growing success in both America and globally challenges every bit of my business and real estate experience…which, quite candidly, is most exciting for me,” Blefari adds.
HomeServices of America’s relationship-focused leadership and culture is the key ingredient to the company’s highly successful model of acquiring firms with a strong local leadership, as well.
“Relationships are everything to us,” says Peltier. “Owners of companies may be looking for an exit strategy, but they’re not looking to throw in the towel on their legacy and the people in the company. They take a lifetime to build something valuable and important to the community, and they want to protect that.”
The acquisition of Mid-Atlantic regional giant Long & Foster in 2017 is a perfect example. A privately owned and independent company for 50 years, Long & Foster becoming part of HomeServices was a key part of the firm’s transition plan, explains CEO Jeff Detwiler.
“For 50 years, Wes (Foster) talked about the value of our independence and the local aspects of real estate,” explains Detwiler. “If we had compromised that perspective, employees and sales associates wouldn’t have had confidence in what we were doing. The move allowed us to preserve our agent-first and customer-focused business model.”
The depth and breadth of HomeServices of America was another significant draw.
“By joining HomeServices, we became part of a national entity that is able to deliver solutions predicated on a national platform,” says Detwiler. “HomeServices has unmatched financial stability and a reputation that is second to none—a reputation that is all about success and integrity.”
The reputation and prowess of Berkshire Hathaway was also a draw for Christy Budnick, president and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Florida Network Realty.
“Our founder and chairman, Linda Sherrer, and I chose to affiliate with HomeServices in 2016,” she recalls. “One of our first memories of being introduced to our new brand was a quote by Warren Buffett: ‘Berkshire Hathaway wants to be in businesses that are enduring. Real estate brokerages will be around 100 years from now and HomeServices of America will be around 100 years from now.’ From that point forward, each interaction we had with HomeServices reinforced that we were philosophically aligned and that they were the right partner to maintain the legacy, culture and integrity of our company.”
While local operators appreciate the autonomy to conduct business as needed for their respective markets, they also enjoy accessibility to a national network and to the HomeServices leadership team.
“The HomeServices leadership team has a deep understanding of the real estate industry,” says Budnick. “The brain trust that exists across the HomeServices companies is unequaled; we have the best operators in the country, and the HomeServices of America leadership team challenges each of us to learn from one another.”
“Ron recognizes and appreciates that all real estate is locally driven,” says Blefari. “Therefore, leaders should support our brokerages through the execution of best practices, the establishment of appropriately measured accountability systems, and to bring greater scale and efficiency surrounding innovation and technology.
“And, we remain dedicated to ensuring that our companies live up to our brand promise—that we not only provide stellar service, but also deliver a wide spectrum of core services and cross-company affiliated relationships that satisfy consumers’ desire for trusted and convenient real estate transactions,” Blefari says.
Credit: AJ Canaria of PlanOmatic
Technology Built for Relationships
When it comes to technology, the focus at HomeServices is on ensuring that agents are equipped to support buyers and sellers through every phase of the real estate lifecycle.
“We will continue to be fast, fluid and flexible in a way that is good for consumers and the agent community,” Peltier explains. “Today, the customer is still looking for a relationship with someone who is honest, reputable and has the tools and services to help them navigate a complicated transaction.”
“What we love about HomeServices as a company is that they place a high value on technology, but technology that allows us to interface better with our clients,” says Budnick.
“We use a phrase that’s become a little bit of a mantra for us: People first, enabled by process, powered by technology,” says Strandmo. “That set of priorities reinforces the relationship aspect of who we are.”
For that reason, HomeServices of America Chief Technology Officer Patty Smejkal directs the company’s technology effort toward meeting the needs of agents and consumers. “We’re focusing on the things they need to get their jobs done. We have subject-matter experts who focus on the features and functionality of the technology and help implement it at the local level. We do everything we can from a corporate perspective to make sure technology is being implemented correctly.”
In today’s environment, however, offering the latest technology solutions is no longer enough. HomeServices is also dedicated to the integrity and security of the transaction, instituting systems and protocols to enforce cybersecurity at every level.
“We’ve implemented cybersecurity best practices and tools at each company to protect consumer, agent and employee data,” says Smejkal. “We’ve also established best-in- class information-security protocols, so we can monitor, manage and respond if there is a problem.”
“We’ve also instituted training for our 7,000 employees,” adds Strandmo. “And we’ve expanded that out—we have wire fraud disclosures that we provide to all consumers and partners on every transaction.”
Credit: AJ Canaria of PlanOmatic
Innovating for the Next 20 Years…and Beyond
Through a commitment to innovation and technology that facilitates agent productivity by streamlining the transaction and enhancing the agent/client relationship, HomeServices is charting the course for its next 20 years. But like everything HomeServices sets out to do, innovation for the future must always put people first.
As Smejkal says, “We are nothing without our relationships. So, before we implement the latest technology, we always ask, ‘How does it affect the relationship?’ It has to have value to the end user, whether that be the consumer or the agent.”
That said, staying committed to continuous innovation remains a priority for HomeServices of America, as it taps into its network of local leaders and national resources to keep the company a visionary industry leader.
“Our greatest opportunity is to change the perception of our industry to the benefit of our agents, brokerages and consumers,” says Blefari. “The collective strength of our real estate network is such that we have the critical mass to assimilate technology on our terms.
“This is why I believe we must remain a leader in technology. We must help all of our companies to evolve in a fashion that will make it clear to consumers and clients that our companies are not only the most transactionally proficient, but also the most relationally ready and relevant.”
“Success by any measure starts with our commitment,” says Peltier. “Everything we’re doing today, I want to believe we’re doing it better than a year ago,” he explains. “And I expect a year from today, we’ll be doing most everything better than we are now. It’s about not being satisfied with where we are in this journey. Along that journey, there are many things that happen—new innovations, new development, new technology, new ways of doing business. I’m confident that we will continue to find the best way of deploying our services to agents by not trying to redo the past, but by continuing to take on innovation.”
Serving the Real Estate Lifecycle
“Affiliated businesses have always been a core part of the HomeServices business model and central to what we do,” says Strandmo.
“Our passion for providing a seamless real estate experience for consumers marries perfectly with HomeServices of America’s vision,” says Budnick. “Consumers want convenient access to quality services at competitive rates without having to go to multiple ‘shops’ for their mortgage, title and insurance services.”
Here’s a look at the full spectrum of business lines that are part of the HomeServices of America family.
Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices
- One of America’s fastest-growing franchise networks
- 50,000 agents; 1,500 offices since its launch in September 2013
- Located domestically in 47 states and now globally in London, Berlin, Milan and Dubai
- Known as “Home of Lifestyle Advisors” and where “Real Living Begins”
- Earned a record 98 percent customer satisfaction rating for 2018
Prosperity Home Mortgage
- Ranked as a Top 20 lender in the U.S. across all brands, based on volume
- Brands include: Prosperity Home Mortgage, HomeServices Lending, Edina Realty Mortgage, The Lending Partners and Long Mortgage
- Nearly 22,000 closed loans in 2018
- 45 states, 400 mortgage consultants
- Ranked as one of the “Top 50 Best Companies to Work For” by Mortgage Executive Magazine
- Atlanta, Ga., Loan Officer Michelle Hipps Wentworth received recognition in November 2018 as a Gold Producer with the second-highest number of submissions to Invest Atlanta Homeownership Team