A. The consumer movement is huge and isn’t on
the radar of lots of brokerage companies…
By Elyse Umlauf-Garneau
How can technology help Leading Real Estate Companies of the World®
(LeadingRE) in this regard?
We’re working on a new program that is a series of micro-sites for
consumers that let them home in on certain buildings, subdivisions, ZIP
codes, or school districts. It’s taking that consumer search process down
to a micro-level, where they can get information on more than just houses.
They can get community and school data, cost of living information, and
even find where the best seafood restaurants are. Consumers will get to a
particular micro-site from Google or other search engines when they type in
a search term, and these micro-sites will be assigned to LeadingRE sales
associates who focus on these particular market niches.
We also have a members-only site with role-based information and education.
Though there’s information that crosses over to everyone, if you’re a sales
associate, you see one kind of content; if you’re a recruiting manager or
an IT director, you see content that pertains to your role. We also have an
alliance with trainers to explain how to use technology to build
relationships with consumers. The members-only site is a breeding ground
for best practices, a way for members to learn from each other.
Even in this troubled economy, are you still seeing
We are growing domestically, and there are still smaller markets where we
don’t have membership. There’s a lot of growth on the international side,
and we have memberships in 38 countries. The idea is to create the same
kind of referral activity overseas that we see in the United States. We’re
trying to generate cross-border referrals between us and international
member companies and between markets outside the U.S. Real estate
professionals overseas aren’t attuned to thinking about referrals as much
as they are here, but we’re seeing more every year.
How do you manage a firm with 170,000 associates?
My role is not to manage the companies or associates themselves, but to
provide them with business resources to complement their local resources to
grow their businesses. Most of my interaction is with brokers and managers
of those affiliate companies, who in turn communicate our programs and
tools to their associates. We are beginning to touch associates more
directly through our new members-only Web site, Inside.LeadingRE.com. It
has special features for associates, such as technology training and luxury
marketing. We also conduct conferences for member associates in their
locations. Though ours is a large, diverse group of professionals, many of
their challenges are the same in this environment of a slower housing
market and savvier-than-ever consumer.
How has the subprime meltdown affected your relocation and international
The volume of corporate transfers has declined a bit and
the longer marketing time has increased workloads of relocation staff. Our
broker-to-broker referral business is down about 15 to 20 percent,
mirroring the overall housing market. We were conservative in budgeting, so
we’re on track with our forecast for referrals generated this year. But
closings are behind schedule because many referred buyers haven’t sold
their departure-location homes or are in neutral because of economic
uncertainties. Internationally, cross-border referrals are still in the
infancy stage, so we haven’t seen a major change in that
How does your firm manage its brand identity, given that it’s international
and comprises 700 companies?
LeadingRE is the “brand behind the brands.” Our affiliates are all local
and regional brands, which have strong name recognition in their respective
markets. Our brand is a kind of pedigree that enhances their brand and
connects them in the eyes of consumers from market to market. We offer lots
of marketing support and collateral for listing presentations, direct mail,
luxury marketing, and so forth, to augment their local branding activities.
Our Web sites—RELOHomeSearch.com and LuxuryPortfolio.com—link all of our affiliates on
the Internet for consumers searching for property, local community
information, and sales professionals.
What’s the key to maintaining profitability?
It involves spending strategically and getting leaner and meaner. You have
to know the business, plan for it, and measure it. The knowing is having
tools in place to compare yourself to the competition and to see exactly
what the market trends are. Even 10 years ago, there were brokerages that
didn’t really budget and plan. That has gotten more sophisticated.
What long-term issues have you been thinking about?
Two big areas where we need attention are differentiation and innovation.
Branding, in a lot of cases, has been at the agent level, not at the
company level. Ask someone to differentiate one company from another and
they’d have a hard time, but they can do it when they’re asked the
difference between Mary and Joe. We’re going to see a lot more
differentiation at the company level.
In terms of innovation, who would have guessed 10 years ago that today we’d
have iPods and need a BlackBerry®? In real estate, we have to do a better
job of anticipating and asking, “Where’s the void and how do we fill it?”
And not just with technology. What can we do to make the process easier for
consumers? We also have to get attuned to the diversity of the market in
terms of cultures and generations and have our companies mirror the
consumers who are out there.
President and CEO of Leading Real Estate Companies of the World®
Agents: 170,000 associates
Offices: 700 companies with 5,500 offices in the U.S. and in 38
Pet Peeve: Some brokerages view the agent as the customer. I think the
agent should be the partner and the consumer the customer. The way the
world is going, consumers have more and more control.
Favorite Book: I’m a prolific reader so it’s hard to choose a favorite, but
one book I liked was Forever by Pete Hamill.
Elyse Umlauf-Garneau is a Chicago-based freelance real estate