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February 3, 2014

The Return of the Real Estate Brand

by mark mclean

return of the brandTechnology talk used to be the dominant topic of conversation at real estate conferences over the last few years but these days there has been a noticeable shift to discussions on brands and brand building. I think we are talking about brands more because our industry has become so fractured that it is tougher and more expensive for agents to succeed.
Consider this, in the early days of real estate sales, agents worked for a neighbourhood brokerage who fielded calls and handed out leads. Upon successful completion of a transaction, the brokerage would keep a substantial portion of the earned commission. In return, the brokerage office was responsible for advertising listings and managing day-to-day operations. When independent contractor status came out agents assumed more responsibility for the sales function thus opening the doors for new brokerage models. Now take a look at what is happening now.
In Toronto we are closing in on 40,000 agents who are all competing for a piece of the 90,000 sales that happen each year. The sharp increase in the number of agents in our market has caused significant shifts in the real estate industry. The first is a downward pressure on commissions, and the second is the rise in popularity of the “discount brokerage”, a model that relies on fees rather than commissions. Both of these shifts have benefited the consumer in some way but have also put pressure on the traditional real estate brokerage model.
Now agents are faced with a new dilemma. Their competitive advantage is no longer their ability to offer lower commissions. They need to create a lot more value for the consumer. That may come in the form of neighborhood videos, access to a research department, market and/or neighbourhood reports, rich demographic information, media coverage, websites with killer SEO, and, least we not forget… training. For the average new agent coming into the business with nothing more than a few hundred dollars in their pocket and a dream, it is next to impossible to shoulder the costs of these tools. For the savvy brokerage, it is clear that an opportunity exists to share their offerings and create a new competitive advantage with their agents …at a cost.
For further clarification and a hint of what is to come, it is worthwhile to look south for additional trends. Following a catastrophic real estate collapse, the US market is finally returning to health. But something happened along the way. The primary objective to staying in business moved from saving money to creating an experience for the client. Several companies that operated VOWs in the past are now embracing bricks and mortar models. Others are moving away from the fee based systems and returning to traditional brokerage business models. Take a look at these great videos from Go Realty in North Carolina or Red Oak Realty in California. They are creating an experience for the consumer who may have come to the realization that buying and selling real estate doesn’t work in a virtual environment.
This is not to say that a virtual office or fee-based brokerage can’t succeed. I am all in favour of consumer choice but from where I sit it is clear that the full-service real estate model is about to make a giant come back.
As the old expression goes…what comes around goes around. Years ago independent contractor status destroyed the big brand but just like the circle of life, the independent contractor status is bringing the concept of brand back.

The opinion expressed here are the opinions of Mark Mclean and don’t represent the opinions of Bosley Real Estate.

mark mclean

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