Industry Executives Talk Branding, Profitability and Disruption in Real Estate at NAR Annual Conference

SAN FRANCISCO (November 10, 2019) – Several real estate industry executives discussed real estate branding, profitability, and disruptors during a panel session at the 2019 REALTORS® Conference & Expo in San Francisco, California. 

Realogy Expansion Brands CEO Sherry Chris moderated the session – “NAR Talks to the C-Suite: Disrupted! Is Our Industry on a Path for Significant Change or is it Business as Usual?” – with five industry leaders in a lively exchange. 

On the importance of branding in today’s real estate market, RE/MAX Chief Executive Officer Adam Contos believes real estate professionals must account for feelings and make openness a priority. “Branding has gone through an evolution and is more important now than ever,” said Contos. “People attach their emotions to what you are, your values, and your mission. We’re in a more emotional environment than we ever been and the agent needs to be as transparent as possible.”

Howard Hanna Real Estate Services CEO Helen Hanna Casey placed emphasis on brand consistency. “It’s important to partner our brand with our agents so that consumers can see the consistency,” said Casey. “Our brand is our name, but it’s also what we speak every day. Name is not brand alone, it’s what is behind it. We stand behind that brand legally and what we mean, the support we provide, and what we bring to our communities.”

Zillow Group Chief Industry Development Officer Errol Samuelson told the assembled audience that branding goes beyond traditional marketing tactics. “Today when we think about brands, brands are built by experiences, not advertising campaigns. It’s important to associate your brand with what consumers are experiencing.”

Opinions diverged when Chris broached the topic of pocket listings. When asked about the future of the industry and the impact technology will have, Ian Wong, co-founder and Chief Technology Officer of Opendoor said, "I believe the industry is poised for reimagination as new technology is enabling agents to meet evolving consumer needs. If we can streamline the core aspects of the transaction, we're allowing agents to focus on customizing service of their clients and in turn creating a modern, more liquid marketplace." 

Conversely, HomeServices of America Chief Executive Officer Gino Blefari believes pocket listings could negatively affect the supply and demand relationship. “I never thought pocket listings were better for the consumer because you’re limiting the demand of buyers. We should expose a seller’s property to as many buyers as possible.”

Contos stressed a methodical approach, communication, and industry collaboration to understanding the impact of pocket listings. “We believe in consumer protection and transparency. This is not a binary solution. It’s not a yes or no,” added Contos. “All of us in the industry need to get our act together and do the right thing for consumers. When you confuse, you lose. We look to NAR and business leaders to provide transparency and clarity. Here is collectively what the industry has decided, and then let the consumers vote. We need to be better communicators in this space.”

All of the panelists expressed the importance of balancing short-term and long-term objectives when considering company profitability. “The real estate transaction is the straw that stirs the drink. But you have to think about what else you can do to bring in more profit,” said Blefari. “What it is that can add to top line profit? You always have to have the mindset that you can be profitable in the real estate business.”

Industry disruption took center stage at the panel’s conclusion, with Opendoor’s Wong highlighting technology’s increasing role in real estate. “The word ‘disruptor’ means we’re evolving as an industry and real estate is still feeling the effects of technology,” Wong said. “We’re all aligned to help buyers and sellers, but also home builders and agents. We want consumers to have more choices on how to buy and sell homes.”

Zillow’s Errol stressed the nexus between real estate agents and technology will only make the buying experience better for consumers. “Consumers overwhelmingly want to work with an agent as they want the advice and professional assistance,” Errol said. “Agents are always going to be a part of the process, but the successful ones are going to leverage technology. Agents who are willing to embrace technology, will be that ‘super-agent’ for consumers. Real estate is in an exciting place right now.”

The National Association of Realtors® is America’s largest trade association, representing more than 1.3 million members involved in all aspects of the residential and commercial real estate industries.