Consumers Show Preference for Independent Real Estate Brands

CHICAGO – (5/31/17) In a recent survey of more than 3,000 U.S. homeowners, consumers indicated a strong preference for working with sales associates affiliated with local independent brands. More than 88% said they preferred working with an agent with a “well-known, local real estate company,” while   12% preferred those affiliated with a national franchise.

This was one of several responses describing how today’s consumers buy and sell real estate as part of a broad-based, wide-ranging U.S. consumer segmentation study conducted on behalf of Leading Real Estate Companies of the World® (LeadingRE) by McKee Wallwork + Co. and Decision Analyst.

This particular finding on the appeal of independent brokerages is supported by another third-party source, the REAL Trends 500 ranking of the top 500 residential real estate firms in the U.S. The data collected from brokerages around the country indicates that LeadingRE produced 25.7% of the total sales units among the top 500 brokerages in the U.S., outselling any single franchise network, and that has been the case for more than 10 consecutive years. LeadingRE members also represented 14 of the top 25 firms in the U.S. in sales volume for 2016.

In terms of total sales for all brokerages in each network, LeadingRE’s residential real estate firms outperformed their nearest network competitor by $62 billion, producing 1.1 million sales units valued at $368 billion in home sales.

“Year after year, the independent firms that comprise our network demonstrate their market leadership locally and collectively as an international community focused on delivering the most exceptional customer experiences,” said LeadingRE President/CEO Pam O’Connor. “This is consistent with the growth in popularity of local restaurants, locally-branded divisions of major hotel franchisors, and other locally-sourced retail goods and services that offer the brand differentiation and community roots that appeal to many of today’s consumers as compared to big box brands of the past.”

Figures for the top 500 firms are verified and published by REAL Trends each April. Figures for total sales of all networks are estimated by using average sales units per agent for each network’s firms in the REAL Trends 500, multiplied across each network’s entire agent population. 

With member firms in 65 countries, Leading Real Estate Companies of the World® selects only the highest quality, market-leading independent companies for membership and supports them with its robust referral network, award-winning professional development programs, Luxury Portfolio marketing program, and events providing meaningful connections to people and opportunities worldwide.

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Why Global Matters: Looking Beyond Borders Integral to LeadingRE’s Growth

LeadingRE Chief Economist Marci Rossell, EVP of Global Operations Chris Dietz, and President/CEO Pam O’Connor featured on the cover of RISMedia’s Real Estate Magazine, April 2017. The full article appears below, and the digital magazine can be viewed here.


By Maria Patterson

That timeless belief, “all real estate is local,” is so ingrained in the minds of most practitioners that eyes often glaze over when the topic of global real estate is brought up. But Leading Real Estate Companies of the World® has been taking an alternative view since the early 2000s, when it actively began expanding to other countries from its strong U.S. base.

“Real estate isn’t local or global,” says LeadingRE President/CEO Pam O’Connor. “It is both. Those who ignore the global piece are missing enormous opportunities.”

Recently, LeadingRE brought on its own chief economist to share insights on the global economy and how it impacts real estate. Dr. Marci Rossell, whose background includes stints with the Federal Reserve Bank, Oppenheimer Funds and as chief economist for CNBC, believes that real estate is only beginning to feel the effects of globalization.

“Globalization is still a strong force in real estate, despite the recent rise of economic nationalism worldwide,” says Rossell. “The factors that drive real estate buyers to one area of the world—things like safe political environments, cultural and family ties, the supply of talent—are still in place. And while a stronger dollar makes U.S. real estate more expensive for foreign buyers, these other forces are a powerful counterbalance to that trend. Globalization may be under threat, but it represents an international integration arising from economic, cultural and political factors. It is here to stay.”

The iPhone has had a lot to do with this. Introduced in June 2007—less than 10 years ago—it has unleashed a new era of innovation, made the internet and global communication accessible to the masses, and further eroded cultural differences. The world population as of August 2016 is 7.4 billion people, and the median age is 30.1 years old. This is the iPhone generation, and we can only expect more global integration in the future as a result.

But if you’re sitting in Omaha or Cincinnati or Atlanta, you may still be asking, “What does this have to do with real estate in my market? We don’t have a lot of international buyers.”

In 2015, NAR reported that foreign buyers purchased 214,885 residential properties from April 2015 to March 2016, a 3 percent increase over the prior year. While most of that has been in coastal markets like San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle, New York and Miami, many Chinese have purchased in college towns across the country based on where their children are studying. In any market, there is likely more international activity than you think. Individuals from other countries often gravitate to the same real estate agents who have worked with their friends and family or financial advisors and have thus established a foundation of trust. You could be missing out on international business in your town or city simply because you are underestimating the potential business and have not focused on it.

Even if you have few foreign buyers in your market, no one can ignore the changing demographics in this country in virtually every state and region, represented by millions of potential real estate buyers who come from different cultures and ethnicities.

Non-Hispanic whites are now 62 percent of the American population; they will be less than 50 percent by about 2055. Today, about 14 percent of all Americans are foreign-born, versus 5 percent in 1965 (though, ironically, that 14 percent is similar to what it was in the early 20th century). These changes in the composition of our country have major implications for real estate as we usher in a new generation of buyers and sellers from different cultures. If we expect to serve the needs of these potential customers who come from other backgrounds, we must learn those values, customs and needs. All of this bodes enormous opportunity for those who embrace the change and recognize the need to recruit agents from different backgrounds, to customize services for these different cultures, to engage with them online and in the community, and to provide services in different languages.

LeadingRE has jumped into globalization in terms of both coverage and culture. Comprised of 550 strong, independent brokerages with 4,000 offices and nearly 130,000 agents, the network is now operating in 63 countries and expects to hit 70 by fall 2017.

Leading that charge is EVP of Global Operations Christoph (Chris) Dietz, based in London and Frankfurt, Germany. Since joining LeadingRE five years ago, Dietz has expanded the network’s country count by more than triple, but even more significantly, he is continually reinforcing a global mindset that goes beyond coverage.

“In Europe—simply because of geography and other factors—we cross borders all the time and have a sense of the different cultures and practices,” Dietz says. “That is not the case in the U.S., so we are always thinking of the little things…having +1 before U.S. phone numbers for international dialing, scheduling multi-audience calls or webinars involving overseas colleagues at times that make sense, reviewing messaging intended for all members so that it isn’t so U.S.-centric.

“But the best way for that kind of thinking to be natural is to experience other cultures,” he continues. “At LeadingRE, we are very focused on connecting our members, not just having dots on the map. That way, we form trusted relationships based on mutual understanding and respect, and we find that at the end of the day, people are people. If we know each other, we are more likely to do business with each other.”

To foster these cross-border relationships, LeadingRE schedules at least two or three non-U.S. events each year in addition to its annual “Conference Week,” held last month in Miami with members from 25 countries in attendance. In 2016, the network’s annual Global Symposium was held in Amsterdam, and a luxury property event for its Luxury Portfolio division took place in Beijing. Regional networking webinars for members in the Caribbean proved so popular that they are being replicated in Europe and other regions this year. In 2017, in addition to its Global Symposium in Vienna at the end of September, a variation of its highly lauded “Asia Immersion” event in Shanghai in 2014 will be repeated in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, with pre- and post-event visits to Singapore and Thailand.

“There is an enormous sense of comfort when gifting a client to a LeadingRE/Luxury Portfolio colleague in another part of the world,” says Lulu Egerton, a partner with London-based Strutt and Parker in the UK. “Even if we haven’t met a particular member, we know that these companies have been carefully vetted and share our values.”

For example, when Egerton’s team identified Turkey as a source of investor buyers coming to London, they reached out to LeadingRE/Luxury Portfolio member AYIKCAN Real Estate there, who organized a dinner with high-net worth Turkish business people during a Strutt & Parker visit to Turkey.

“That kind of thing lays the groundwork for relationships that inevitably lead to business transactions,” says Egerton, “and this simply wouldn’t happen without the connections fostered by LeadingRE and Luxury Portfolio.”

As the frequency and participation in LeadingRE’s global events have grown, so have its cross-border referrals. Member-to-member referrals are a core competency of the network dating back to its roots in the old RELO® network. Last year, members generated over 30,000 “client introductions” to one another with a whopping 50 percent conversion rate. Traditionally, most of that has been within the U.S., but cross-border referrals are doubling each year, and conversion is improving thanks to a “Cross-Border Liaison Team” that assists members with communication, customs, and follow-up required by referrals between different countries.

One recent success came with a referral from Smith & Associates Real Estate in Tampa, Fla., to Stone Real Estate in Sydney, Australia. Smith & Associates Vice President of Business Development and Relocation Jane Gowarty made an introduction on behalf of REALTOR® Amanda Heese, whose godmother had a distinctive property in the Blue Mountains of Australia.

With assistance from LeadingRE’s cross-border team, Heese connected with Reece Coleman, CEO of Stone Realty. “Immediately, I felt confident that Reece saw and appreciated the ‘story’ behind the property and would be a natural at marketing and selling it,” Heese says. The connection between the two companies was further solidified when Gowarty and Coleman met at LeadingRE’s Global Symposium in Amsterdam. A few months later, the property was sold just 10 days after being listed, in a market with an average days-on-market of 360—also setting a new residential price record in the area.

“It was an absolute delight marketing this property and getting to know and work with our LeadingRE colleagues,” says Coleman. “While we are literally on opposite sides of the world, we are aligned by a shared focus on delivering an exceptional experience, and this focus on quality is a universal trait of LeadingRE firms.”

Another globalization focus for LeadingRE is on the corporate relocation side. Its sister relocation management company, RELO Direct®, Inc., works with multi-national clients who relocate talent all over the world. As a result, in Shanghai and Munich, RELO Direct works via two firms that are also members of LeadingRE. These two companies operate both destination service companies (DSPs) to assist international expatriates moving from one country to another and real estate brokerages.

“The organization has synergies for us in both areas,” says Dima Lorenz of Ark Properties in Shanghai. “We work closely with RELO Direct to assist employees relocating to China with RELO Direct client companies, but we also work with fellow LeadingRE colleagues to support individual buyers and sellers.”

LeadingRE is expanding its referral business to also encompass commercial referrals, working with its members who operate dedicated commercial divisions as well as selected commercial-only partners in other cities. Given the growth in commercial investment in the U.S. in recent years, that is yet another way in which LeadingRE plans to extend its global reach.

“While the stock market is hot right now, investors are always looking for ways to diversify,” says Rossell. “Not only are financial advisors considering the real estate portfolio of their clients in addition to equities and other investments, but we’ve also seen growth in global real estate mutual funds and global real estate investment trusts (REITs). Additionally, we see consumers in other countries ‘parking’ their money by buying property in the relatively safe economic environment of the U.S. All of this indicates the fascination with and confidence in real estate from an investment, as well as lifestyle, perspective. As we continue to see an accelerated interest in cross-border real estate purchases, the traditional barriers to these transactions—financing, logistics, and more—will be increasingly minimized, so that buying or selling property in another country becomes nearly as routine as it is in the U.S.”

LeadingRE truly lives its mantra: “We’re Local, We’re Global®.” Its locally-branded independent real estate firms have to be market leaders in order to qualify for membership, whether a mega-brokerage like Howard Hanna or Long & Foster or a one-office firm that dominates the market in its small suburb or town. No matter what a firm’s local profile, having meaningful connections to other quality-focused firms worldwide is a real differentiator in this global economy.

This local “private label” character of LeadingRE’s members is serving them well in the age of the internet and today’s consumer interest in community roots and distinctive business personas. It is no accident that the love affair with local brands is driving many business decisions, whether it is the introduction of boutique-brand divisions by major hotel chains or the decision by HomeServices of America to retain the local brands of independent acquisitions like LeadingRE members Kentwood in Denver and Houlihan Lawrence in Westchester County, rather than moving them into its Berkshire Hathaway franchise network.

“We believe there has never been a better time for local brands,” says LeadingRE’s O’Connor. “Ironically, this translates in the global landscape, as well. In effect, we are able to offer the authenticity and connections of strong local brands around the world. When clients understand that they are accessing the same integrity, competence, and client care in another country that they’re used to at home with one of our members, this becomes a huge factor in bridging cultural, political and economic differences.”

So regardless of where you sit in the real estate world, why should you care about global?

  1. National economies are increasingly intertwined, and when business crosses borders, so do people and the homes they buy and sell. As that happens, the barriers to real estate transactions will fall.
  1. The internet and smartphones have introduced new vistas to consumers everywhere, particularly with younger people, so those who have never thought about buying a home in another country are or will.
  1. You already have a host of cultures in your own backyard, and if you wish to have their business, you need to know them.

Having a global mindset does not mean abandoning love or loyalty to country; it simply recognizes the changing world in which we live and the many reasons—business, practical and personal—to respect and embrace the rich opportunities that diversity brings, just as it has in this country throughout our history.

For more information, please visit

Maria Patterson is RISMedia’s executive editor. Email her your real estate news ideas

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How May I Serve You?


This article by LeadingRE Business Development Manager Jeff Kennedy was published in RISMedia’s e-News on April 19, 2017.


Recently I tried to use my corporate American Express card while on a business trip to New York City. I tried to pay for a taxi, but it was declined. I ran it through twice to make sure it wasn’t “operator error.” Although I was positive that the card wasn’t frozen for lack of payment, it was a bit embarrassing, and I could feel the judgmental eyes of the cabbie glaring at me. Of course, being pulled over, with traffic backed up and horns blaring, just added to the intensity of the situation. Thankfully I had cash, paid a larger than deserved tip and hastily made my way out of the cab. That isn’t the end of the story.

I quickly called the toll-free number on the back of the card and spoke with a customer service rep. I wish I had his name, but I didn’t expect to need to remember it later. Rather than being greeted with the DMV-style voice/tone that we’ve come to expect when calling customer service, he was inviting and empathetic… it was actually a bit disarming. He said things like “You are a valued customer” and “How may I serve you?” rather than the standard “Thank you for calling. How may I help you?”

The fact that he used the word “serve” struck a chord—not because I feel the need to be served, but because of what the word infers. There is a reason that the employees at Chick-fil-A are trained to say “How may I serve you?” and “My pleasure.” It’s because words matter.

When a customer service rep offers to help someone, he is agreeing that there is a problem (which was likely caused by the company), and he is implying that the client needs his help to resolve said issue. Neither of those responses is positive.

“How may I serve you?” has a completely different feel to it. It may be semantics, but his word choice changed the tone and trajectory of our conversation. It made me feel that he was on my side, that he wanted to make it right, and that we were going to figure this out together. In that moment, I went from frustrated business traveler to a “valued customer” with a friend on the “inside.”

What is your mentality with your real estate clients? Do you see yourself as helping them? Servicing them? Or truly serving them?

The best way to serve your clients in real estate is to keep your focus on what is right for them.

Here are some examples of service versus help:

Service – Understand that you couldn’t be successful without this client.
Help – Have a mindset that the client couldn’t do this without you.

Service – Welcome questions, as that shows engagement.
Help – Have a set idea of how long a conversation should be or how many questions a client should ask.

Service – Think of only what is best for your client. Period. Your client doesn’t care that you are getting a bonus for selling that house. They want a house that is a perfect fit for their needs, not yours. Think of the old police adage “To Protect and Serve.”
Help – Think about the quickest way to get the transaction closed.

Leading Real Estate Companies of the World® (LeadingRE) is a service organization first. Our clients are the top independent real estate brokerages in the world. While we offer a referral network, vendor relationships and proprietary platforms, service to our members always comes first, and we are guided by our mantra of Making the Best Brokerages BetterSM.

We vet and hire the right people, but we also invest resources in the ongoing development of our employees. We never lose sight of the fact that serving our members is our reason for existing as company.

The next time you go to meet a client for the first time, try a service mentality, and maybe even go as far as saying the words out loud: “How may I serve you?” You’ll experience positive results and will be glad that you did.


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