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Inside the CEO playbooks at Gathering of Eagles

Nick Bailey, Stephanie Anton and Will Holmes open their playbooks for growth to GOE attendees

RealTrends Gathering of Eagles attendees assembled Tuesday morning at the Omni Barton Creek in Austin, Texas to get a glimpse into the playbooks of executives at top real estate brands.

The executives covered it all during the panel, from discussions of strategies for growth from Stephanie Anton, the president of Corcoran Affiliates, to thoughts on technology from Nick Bailey, the president and CEO of RE/MAX, to navigating the shifting market as an iBuyer with Will Holmes the head of partnerships Opendoor.

Ten lessons from a fast-growing firm

Corcoran is celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2023, but the age of the firm has not stopped it from rapidly changing and growing in recent years. In February 2020, Corcoran launched its franchise network, Corcoran Affiliates. Since the launch, Corcoran has expanded its brand from four markets to 45 markets, doubling its agent count.

“It has been a wild three years,” Anton told attendees.

In the process of launching and expanding the Corcoran Affiliates brand, Anton has identified ten keys to growing quickly.

The first two lessons Anton highlighted for attendees were “know who you are” and “know who you aren’t.”

“The words we use to describe ourselves are authentic and warm, sophisticated, smart, inclusive,” Anton said. “We don’t use luxury to describe Corcoran as a brand, but we do use it to describe our listings. And we don’t use words like trendy or unapproachable, and certainly not dull, and we train our agents to how to use this language to talk to clients and to talk about the brand.”

When it comes to owning your brand identity and purpose, Anton told attendees that they should be comfortable saying no.

“We definitely say no more than we say yes, and the reason for that is because if you say yes to everything, then you stand for nothing,” Anton said. “Standards matter, and every compromise you make to your standards is death by a thousand cuts.”

Anton also told attendees to “look for outside inspiration,” “celebrate the power and joy of finding your people,” and embrace growth as your culture.

“I am very inspired by luxury brands,” Anton said. “Brands like Tesla, Apple, Hermes, Prada — all these brand have emotional attachments, meaning that it is not about the service or about the products. It is about the intangible things. When you can make an emotional connection to a consumer through your brand, it becomes sticky.”

While Corcoran Affiliates has grown quickly, Anton noted that “change is hard” and mistakes will happen. Still, it is important to “move fast and move on” if you hope to recover and continue growing.

But Anton’s biggest piece of advice for brokers and leaders was to “always answer their phone.”

“You never know who you are going to hear from or if the meeting will change you mind,” Anton said.

Rethinking an in-house tech platform

In July 2022, RE/MAX shut down booj, the CRM and technology platform it acquired in 2018 for $45 million. Instead of further building out booj, the firm announced it would be partnering with Inside Real Estate to offer their agents the AI-powered kvCORE platform.

According to Bailey, RE/MAX and many other brands in the industry believed it was necessary for the firm to own its own technology platform in order to get a competitive advantage by offering its agents a tech platform. But as technology has changed, so has this view.

“In this industry, we have to realize that in-house tech is expensive,” Bailey said. “Now, we still have some of our acquisitions that are needing to be taken advantage of and integrated into our partner Inside Real Estate. But I believe the only thing moving faster than this market is technology. The one thing that I believe is a foundation is that technology is not going to replace a real estate agent, at least not in my life, but I do believe that an agent that doesn’t embrace tech will be replaced.”

In Bailey’s view, a brokerage that is hesitant to allow other firms to own its data is stifling innovation.

“Access to the data is not a competitive advantage. How you use data in your business can become a competitive advantage,” Bailey said. “The idea that withholding data provides a competitive advantage is nonsense.”

Through the process of acquiring and trying to build out booj, Bailey said he realized that sometimes buying or building technology doesn’t provide the biggest competitive advantage.

“When you consider in-house tech or out of house tech, I think it is most important to consider what you need to make the brokerage more efficient and easier for the agent and to create a better consumer experience,” Bailey said.

The future of iBuyers

Proptech firms and iBuyers have struggled mightily as the housing market has cooled over the past year. With home prices decreasing in many markets, and venture capital funding drying up, firms in this space have had to rethink how they operate.

At Opendoor, this resulted in acquiring just 1,747 homes in Q1 2023, an 81% year-over-year decrease, along with two rounds of layoffs between November 2022 and April 2023. Still, Holmes is not discouraged by these numbers.

“We have seen our relationships with the three main important channels — portals, homebuilders, and agents and brokerages — grow,” Holmes said. “In the last three years, we have seen a nine-fold increase in agents doing multiple transactions with us.”

As Opendoor looks to increase brand awareness, Holmes said it is leaning into these partnerships while exploring others in spaces such a lending.

He also echoed Bailey by highlighting how the industry is increasing its acceptance and reliance on technology.

“Consumers are embracing technology,” Holmes said. “They want various options. I think more and more, consumers are going to feel more comfortable doing things online and having a more convenient, more controlled transaction.”

Due to this, Holmes feels that while Opendoor needs these partnerships with agents, the agents need to partner with firms like Opendoor if they want to stay relevant. And despite a rocky start, Holmes says things are looking up.

“There was definitely some concern and worry,” Holmes said. “I don’t think we did a great job of introducing ourselves to the industry, and there is still work to be done, but we are now working with thousands of agents and brokers across the country who are using us not only as an option for sellers, but for prospecting and lead generation. I think the relationships with the industry are going to be very crucial for this next period for the company.”