Game Changers: Sherry Chris

Sherry Chris, CEO and President of Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate, talks with REAL Trends editor-in-chief, Tracey Velt about her career in the real estate industry and how she got where she is today.

Listen or read the full podcast interview below.

Tracey Velt

This is Tracey Velt, Editor and Publisher for REAL Trends. We’re interviewing extraordinary real estate leaders to get a glimpse of what drives them to achieve, as well as have them share insights about the industry and it’s future. Today we’re talking with Sherry Chris, CEO and President of Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate. Welcome Sherry.

Sherry Chris

Thank you Tracey. It’s a pleasure to be here today.

Tracey Velt

Yeah, I’m excited about interviewing you. I’ll just start at the beginning of your career with Better Homes and Gardens. I know you’ve taken the company from inception to what it is today. What do you feel is the most significant change that you’ve been through with the company during that time, since October 2007, and how did it impact the company?

Sherry Chris

Well that’s a good question, Tracey. I’ll answer it by saying, way back in 2007, when I was asked to move over and launch the Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate brand, we were just starting that I’ll call as the era of the consumer. The consumer was clearly in control, as far as data was concerned back then. We were all trying to make adjustments to make sure that we provided a different type of service, that agents were taking on more of a trusted advisor role, and that type of thing. That was circa 2007, 2008, when we launched Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate brand.

If we fast forward to today, we’re still in that era, but it’s really consumer focused and data driven. That, I think, is the biggest change. Today, we have access to predictive modeling, predictive analytics, and based on the online habits of consumers, we’re able to determine when they’re most likely to buy, what area they’re most likely to buy in, and exactly what they’re doing online. That’s a huge change because ten years ago, we were using technology and the Internet really for information sharing only. Today, it’s much more sophisticated.

Tracey Velt

Yeah, absolutely. It’s definitely the future. Obviously changes abound in the industry as markets and technology change quickly. What do you find is the most challenging part of running a network like Better Homes and Gardens?

Sherry Chris

I guess, and I don’t know whether I’d call it a challenge or not, but having everyone so spread out. I can’t see everybody every day. There are brokers and agents now in six countries. Two have not been announced yet, so I can’t share what those are, but we’re starting our international growth, which means we’re going to be spread even farther around the world. With that challenge comes opportunity. How do you bring a network of over 12,000 people together? What we’ve done is we’ve done it three ways.

Number one is that we are a values driven brand, and so our core values weave in and out, through all of our companies, all of our franchisees, and their agents, so we all stand for the same thing.

Number two, that value driven kind of scenario that we created allows for cultural alignment. For us, we’re a brand that wants to do things differently, provide exceptional customer service, understands the importance of lifestyle and community as it relates to the end consumer. We’re not just looking at a real estate purchase or a sale as a deal or a transaction. We’re looking at it as the next phase of a consumer’s life.

The final part has to do with giving back, and we have two charities that we are deeply involved with, many of our brokers and agents are as well, New Story and Rebuilding Together, and so that also allows for that collaboration and cultural unity across all of our network.

The final piece, which is kind of like a bonus, is that because we are Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate, and we’re so closely tied to the magazine, our offices for the most part look fantastic, and so there’s a lot of competitiveness to have the coolest office, and the most inviting space, from a design perspective, and so that also weaves in throughout our network of office everywhere. That keeps us together, even though we’re far apart.

Tracey Velt

Yeah, I’ve definitely seen the pink chair in the office, and love it.

Sherry Chris

Yes, there are a number of pink chairs around.

Tracey Velt

Yes. That leads us to social media, because that’s where I’ve seen some of the inside of your office, and of course your fashion game is way up there, so I love looking at that.

Sherry Chris

Thank you.

Tracey Velt

I know you’re going to be taking over REAL Trends Instagram account before the gathering of eagles, so how …

Sherry Chris

So excited about that, I can’t wait.

Tracey Velt

Yeah, that will be a lot of fun. You’re are first takeover, so that will be great.

Sherry Chris

That’s awesome. Well, we’re already planning for it, because I want to make sure that I exceed your expectations, so it’s going to be awesome.

Tracey Velt

Right, so tell me a little bit about how your activity on social media benefits you in your current position. What’s so important about it?

Sherry Chris

Well you know, social media has really changed the way that we communicate with one another, and it allows us to express ourselves in different ways, and it also serves as a pretty significant, very strong marketing tool. For us, either we operate numerous social accounts at BH&G on all the social networks, LikedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, SnapChat, and we really take pride in the fact that we work hard to collaborate and get our message out there to both the agents and brokers, not just in our network, but everywhere, and also the end consumer.

About four years ago we split our social strategy, that we have a B2B strategy, which is communicating and collaborating with the industry, and we also have a B2C strategy, where we communicate and collaborate with the end consumer. Our B2C strategy just exploded, and we have hundreds and hundreds of thousands of consumers that follow us on all of our social channels, where we’re talking about design, and living, and moving onto the next phase of your lives, and lifestyle and all of those things.

We’ve taught our brokers and agents to do that as well, because when I look at some companies, some brokerages and some brands’ social presence, it’s all mixed in together, which is fine, and that’s a strategy to have, but it’s not the strategy that we have. To put the icing on the cake, I also, personally, believe in the power of social media as a communication tool. It helps us sell franchises. It helps us really showcase our personality as a brand, and it helps me, as the leader of the brand, connect with agents and brokers, and consumers really around the world.

My own strategy is one that I follow very closely. I post everything myself, so I take the time to decide what I want to put where, and on each social channel, and I don’t use SnapChat each and every day. We use it for events and we have a strategy around that, but certainly Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, all strong strategies. For me, I have two Facebook accounts. One’s a business account and one’s a personal account, and so I try and mix things up, and connect with people on a different level. I love it.

If you look at, really my favorite now is Instagram, because you can really zero in on what your loves are, and you nailed it, Tracey, by mentioning fashion, and interior design, and really living life, like finding ways to enjoy your life to the fullest. Those are things that I like to post and look at on Instagram in particular. That’s a long answer to that question.

Tracey Velt

No, that’s great, and it’s so important because you can feel the authenticity through your posts. You could tell that you’re the one posting it. I think that’s so important when you’re trying to get your personality across on social media, is that no matter how busy you are, you have to take a couple minutes out to do it.

Sherry Chris

You have to, and it allows you to connect in a different way with people. For example, I have agents and people that I don’t really even know, that are sending me pictures. “Oh, I just saw a pink chair in an open house, and it made me think of you,” and so things like that, which is fun. Before social media, how would we ever connect with people? We couldn’t, so I just think it’s a fabulous tool.

Now, having said that, my husband will say, “Well you’re online too much,” so we have to be careful that we make time for our families, and we’re not looking at our phones 24/7, so that’s the one caveat there.

Tracey Velt

Definitely. Let’s get a little more personal. Let’s talk about your ah-ha moment, maybe it was early in your career, maybe it was later in your career, maybe you’ve multiple ah-ha moments, but kind of a moment that you had a realization that forced you to re-think the way you’re doing things, or realize that you need to take it to the next level, or reboot your current plan.

Sherry Chris

Well, you know, it’s funny. I started in real estate back in the early 1980s as an agent, and I started after I bought my first house. I was always a go-getter, I guess, people would say back then, and someone that had very strong goals, and so when I bought my first home as a young, single woman, back then, I thought, “You know what, I could do this better than the person who sold me the home. “I got my license, started selling real estate, and then realized that I could make a bigger difference by helping people be better, and etc., etc., etc.

I’ve spent my whole career really being a leader, who clearly is devoted to helping people, and so some people call that servant leadership, where you are really looking each and every day at opportunities and ways, looking for opportunities as to how to make the world of real estate a better place. By doing that, it means you have to do a lot of hard work. You serve on committees. You understand at a deeper level what our industry is all about, and you have to truly care.

I’ve spent my career having a number of ah-ha moments around what I could do next, and how I could help shape our industry in a small way. I’m not suggesting that I’m changing the way real estate is done, or anything like that, but being able to facilitate small change that helps make people enjoy the industry more, that helps make it a better place for the end consumer, and that really keeps us in the forefront of business overall.

That’s been my life journey, and I guess I realized it at a pretty young age, and I never was a person who said way back then, “I want to run a company.” I had, that was not in my radar at all, but each and every year I progressed and did more and more, and really ended up where I am today as a result of that. When realty offered me the opportunity to launch, and I keep saying move over, because I was with one of our other brands prior to Better Homes and Gardens and that was the Coldwell Banker brand, which is another great brand in the realty brand portfolio, but when I was asked to take on the launch and leadership of Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate, I said to my husband, “What do you think? This is incredible because there’s basically nothing there. We have no brokers, no agents, no listings, don’t have the value proposition. Have a fabulous name, the Better Homes and Gardens name, obviously, but what do you think?”

He said, “You know, everything that you’ve done in your career has really led you to this point, so you have to draw back on accomplishments early on, and at every point of your career and use all of those learning experiences to help you launch this brand.” In other words, it was kind of meant to be. Now that might sound corny to some, but to me, I believe that. It was meant to be, and so I’ve been able to take everything I’ve learned along the way and apply the best practices to launching a brand from scratch, in not the best of economic times, but that’s another story that we won’t talk about today.

Tracey Velt

Yes, it was such an opportunity, and obviously you’ve done a great job with that opportunity, so congratulations.

Sherry Chris

Oh, well thank you. I appreciate it.

Tracey Velt

Real estate, of course, is all about building relationships, and I’m sure you’ve met some interesting people, or made some inspiring connections along the way. If you could think of just one person who really made an impact on you, or inspired you, who would that person be?

Sherry Chris

Oh you know what, it’s hard. In thinking about this question, it’s very hard to pinpoint one. I’ll tell you why. I’ll tell you about a couple, because as you grow as a leader, and as you progress through your career, different people help you at different points, and so for me, I had very early on, a female mentor, who was really a pioneer in the real estate industry in Canada. She helped me really see myself as a leader, and helped me learn to hold myself accountable, and how to hold other people accountable to achieve great results. That was early on.

Then my next mentor was a CEO that I worked under for a number of years in Canada, and he helped me see that I could move on, and do greater things in real estate leadership. He mentored me to the next level. Then I had a financial mentor for a period of time, who helped me understand the metrics and the importance of the finance end of things, and how to do a lot with little, because you don’t need to spend a lot of money to achieve great results, and so every step of the way there has been someone, who has helped me.

It’s difficult to name one person. My advice to people listening to this would be to align yourself with a mentor or a coach, who can help you today. I gave this advice to somebody that I work very closely with outside of realty, and I told that person, I said, “If you’re looking for a coach or a mentor, don’t align yourself with somebody who’s going to be a cheerleader for you, because that coach or mentor won’t help get you to the next level. You need to align yourself with somebody who’s going to bring out the cold, hard facts about what it is you need to do to move the needle, to be a better leader,” and so I’ve always had somebody there that has helped me.

Now it’s great because that original female mentor that I had way back when, I mentored her daughter, who is a business woman, and has done great things as well, and so it’s great to have mentors, but you also have to put your hand up and mentor others as well.

Tracey Velt

Let’s shift gears a little bit and talk about your life outside of real estate. This one goes back to your childhood. What childhood or teenage experience shaped the person you are today?

Sherry Chris

Well, that one’s an easy one, and it might be a little unusual, but I come from a large Irish Catholic family. There are four siblings, and my mom and dad, and both of my parents worked. I’m the oldest sibling, so in my early teenage years, and certainly as a teenager overall, I had a lot of responsibility at home. I actually went home from school every day, made the family dinner, so it could be ready for my family when my parents got home, and took on a lot of chores and activities within my home to help my family.

Back then I didn’t like it. Obviously I’d rather be out having fun with my friends, but what it did is it really shaped me, and as a human being, and it taught me how to be responsible at an early age, and so I think that has helped tremendously in my overall leadership ability, that I understood the importance of responsibility, younger than many people would. Now, of course, both of my parents have passed away, and it’s just the siblings, but I’m grateful that all of that happened because it was very, very helpful.

Tracey Velt

Let’s talk about motivation. What motivates you to get up every day? What do you look forward to?

Sherry Chris

You know, I love what I do, and Tracey, I’m just motivated every morning to get up and try and make a difference in people’s lives. I’ll look for things every day to do that are kind things, and helpful things, that will help people be better at what they do. Help them be more successful, so I look for those things, and that’s what really motivates me. I’m an early riser. I get up early. I like to meditate in the morning. I love to go online, see what’s happening, kind of get set for the day, and so I have a pretty strong structure there, each and every day, that gets me going.

I love our industry, I really do. I love that the agents out there are helping people make major decisions and moving onto the next phase of their lives with their families, and how can we make it better, so that’s really, I guess I self-motivate myself, but having that structure every day is important to me.

Tracey Velt

Oh yeah, that’s so important. I am off if I don’t have my normal routine in the morning.

Sherry Chris

I love my routine.

Tracey Velt

Yeah, so what do you feel like you do best in business, and how do you incorporate that into what you do every day?

Sherry Chris

Well you know, what I do is, I think I’m best at the vision end of things, and so actually on my business card I have CEP and President, but I’m also the Head Visionary for Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate, and that’s my secondary title. I see a lot of things in different ways than some people see them, and I try to bring ideas back as to how we can be better and different in our brand.

The other thing that I do that’s very important is that I surround myself with people who have a different skill set than I do, and that are actually better at things that I’m not as good at, and so I empower my senior team to execute flawlessly on everything that we do. That helps them grow as well, helps them grow as leaders because they’re empowered to do what it takes for them to do an outstanding job for our agents and brokers as well. All of that combined, you know, equals just a great business, where we’re running at high speed each and every day, and everyone is absolutely in the same swim lane, and swimming towards the same ultimate goals.

Tracey Velt

Right, that’s great. Let’s talk about this year. If you could just accomplish just one thing this year, what would it be?

Sherry Chris

One thing this year to accomplish, right now we’re focused on international growth, and so I want to surpass our international growth goals for this year, and that will set us up for ongoing growth around the world in the future. The other thing that I’d love to accomplish, and we’re well on our way, is that it is the 10th anniversary of the Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate brand, and so we launched in July of 2008, and we’ve grown significantly. We’ve got a great, strong, passionate, culturally aligned network. I want to continue to grow, but really what I want to do is take a step back and celebrate everyone’s success, and include everyone who has helped us, including all of you at REAL Trends.

Steve Murray and I have known each other for 20 years, and we have a great business relationship, and also a friendship. I value my friendships within the industry tremendously, and want to keep building on that, but those are two of my significant goals for this year.

Tracey Velt

Yeah, well happy anniversary. Congratulations on ten great years.

Sherry Chris

Thank you, and then I see that, to wrap it up, I want to give you my three things.

Tracey Velt

Yeah, so we have three things that you can’t live without, and you can’t mention family, friends, or your phone. We’ve got to eliminate that too, so three things that you can’t live without.

Sherry Chris

Well these are crazy things, but one is my notebook and my felt-tipped pen because I live writing, and I love typing too, but I love sitting on a plane and actually writing, and I have only one type of pen that I can use, and if I don’t have at least three or four of them with me, I go crazy, so that would be number one.

Number two is that I have a certain style, where I love to wear simple, black clothing that packs well, and that is easy to maintain when I travel. When I travel for business, which is about 70% of the time, I need to know that when I’m walking out of my home, that I’ve got everything that I need. It takes the clutter out of your brain and just relieves stress, so my wardrobe is important to me, my travel wardrobe, and my colorful accessories. Those are very, very important.

The third thing is that I love to have scented candles. I know that this sounds crazy, but also very calming and so my favorite scent is Joe Malone grapefruit, so I always have to have a travel candle, or a grapefruit candle lit when I’m at home, and those would be three things that, if somebody took those away from me, I’d be a little high stress, and blood pressure would go up a bit.

Tracey Velt

Yeah, well definitely. I love fashion too, and I love the Joe Malone line, basil mandarin is my favorite, so …

Sherry Chris

Oh, I love basil mandarin too, love it.

Tracey Velt

Yeah.

Sherry Chris

It’s just, you need to have simple things around you that make you smile, and make you feel good.

Tracey Velt

Yeah. Well Sherry, thank you so much for joining REAL Trends on this podcast. We look forward to having you speak at the gathering of eagles this year, in May, so I look forward to seeing you then.

Sherry Chris

Absolutely, I can’t wait. Thank you so much for your time today, I really enjoyed it.

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After earning her bachelor’s degree in journalism at the University of Central Florida, Tracey set out in the real world at Florida Realtors in 1994 as a communication assistant, working her way up to editor in chief of Florida Realtor magazine. In 2004, she left the association to start her freelance writing and editing business. One of her first clients was REAL Trends, and she started working for the organization in 2005. In 2014, Tracey was promoted to editor in chief of publications for REAL Trends. She handles the writing and editing of all REAL Trends publications and marketing materials, including LORE Magazine, the REAL Trends newsletter and the blog. She is also the primary podcast interviewer where she conducts interviews with top real estate industry leaders and affiliated industry leaders. Tracey is married with two children.

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