As former NRT CEO Ryan Gorman prepares to take the reins at Coldwell Banker in conjunction with the company’s planned 2020 integration of its affiliate and company-owned brokerages, Boston Agent caught up with him to find out what’s ahead for the company and the industry as a whole.
What are the biggest struggles for merging the two sides of your brand, both from the company-owned side and the franchise side?
Ryan Gorman: Honestly, while we anticipated the types of struggles that come with this type of change, in general, we’ve seen quite the reverse. At our recent Coldwell Banker Leadership Summit, the response of attendees from both our broker and affiliate sides was fantastic. They immediately got to work, collaborated and came up with all kinds of ideas. It happened more quickly and enthusiastically than I anticipated, and I’m a glass-half-full person.
The sheer scale of Coldwell Banker means that we’ve encountered virtually everything, so when it comes to sharing problems or opportunities, we can easily find examples of where we’ve succeeded or failed, which is far and away our number one task. The creativity and entrepreneurial spirit of our affiliate broker-owners is incredible. Often times, [they’ve] solved problems more creatively and successfully [than we could have]. They’re not inclined to believe they’ve found the answer, but in many cases, we think they have.
Lots of eyes are on the volatile stock prices of Coldwell Banker’s parent company, Realogy. Are you concerned?
A lot of companies in our industry are desperately trying to figure out how to go public. Fortunately, we are public, which means we can focus on our vision and our agents. It’s the reverse of what others focus on.
Let’s talk about retention. What are you doing to keep top agents from going to Compass and other deep-pocketed upstarts?
Our focus has always been on our value proposition, and at the same time, learning from what our competition is doing to see if we should take a different approach. … For example, Listing Concierge is an offering that is now national on Coldwell Banker’s company-owned side. It’s a listing marketing program that’s really push button. Once agents get the listing, our concierge team takes it from there, producing a very robust marketing plan that includes everything from social to print to television so that listing goes across all manner of media platforms. It’s taken off like wildfire. Our agents love it and the reason is it is the result of literally thousands of conversations with agents on how we can improve their business, how we can be little bit better. We developed this with our agents, not for them. No one offers anything like this today. Other brokerages don’t have the capacity to do this. They’re taking a more manual approach with individuals or small teams doing the work. We have a team of 400 Coldwell Banker marketing professionals doing this work, which means we’re able to turn a dollar into ten dollars in ways that other competitors cannot.
In what ways are changes in technology going to affect the day-to-day business of agents and brokers in 2020?
I think 2020 is going to be a return to realism and a flight to quality. Agents have had their heads turned by shiny objects and with big promises in 2019, but I think our industry realizes that the promises were not being fulfilled. Agents are going to be asking tougher questions, checking references, etc.
What sort of shiny objects are you referring to? iBuyers?
There are so many examples. iBuyers, yes. Artificial intelligence promised to solve all of our problems and convince our kids to clean up their rooms. I think there’s actual value to many of these things – AI can make our lives easier, find the next movie we want to watch on Netflix, make people more efficient and more successful. But it’s not going to make breakfast for us. iBuyers thought they were going to eliminate us, but it turns out, our best path to consumers is through and with us as trusted advisors.
What impact do you see iBuyers having on the market over the next year?
The first impact they’ve had is to open the industry’s eyes to a potential innovation can serve consumers. But iBuyers typically make a cash offer and it expires in a few days, so unfortunately consumers are required to make a big decision with very little information. Coldwell Banker RealSure, which has already launched in 10 markets, gives consumers a cash offer [that’s good] for 45 days. During that time, we market the home with a robust marketing plan and seek to beat our own offer. However, it gives the consumer peace of mind. Consumers can also make an offer to purchase their next property with complete confidence, removing finance contingencies and sale contingencies, so they look a lot like a cash buyer. Early iBuyers have opened our eyes to what’s possible. We’ve taken that realization to the next level.
How can agents prepare to deal with changing technology, especially older agents who’ve been doing their business the same way for years? For an agent even asking that question, that’s a great first step, and a great next step is for them to ask who they surround themselves with. Partnering with Coldwell Banker goes a long way to ensure an agent has the resources and tools they need to move their business forward. It’s less about a global plan and more about what they can do today to grow their business.
Besides technology changes, what will be the biggest challenges and opportunities for agents and brokers in 2020?
For individual agents and brokers, the challenge is how they allocate their own personal time in 2020, re-centering themselves around what actually works.
How will 2020 be different? What will the focus be?
What we’re going to see is the tide going out on tech and pseudo-tech that overpromises and underdelivers. The sun will set on that in 2020, creating space for folks who didn’t get much attention and products that are substantially differentiated and actually work.
As we continue to see the industry divide into either full-service brokerages or “skinny bundle” brokerages offering limited support, how will this impact both the industry and consumers in 2020?
New market entrants typically focus on price, and the discounters in our industry unfortunately caused many consumers and some agents to make a bit of a false choice. But as more discounters enter the space in 2020 – for instance, slash-fee brokers promising to sell your home without putting it on the MLS or brokers who promise small transaction fees and nothing else – consumers are going to start to get smart enough to know that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
This interview is the result of a recent phone conversation. Answers have been edited for length and clarity.