In 2013, Cameron Merage, CEO and founder of First Team Real Estate, the nearly $5.4 billion independent brokerage serving California’s Orange County and coastal communities between Los Angeles and San Diego, recognized that an influx of real estate startups was leading a renewed industry tech revolution. As leader of the nation’s 11th largest privately held brokerage, Merage was convinced First Team needed to be on the leading edge of this process.
In spite of its size, with 20+ offices and more than 1,600 agents, First Team can act quickly and decisively. The firm’s wide-ranging tech revamp brought several powerful new solutions to its agents within the relatively short period of six months or less.
“We are committed to providing the very best tools to our agents,” explains First Team Vice President of Marketing Claire Adams. “Our CEO has given his full support to technology initiatives that can make a difference in agent productivity. With that in mind, we make training an integral part of our business to help our agents succeed and meet their goals.”
A market leader, by a wide margin
|Brokerage leaders in Orange County/Riverside County||2014 Sales Volume (Sides)|
|First Team Real Estate||$5.3 billion (8,524)|
|Realty One Group||$3.3 billion (6,206)|
|Coldwell Banker Real Estate (NRT)||$3.0 billion (4,366)|
SOURCE: Real Trends
As part of this commitment, the firm hunted far and wide to find best-of-breed technologies to fuel its continued growth and the success of its agents. “Who can we partner with that does it better?” says Chief Information Officer Stephen Skinner of First Team’s approach to technology investments.
In the last two years First Team has brought on:
The company put its money where its mouth was and invested in a customized, mobile-first website — developed by Real Estate Webmasters — for the brokerage as a whole and each of its agents, and implemented a next-gen intranet platform powered by real estate messaging startup Yapmo.
Next, following a highly successful test drive, First Team rolled out RealScout to its agents. One of the industry’s fastest growing technology solutions, RealScout provides brokerages a highly sophisticated, custom-branded search portal that facilitates collaboration between agents and their buyers and sellers with automated, real-time listing alerts, innovative search features and an MLS-connected inventory.
“We brought (RealScout) on because we want to help our agents better serve their customers, and re-engage with them using the innovative tools that are at the heart of RealScout,” Skinner says. “Everything we do is about customer satisfaction, agent productivity, recruiting and retention.”
“We brought (RealScout) on because we want to help our agents better serve their customers, and re-engage with them using the innovative tools that are at the heart of RealScout”
Driving agent success
Teresa Knoll is just one of many examples of First Team’s success in retaining top-performing agents. With 10 years of experience, Knoll has never worked for another brokerage — and never wants to. The firm’s culture is a major reason for her loyalty, but access to leading-edge technology is playing an increasingly important role.
For example, Knoll first learned about RealScout during a training session. That initial meeting, paired with the platform’s simplicity, allowed her to get up and running almost immediately, with five of her buyers set up on the solution on day one. “It’s the best homebuyer system I’ve found in my 10 years in the business,” she says.
Listings made up 60 percent of Knoll’s business in 2015. She anticipates doing more deals this year with a higher percentage of buyers thanks to RealScout. When she receives a buyer lead, she first gathers basic information about their search — such as the number of bedrooms and bathrooms they want, price range and location — and sets them up on a RealScout listing alert. She particularly likes the fact that RealScout’s mobile-optimized platform and mobile app allow her to do this anywhere.
Because RealScout’s inventory is tied to the MLS, Knoll knows buyers immediately receive alerts for every home matching their search. This represents an advantage over alerts from other search portals such as Zillow and Trulia, which don’t have complete listing inventories in all markets.
Equally important is the fact that RealScout is branded to Knoll, so she can be confident her clients will remain loyal.
Knoll pointed to a recent buyer experience to illustrate RealScout’s value.
The buyers had received RealScout listing alerts for a month. Having seen everything that came on the market over that period, they knew the price and floor plan of the home they wanted to buy and were primed to make a move.
One evening, a highly appealing listing arrived via a RealScout alert. They immediately reached out to Knoll and she wrote an offer later that evening. They were in escrow the next day.
RealScout’s ability to provide real-time transparency into buyers’ home search process (agents can see what their buyers are searching for) also appeals to Knoll. This helps her connect with buyers while they’re actually searching for a home and thinking about the process.
RealScout has helped her win listing business, too. She recently landed a $546,000 listing with the platform’s help. The seller was remodeling his house with the intent to sell. Knoll dropped by one day and asked if he had a listing agent; he said yes, but hadn’t signed a contract. She left her card with him just in case. He called three weeks later and asked if she had a feel for what his house might sell for. She signed him up to receive a RealScout listing alert for comparable homes that sold or were listed within half a mile of his home.
Two weeks later, wowed by the help Knoll had provided through RealScout, he called to list his home with her.
Q & A
Winning culture meets winning technology
An interview with First Team CIO Stephen Skinner
How do you train your agents?
Agents are our human capital and we continue to invest in their success. We provide them with what we call the First Team “Roadmap to Agent Success,” which includes access to online and live tech training, coaching and marketing and advertising support. It’s backed up by the curriculum at our training platform, First Team University.
The curriculum includes the First Team toolbox, a collection of proprietary tools and third-party solutions that are unique resources within our organization. It provides them a central location to access anything they’d need to log in to tech or access brokerage tools, such as accessing their websites, using proprietary market research and sales trending tools and logging into their company-provided CRM.
Describe First Team’s online lead-generation strategy.
We optimized our new site, firstteam.com, to rank high in organic search results on Google and other search engines. We also enhance visibility of the site with search engine marketing.
We knew we’d have a higher ROI on our online marketing if we designed a good website. The site is sleek and mobile-optimized, with many calls to action that drive consumers to register to see more info about homes.
We have a call center that scrubs online leads and we have a group of agents, our “e-team,” ready to receive them. Five Street is in an integral part of our lead response process as well, helping to make sure that all leads are responded to as quickly as possible. Like other large full-service firms, Listing agent leads are always routed directly to the agent, without broker intervention. This preserves the agent-client relationship.
We buy continue to buy some leads from the portals while we expand our organic capabilities for lead gen as well. We also receive leads from RealtyTrac and ListHub. We invested in the automatic lead-routing software FiveStreet to quickly and efficiently respond to all leads.
Describe First Team’s “Hot Buys” tool.
Our website is highly integrated with our extensive social media network, and our proprietary “Hot Buys” system identifies values and opportunities within the marketplace quickly. Combined with our call center, our digital presence is key to creating a pipeline of buyer demand for our sellers and the First Team agents who represent them.
Describe First Team’s culture.
Our culture is inclusive, collaborative and productive. We are client-focused, agent-centric and have a high standard of care and level of professionalism in our work. We place an emphasis on continuing education and mastery of the tools and practices agents need to succeed and grow their business.
How are your offices set up?
Many of our newer and larger offices have a collaborative, non-traditional layout designed to encourage teamwork. Features include guest WiFi, cafe-style seating areas, unassigned work areas and meeting spaces, network-enabled, multimedia-ready shared meeting and conference spaces and bright, open agent/client workspaces.
What do you like about RealScout?
RealScout is helping with our agent deal flow. We have enough adoption and positive agent feedback to call it a clear success. We think it is a game-changer for buyer’s agents and that it can be a valuable buyer’s decision tool.
RealScout was an opportunity to give our clients great decision-making information without them having to go to the portals.
It gives our agents the ability to build, grow and manage their relationships. We want our customers to sign up for RealScout alerts instead of going to Redfin, Zillow or the MLS. The RealScout user experience is delightful; it looks great. The platform also adds to our robust lead-management workflow. It helps not just with converting leads, but helps develop more opportunities. RealScout’s email alerts give consumers a rich set of data about houses on the market. It’s fun and powered by great technology.
“The RealScout user experience is delightful; it looks great. The platform also adds to our robust lead-management workflow.”
Our agents are actively pitching RealScout right now to win business. In turn, we pitch RealScout to our agent recruits. It already helped us close a number of newly recruited agents.