It was the kind of day that could lure a Californian east, and the kind New Yorkers look forward to all year long. And my luck extended beyond the weather. I had the pleasure of sitting down with Diane Ramirez, CEO of Halstead Real Estate, one of the top residential real estate brokerage firms in the New York metropolitan area.
Twice in the last three years, Halstead has been recognized as Most Innovative Brokerage by Leading Real Estate Companies of the World. Halstead’s culture and spirit for innovation has made their retention among the highest in the industry.
Diane and I met at the brokerage’s stunning Park Ave location, and we talked about everything real estate, as well as the secrets to Halstead’s continued growth and success -- as a brokerage, as an innovator, and as a brand.
What does a typical day look like for you?
No day looks the same, on the whole, but I try to begin each and every day the same way. I spend at least 2 to 5 minutes reading something at home, whether it’s an article or a quote, and that grounds me and provides some perspective. Then, I walk to work – rain (or snow) or shine.
Once I arrive in the office, invigorated from my walk, I’m present and ready to seize the day. I start by returning emails and phone calls that came in overnight, and then I get into my scheduled day, which usually includes meeting with my leadership team visiting our offices, helping agents to strategize on big listing pitches, and oftentimes speaking at an engagement or working closely with organizations for whom I sit on the Board of Directors, such as REBNY and Leading Real Estate Companies of the World. Often my day concludes with an evening industry event. It’s always a whirlwind, but I love it.
“We look at negativity from competitors as a good thing. It shows we’re onto something great.”
What inspired Halstead’s recent rebrand?
I have led 2 major re-brands at Halstead since I co-founded the firm with Clark Halstead in 1984. We had last changed our look in 2006, adopting green with a structural H logo – very reminiscent of a classic New York City building with two pillars and window features – and had become well-known for it. We owned the color and the look; it was bold for its time.
But Halstead isn’t the same firm that it was in 2006. We have since expanded to second home and suburban markets in places like the Hamptons, Connecticut, Hudson Valley and New Jersey. The green that worked so well for us in the city, in these more suburban settings tended to blend into the grass with signage on lawns, and our architectural H icon just wasn’t resonating across the company in the same way.
Halstead is no longer a boutique, niche market firm. We have become recognized industry leaders at the national and international level, and we needed a brand that would carry us well into the future. The new visual identity is not just reflective of where we are today, but where we are heading.
What did that process look like?
We built Halstead on the foundation of a collaborative and supportive environment. This has always been an integral part of our culture. The way we approached the rebrand was very much in this spirit – we needed an identity that would inspire pride in our agents across all our unique markets. We worked with Pentagram, the world’s largest independently-owned design studio, on the effort and they were excellent partners.
We started by conducting a thorough analysis of our brand and interviewing Halstead executives, agents and influencers within the real estate industry. We listened, calibrated, revised, and refined together. It was an incredible team effort. We have a new flexible, multidimensional “H” icon and a use of color that is forward-thinking within the real estate industry and beyond.
The corporate color set consists of a monochromatic palette of grays that anchors the brand, while three additional color sets reflect Halstead’s various markets throughout the tri-state region. The final result reflects the essence of Halstead and is strong and flexible to withstand the test of time.
Implementing our new branding has been an enormous undertaking and an incredible group effort. In the weeks following the launch, we did everything from updating all the signage and branding for our 30+ offices to re-designing every piece of marketing and advertising material. We even changed the smallest details like the logo on the cocktail napkins in my office. It has been well worth the hard work because our agents have truly embraced the new Halstead brand -- they are proud to wear it in the lining of their suits!
How do you maintain your culture as you’ve grown over the years?
A strong culture is challenging to achieve and as you grow, and it is often the easiest thing to “go.” But having a great culture is critical for retention and attracting the “next generation” of agents.
Whenever we release new technology, for instance, we do it in the spirit of Halstead’s culture. We strive to introduce tools that will truly resonate with our agents and encourage adoption (without making it required). Recently with RealScout, we involved agents in beta testing for your New York City product so we could solicit their feedback and work with you to help enhance the product before rolling it out companywide and to the brokerage community. It was a great success and an effort that our agents truly appreciated. We were so proud to have lead the charge for RealScout in New York City.
One thing to keep in mind is that investing in new technology can be expensive but “showing up” is not. Arguably, a genuine top-down presence is the most important component to maintaining your culture as you grow. While it is a significant investment of time on my part, I am regularly in all our offices throughout the tri-state area. It is so important to me that agents feel their voices are heard.
It’s about finding the balance. At Halstead, we are committed to continuously investing in new technology and maintaining our culture as we scale. I’m proud to say that we have built an internal foundation of incredible technology, marketing services and support companies without forgetting our mission as a real estate company based on relationships, collaboration and skill.
What makes you different from other brokerages?
Market-share and client satisfaction is what we care about above and beyond agent count, revenues and profits. We look at negativity from competitors as a good thing. It shows we’re onto something great.
By opening an office inside a shared workspace, we are able to open a new office and market presence with virtually zero startup costs and have all of the crucial functions needed to run an office. Infrastructure including printers, copiers, phones, Internet/wireless, a front desk receptionist, cleaners and mail services are all handled by WeWork. We are also instantly connected with the community of close to 1,000 tech workers and the innovative ideas their companies represent.
What tools do you provide your agents and why?
There is a huge cost for an organization to support tools organization-wide so they really have to be”killer” applications that will attract, support and retain a high performing team. The usage of the tool and utility it provides has to make life and business as frictionless as possible.
A collaborative home search platform which helps keep our agents and clients connected throughout the homebuying process. RealScout also reveals aggregated buyer data insights to enable agents to differentiate during listing presentations.
Halstead’s proprietary listing system which includes the most complete, fully-vetted and comprehensive data available to agents.
A proprietary tool designed to help agents build their own market reports, customized to their clients’ needs. This tool can be used to create charts showing market activity and economic data, which can be printed or downloaded and tables are easily exported to Excel.
Another proprietary tool designed to help agents in the pricing of apartments. It is like having access to an appraiser at your fingertips. Agents use it for pitch presentations, price reduction conversations and advising buyers on appropriate bids.
How is technology changing the real estate industry?
The real estate industry has upped its technology game, particularly over the last 5 years, and it’s bringing great value to agents, their customers and the public at large. Halstead has invested heavily in technology and we are always looking at the latest tools to help enhance our agents’ businesses. In house, we have focused on perfecting our data and integrating it across all our platforms so that when we partner with an outside vendor, like RealScout, everything is integrated seamlessly to deliver real efficiency to our agents.
What excites you most about RealScout?
The collaborative nature of RealScout resonated with us since we were first introduced to the search platform over a year ago. There were such obvious synergies between Halstead and RealScout, and your commitment to working with the brokerage community to make this a valuable tool for agents was important to us.
What’s so exciting about RealScout is that the more brokerage firms sign on, the better the platform will be. It gives agents access to home buyer demand data which has never been available before in a meaningful way. As a listing agent, this is great for finding highly relevant buyers, selling homes more effectively and having important conversations with sellers about pricing.
How have Halstead agents responded to the tool?
Halstead agents are loving RealScout. It gives them real-time visibility into their buyers’ preferences and, on the sell-side, it accelerates the matchmaking process for them. Just the other day, I got this feedback from an agent in Manhattan: “RealScout highlights my value as an agent, as opposed to minimizing my function. It puts agents and clients first – just like Halstead.” I think that just about says it all!
What advice would you give to agents who are just starting out in their careers?
Make certain you have a game plan. Real estate is a commission-based business which can be alluring and even thrilling. Many agents, including those who are brand new to the industry, believe that a big deal is right around the corner. The truth is that the key to their success is hard work and a diligent plan. It can often take years to build your business, so you must be driven by a real fire in your belly throughout your career.