While Help-U-Sell offers a modern approach to real estate, the company is certainly no newcomer to the business. Founded in 1976, Help-U-Sell leapt out of the gate with its set-fee, full-service business model, breaking the traditional mold from the onset. Now serving more than 100 offices in 26 states (and counting), the company has stepped up its value proposition with an in-house IT department that offers an all-in-one tech and marketing solution for affiliates. In this special interview, COO Robert “Robbie” Stevens and Chief Development Officer John Powell give us a look under the hood to find out how the Help-U-Sell engine runs, and why its approach to the real estate business has never been more relevant.
Maria Patterson: Help-U-Sell has been around a long time, and now has more than 100 offices serving 26 states. Why does your model still work in today’s market?
John Powell: The model is even more relevant today because of the way the real estate business has changed over the years. Today, technology has solved many of the problems buyers and sellers once had. In 1976 when Help-U-Sell was founded, buyers wanted a free flow of information, and that’s what we did for years. We’d give “information without obligation,” giving buyers addresses and phone numbers so they could drive by and look at properties. Today, that information is available whether brokers like it not. For years, brokers had a monopoly on information, but it’s not a secret anymore because of Zillow, Trulia, realtor.com®, etc. Technology has universally given the consumer the information that Help-U-Sell has been providing for a long time.
MP: What sets Help-U-Sell Real Estate apart in terms of technology?
Robbie Stevens: We created our own IT department eight years ago, which offers our brokers a big advantage. Our IT team only works with our offices, which creates a much better relationship between them. We know all of our offices’ online strategies and goals, and, therefore, service them more efficiently. If you hire a third-party tech firm, it’s hard to get a quick response time. Instead, we developed the tools needed to fit our business model. For example, we handle all the MLS data in-house, which allows us to service our brokers quickly and provide them with new listing data and market statistics. We have that information in real-time.
MP: You’ve opened several offices recently. Is your technology offering part of what’s fueling that growth?
JP: Yes, technology is a big part of it, but overall, most brokers join us because of the pressure of competition from other firms. In today’s environment, many brokers are discounting, which lowers their bottom-line profit. Brokers are getting squeezed tighter and are working harder. They need to be able to increase profitability. We, on the other hand, have a proven, 40-year system, which is built around our fee structure. Brokers save the consumer thousands of dollars, and become more profitable.
There are a lot of new business models unveiled every day—and these models are just that: new. They’re experimenting. We’re not experimenting. We’re very experienced. Brokers like the security of being with a company that has proven its model.
MP: Please explain your set-fee model. A lot of people have the impression that Help-U-Sell is a discount model.
JP: Sellers have never understood commission. Why would it cost them $12,000 to sell a house for $200,000, but $18,000 to sell a house for $300,000? What’s the difference in service between selling the two homes? The answer is always “nothing.” For the consumer, our fixed-fee model is more relevant than ever. We save people thousands of dollars, but we’re not a discounter—we also give them full service. We provide more marketing, and we handle the contracts and closing details—the escrow, the inspection, the appraisal. The fact that we save sellers money, with a business model that makes the broker more profitable, gives us a strong competitive advantage.
MP: What sets your marketing offering apart from other firms?
RS: Our marketing tools are one of the big benefits we offer. Brokers don’t have to go to a third party and purchase out-of-the-box solutions. Having our marketing in-house allows us to respond to the market a lot quicker. We monitor the data and company website to immediately see the behavior of our client base. We apply our technology to MLS data and create automated drip email campaigns. Everything integrates together. At other companies, you have people using one software for CRM, another for website management—they have 10 logins for all different websites. With us, all tools are accessed by one single login. And the technology is proprietary to us—designed specifically to serve our business model and franchises.
MP: What type of brokers are attracted to the Help-U-Sell Real Estate value proposition?
JP: There’s not one type of broker that’s attracted to our model. We attract all ages and all backgrounds. Younger brokers like the technology. They’re tech-savvy and find our tools to be much more effective and efficient. We also attract brokers who have been in the business for 20-30 years; they’re looking for options to be more competitive and profitable. Brokers from all over the country are opening Help-U-Sell offices. We have numerous offices in California, from LA to the Inland Empire. We’ve also opened offices in Texas, Missouri, Florida, and Pennsylvania.
MP: Aside from the set fee, what are some of the biggest differences between the Help-U-Sell model and the traditional brokerage model?
RS: In the traditional model, agents pay for all their IT costs and don’t control it. Help-U-Sell Real Estate is different because the office controls the marketing and invests the capital. We don’t depend on the agent to spend their own money on marketing.
For example, we’ve developed online technology to become more competitive with direct mail. Right now, everyone is pushing online marketing and spending money on social media, Google ads, and teaching agents how to use Facebook and Twitter. Those newer marketing avenues have certainly become relevant, but many agents have gotten lost on traditional marketing like direct mail and signage. You can’t always be looking for that silver bullet, because there is no silver bullet. You need to use a series of marketing initiatives, not just one thing. You must have an online presence and an approach to social marketing, along with the visibility of direct mail and signage. When we ask people, “How did you hear about Help-U-Sell?” they always tell us, “We see you everywhere.”
MP: Why did agents move away from traditional marketing efforts, like direct mail?
RS: It came down to time and money. It became too big of a distraction to go back and forth with the printer and to figure out which neighborhoods to target—and the costs became prohibitive. Internet marketing is a lot cheaper, but the leads are a lot weaker, as well. We’re able to use technology and collective bargaining with our printer to automate direct mail at lower costs.
MP: You’ve been taking on some impressively sized technology projects in-house. Can you tell us more?
RS: We have two big projects this year. One is close to launch (at press time) and the other will launch toward the end of the year. The first involves direct mail. The average office has a marketing budget of about $1,000 a month, which means you can’t afford to get postcards out to every home in your target area. We’re using our technology to lower that cost. Instead of doing blanket coverage to all homes in a zip code, we can go to a smaller target market based on carrier routes. We know when a home goes on the market, the neighbors start talking. Our strategy allows us to get the right message to the right people at the right time. And this would all be done with automation—because of our MLS data, we know of almost every listing that goes on the market. We’ll get the file to the printer and in 3-4 days, the postcard will be sent out. Timing is essential when it comes to marketing.
The other project involves the data we’re acquiring to predict home sales for the next 12 months. This will give our franchisees a huge advantage. It all comes down to data and predictive marketing to determine how long people are staying in a home. We’re looking at hundreds of data points and testing those against what the chances are of a homeowner selling in the next 12 months.
MP: How does the Help-U-Sell value proposition solve the recruiting challenges faced by most traditional firms?
JP: For most brokers, their No. 1 job is to be a recruiter day in and day out. They hire a new agent, get them up and running and productive, then the broker down the street offers them 5 percent more commission split, and you start the recruiting process all over again. We take brokers out of this recruiting revolving door. Our model is a team concept where brokers recruit people to help run the business only when the volume of business dictates. Agents are not generating the business—our business is generated by our marketing system, so if an agent leaves, they aren’t taking a book of business with them. This gives the broker a business with a lot more value since they own the clients, not the agents. This leads to much higher profitability because brokers avoid paying a high commission to compete in the recruiting arena. Agents love it because instead of spending a lot of time and money trying to locate clients, they just work the leads the broker hands them, making them far more productive.
MP: You recently launched new broker websites. What improvements are being offered?
RS: We try to come up with a new template every 18 months or so. About 60 percent of our traffic comes from mobile devices, so we have a responsive template that responds automatically to different devices, including a high-resolution landscape view and faster downloads. We’ve built our templates in WordPress, which allows our brokers to use thousands of WordPress plug-ins to customize the sites.
MP: What does the future of real estate marketing look like, and how do you hope to influence it?
RS: Automation in direct mail is definitely a big piece for our company—online marketing and social media should be an add-on. We’re investing more in automation to figure out how we can become more efficient when it comes to direct mail. We’re also focusing on creating transparency between buyers and sellers. We’re using technology to bring buyers and sellers together so that the agent becomes more of a consultant.
MP: What are your thoughts on the future of the real estate business as a whole?
JP: There’s going to be continued pressure on the real estate business in general, which is going to force change, just like Charles Schwab forced change in the stock business, and Uber disrupted the taxi business. Technology changes things—it empowers the consumer, and when consumers are empowered, they can do business the way they want to do it. I think we’ll continue to see new business models—the old business model is fading fast. Help-U-Sell’s growth pace is going to increase over the next year or two because of the pressures brokers are facing. We’re very optimistic about the future—we’re not afraid of the changes. We’re looking forward to them.
For more information, please visit www.helpusellfranchise.com.
Maria Patterson is RISMedia’s executive editor. Email her your real estate news ideas at email@example.com.
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Headquartered in Kuala Lumpur, Rahim & Co International is in its 41st year of delivering real estate services to local clients and investors from around the world. Despite market challenges, including housing affordability, Director of Research Sulaiman Saheh is capitalizing on Malaysia’s many market opportunities. Find out more about the firm’s success in this interview with Saheh.
Real Estate magazine: Please tell us about your firm.
Sulaiman Saheh: Established in 1976, Rahim & Co has 18 offices throughout Malaysia, with its head office in the heart of Kuala Lumpur. Celebrating 41 years of serving both local and international clients, our close to 400-strong workforce, including 27 registered sales professionals, provides expert real estate services throughout the whole of Peninsular Malaysia, East Malaysia/Borneo, international regions such as ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations, comprised of 10 countries in the region), the United Kingdom, China and Australia.
RE: Please describe your current housing market.
SS: The RM (Malaysian ringgit) 60-70 billion residential market (in terms of annual market transactions), consisting of approximately 200,000-250,000 units sold annually, represents two-thirds of the property market in Malaysia. The Malaysian residential market at present is going through a consolidation period after a bull run subsequent to the 2007/08 global financial crisis.
Transaction activities have since been showing a declining trend at around 7 percent per annum from the peak in 2012. Up to 2014, despite a slowing down in property sales, the total value of transactions was still climbing; however, in 2015, the value of residential transactions dropped for the first time since 2009, and the same was expected in 2016. Nevertheless, residential prices are still holding with even a marginal increase in average house prices across major urban centers.
The average house price in Malaysia is around the RM350,000 mark. Looking specifically into urban centers such as Kuala Lumpur and Petaling Jaya, an average terraced house is priced anywhere from RM620,000 to RM1,000,000. A prime condominium unit in Kuala Lumpur ranges between RM1.5 to 2.0 million.
The marketing period for a house is dependent on many factors, like market cycle, consumer sentiment and other macroeconomic factors, on top of the property’s location, design, quality and type. Generally, a good product in a healthy market would be sold within three to six months, but during tougher times, the same property can be on the market for more than 12 months.
RE: What are some of the challenges in your current market?
SS: One issue that is hotly debated today is housing affordability. During the boom period, especially between 2010 and 2013, housing prices soared at 11-13 percent per annum, and up to 18 percent in certain areas. Although the rate of increase has been more muted in recent years, homebuyers are disgruntled about how unaffordable houses are. This, coupled with the cooling measures imposed by the central bank, Bank Negara Malaysia, such as tightening of loan eligibility criteria, the relaxation of the Real Property Gains Tax and abolishment of the Developer’s Interest Bearing Scheme, prevented many homebuyers from getting approved for loans. Government programs such as Projek Perumahan 1Malaysia or PR1MA are being rolled out to create more affordable units in the market. Private developers have also entered this segment of the market.
RE: What are the various types of properties available in your market, and which is the most popular?
SS: The residential sector accounts for 65.2 percent of property transactions in the country, whereas commercial, industrial, institutional and agricultural properties, as well as development land, make up the rest. There are various types of residential products available in the market, including low-cost houses and apartments, mid-range terraced, townhouses, semi-detached houses, detached houses and condominiums, as well as high-end products like luxury bungalows, villas and super-condominiums. Generally, two-story terraced houses are the most popular in the country, but in urban centers, condominiums are also very popular.
RE: How prevalent is new construction/development in your market, and how is it affecting your business?
SS: Some developers have slowed down or even deferred their projects to the latter half of the year or the following year. Nevertheless, there are still private developments and construction projects going on, especially in hot areas where demand is strong. Public infrastructure projects such as the MRT lines, the Pan Borneo Highway and Penang Sentral are not just catalytic to the property and economic sectors, but are also crucial to bettering the quality of life for locals.
RE: Please tell us about the buyers you work with.
SS: We work with local as well as foreign buyers. The foreign buyers that are working with us are mainly from Singapore, Indonesia, China (including Hong Kong) and Europe. For these foreign buyers, Malaysia is an attractive location.
RE: What are some of the most important trends in your market?
SS: The key trend is the Transit Oriented Development (TOD), where there is convenient access to the facilities and living areas through public transport. Even though it has been natural for developments to grow along transportation lines, a proper guideline has been created to structure this type of development. Another major movement is to provide affordable housing for the mass market.
RE: What are your biggest challenges/opportunities for growth?
SS: The biggest challenge is the uncertainty under a tough environment from both the economic and property fronts. It is imperative that we ensure our services will meet the clients’ expectations. The other challenge is to be able to cope with technology advancement. Information is easily available and readily accessible, and, thus, there is a constant need to be able to come up with better and newer products and services.
RE: What are some of your most successful strategies for promoting/marketing your business?
SS: Our main strategy is leveraging our unique ability to provide the highest standard of service, which combines the best of international standards with local know-how. We provide highly focused expertise and knowledge by having dedicated teams for every sector in order to provide comprehensive consultative services.
Partnerships with local and international publications also create unique values that identify us as a leading property consultancy.
RE: How does being part of Leading Real Estate Companies of the World® help advance your business?
SS: This partnership will make us even more prominent and will strengthen Rahim & Co’s position in the global market even more, placing Rahim & Co on the world map as a top international real estate player.
For more information, please visit www.leadingre.com.
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Editor’s Note: This was originally published on RISMedia’s blog, Housecall. See what else is cookin’ now at blog.rismedia.com:
Those looking to drop a few mill on a luxury estate in Connecticut’s Fairfield County have missed out. This historic property was snapped up in May, just before it was set to go to auction. The stunning Georgian estate, located in Ridgefield, Conn., was built in 1912. Sitting on seven elevated acres, the home offers an unexpected view of the Manhattan skyline, as well as the Long Island Sound and the Catskill Mountains.
The property includes 10 bedrooms and 12 bathrooms. The main house stretches over 12,000 square feet with a 1,500-square-foot guest home. Luxe amenities include a tennis court, a 65-foot heated pool, a 4,000-foot limestone pool terrace, nine fireplaces for frosty New England winters, and a-50-foot ballroom fit for a royal party.
The original owner of the mansion was U.S. Ambassador James Stoker. In 1946, the property was anointed as home to the United Nations. The estate has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1984.
Listed for $5.75 million, the estate was ready to go to auction on May 19, but sold to an unnamed couple in advance of its date.
Sold by: Platinum Luxury Auctions
Zoe Eisenberg is RISMedia’s senior content editor. Email her your real estate news ideas at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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The post Historic Ridgefield Conn. Estate Sells Before Auction appeared first on RISMedia.
Mortgage rates on average clicked down this week, continuing steady at low levels, according to Freddie Mac’s recently released Primary Mortgage Market Survey® (PMMS®). The 30-year, fixed mortgage rate was 3.90 percent, on average, while the 15-year, fixed rate was 3.17 percent, on average. The 5-year, Treasury-indexed hybrid adjustable rate was 3.14 percent, on average.
“Following last week’s sharp decline, the 10-year Treasury yield rose three basis points this week,” says Sean Becketti, chief economist at Freddie Mac. “The 30-year mortgage rate remained relatively flat, falling one basis point to 3.90 percent. Mortgage rates are continuing to hold at year-to-date lows amidst ongoing economic uncertainty.”
Source: Freddie Mac
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