Rumor Mill

Real estate — particularly franchised real estate — is a pretty small community.  We all know each other or at least a little about each other.  It’s kinda like living in a small New England town.  (Peyton Place?  Well, not exactly). That’s why, when one of the major players makes a move, the ripples reverberate through he industry and speculation about motives and intent move to the forefront.

We’ve had that kind of speculation for the past two weeks following the resignation of Century21’s president of eight years, Tom Kunz.  He was immediately replaced by a Coldwell Banker commercial guy.  I have deep Century 21 roots and have heard lots of ideas about why this happened and what it means.   I discount them all because, frankly, those putting them forth were not in the room.  The only people in a position to know what’s really going on aren’t talking.

I know Kuner and remember him as one of the best sales people I’ve ever met.  Our paths first crossed in the late ’80s when Tom was given the task of selling an absolute disaster of an automation system to the Century 21 brokers.  It was early in the history of computers and real estate, so it’s no surprise that this primative venture was a mess.  Still, Tom maintained his attitude and his smile and worked tirelessly to solve the problems and keep things moving forward.

Then, in the late 90’s — I was a consultant by then — we worked briefly on a project together.  Cendant was rolling out a huge Internet based reporting process and I was in charge of  implementation.  I convened a group of strong Century 21 brokers and corporate staff to brainstorm the rollout.  Tom was there and dominated the meeting.  His ideas were crisp, convincing and ended up shaping that whole process.  The rollout was a big success.

I know that by-and-large, Tom, the President, was adored by his brokers.  That’s why everyone is surprised by the change.  Still, Century 21’s marketshare has fallen from a high near 13% in the mid- 80’s to something in the neighborhood of 5% today.  Like all of the other national franchises — except one, of course — they are saddled with the same worn out agent-focused business model we all know is destined for extinction.

Yesterday I talked with one of my old friends in that system.  While most of the speculation about the change has been wild and even silly, this person’s idea seemed to resonate.  The theory is that Century 21 may be preparing to move more in the direction of the Coldwell Banker model.  Instead of an office on every corner, they may be planning to go forward with fewer but stronger offices, hence the installation of a CB guy at the top.

If that’s the case, it will probably be a positive move for them.  After all, that’s similar to what we’ve spent more than a year doing and I think Help-U-Sell is better than it’s ever been as a result.

Just a little advice for Century 21 Brokers (and Help-U-Sell brokers, and all brokers for that matter):  struggle and change are always present. It’s the nature of our business.  The best course of action is always to focus on your business — you know, the one you can actually control — and do the very best you can do with it every day.  All of the chaos and uncertainty you see around you will work itself out eventually.  What’s important is getting up every day, putting one foot in front of the other and helping as many people as possible achieve their housing dreams.

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