Dan Forsman, CEO, Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Georgia Properties
Having battled through the new-homes collapse during the recession, Atlanta-based Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Georgia Properties now stands as the area’s premier provider of residential real estate services. Thanks to a series of strategic moves—including tapping into the power of a world-renowned brand—CEO Dan Forsman has led the firm and its agents to a position of strength, and readied it for future growth.
At the root of it all? The firm’s culture.
“We’re a culture that embraces going to the next level and understanding your ‘why,’” says Forsman. “We’re trying to live a vibrant and inspirational life to help people make the right choice when buying or selling a home.”
Find out more about Forsman’s inspired formula for success in this exclusive interview.
Maria Patterson: Dan, would you please begin by giving us a snapshot of the current state of the company?
Dan Forsman: The mindset of the company is very strong. We’re globally affiliated with the world-class Berkshire Hathaway name, and we’re locally positioned within HomeServices, where each CEO gets a large degree of operating autonomy. We’re a very well-integrated company, with a strong presence in the new homes and corporate relocation segments of the market, and we’re actively growing our luxury market presence. Core services is a big part of our offering for consumers. We’re trying to mirror the market and be innovative by serving the diverse needs of the various people who are buying property here. Since becoming Berkshire Hathaway, we’ve also grown our luxury business—it’s part of the persona and image of our brand. We’re an internationally known and affiliated company that operates effectively in a variety of market segments.
MP: Your firm has come a long way since the downturn…
DF: We were one of the few companies in Atlanta that made it through the Great Recession. Going into the recession, the company was No. 6 in the market. When it was over, we were a beat-up No. 1.
After the recession, there was a lot of distrust and confusion on the consumer front. They had been burned, and RESPA came along and restructured all things mortgage, but we figured it out. Our current partnership with Prosperity Home Mortgage has seen us push capture toward 25 percent, with title capture exceeding 53 percent. Our journey to provide consumers a one-stop shopping experience is on track. Giving the consumer convenience and time is providing them with more of what they want and expect.
MP: So how many offices and agents does the firm currently have?
DF: We have almost 1,700 agents in 26 offices.
MP: What are current market conditions like, and what challenges are you currently facing?
DF: Atlanta has become an international city that’s attracting a lot of people who are paying higher than average price points. Within the city, the market is strong, and slightly better than last year for units; volume is up 8 percent. Prices are rising in areas with low inventory and high demand. The biggest challenge is lack of inventory for the first-time homebuyer and medium-priced segment under half a million. We’re meeting that challenge with new homes, where we have an incredibly successful division. That’s helping the company in many ways, but we can’t build new homes fast enough to offset the lack of inventory. And those costs are rising; labor and raw materials are up significantly.
MP: What is your mindset when it comes to growth?
DF: Our approach to growth has been primarily to grow organically and create a vibrant culture of agent success and productivity, and offer the consumer diversified services, such as new homes, mortgage, title, insurance, property management, luxury, commercial, etc. We have a sales and marketing culture here, and our goals are to continue to grow and be the market leader, to serve the consumer and continue to innovate.
MP: What makes your firm different from other large real estate firms?
DF: I would have to tell you it’s our culture. We have a culture that embraces going to the next level and understanding your “why,” and trying to live a vibrant and inspirational life to help people make the right choice in buying or selling a home. We’re consistently messaging our people in regard to the fact that prospecting, setting appointments and building rapport are critical.
MP: How do you create this culture of inspiration, so to speak?
DF: Our weekly video series, Real Estate Redefined, focuses on leveraging your “why.” Commission sales is a hard job, so anything we can do to help people be more productive, inspired and intentional is important. At our firm, we innovate faster, and we say yes before no. We take a couple of international trips a year, spend a week at Tom Ferry’s Summit and go to Buffini and Mike Ferry events, all of which we’re doing to stay on the leading edge of where the agent’s mindset needs to be. I’m also personally being coached. We’re constantly trying to disrupt the status quo and be inspired at both the agent and leadership level. We’re part of the Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices franchise system and are plugged into the “forever brand” and “forever agent” mindset.
MP: It sounds like agents feel really supported at your firm…
DF: In a world where there’s so much out there today, we try to make the complex simple and give tools and information to agents in bite-sized chunks so they can focus on the things they need to be successful. Every agent runs their business a little bit differently. Everyone has to build a tech-enabled database, be a great prospector, have a geographic farm and commit to doing mega open houses. If you do those four things, you’ll have an awesome career. We want to support the forever agent and brand mindset.
MP: Tell us more about your video series.
DF: We do three video series: Real Estate Redefined; Good To Know; and From The Field Friday. Real Estate Redefined is designed to be inspirational, informational and motivational for the real estate community. The Good To Know series shows how to utilize our tools in bite-sized segments. From The Field Friday showcases agents at the company who share a system, tool or strategy that’s working for their business. These videos are sent to the whole company, boosted on Facebook and other social media platforms, distributed through BombBomb, posted as a podcast and shared via other media channels. Our videos receive 25,000 to 35,000 views per episode. We utilize our in-house video production center with a green room and employ a full-time videographer.
MP: Why are these video series such an important part of your company strategy and overall culture?
DF: We believe in constant, transparent communication with our associates and employees. It’s about making the complex simpler. We supplement our training with this real-world video content: agents from the field sharing success stories, and people you know showing you how to use the tools you have access to. And these videos help us connect with everyone. It’s not the man who makes the office; it’s the office that makes the man. If you use your office for good, people are drawn to your culture and vision.
MP: What is your overall approach to coaching and training?
DF: We’re focused on partnering with leading coaches and trainers in the industry. We embrace them. We’ve partnered with Tom Ferry, Brian Buffini, David Knox and Mike Ferry, to name a few.
We’ve also advanced a lot of our agent training online. We use Propel, a learning management system on our intranet. Propel offers hundreds of courses that agents can take; it’s all about getting productive quickly and having the right mindset. All of our new agents go through it, and it’s always there for them.
MP: What are some of your most important marketing strategies?
DF: We host mega open houses—a term we got from Tom Ferry—twice a month. Mega open houses involve a very precise plan that includes door-knocking and inviting the neighbors ahead of time, doing a very coordinated marketing effort on Facebook to promote the listing, and putting the listing on Waze. We also run ads on Zillow, display ads on our extensive digital billboard network and implement effective follow-up campaigns. This is a great way to expose a property to buyers and find more listings in a community.
We also use Spacio, which is a paperless open house visitor registration system to follow-up with all the prospects. To give you an idea, through all of our coordinated mega open houses, we recently had more than 3,000 buyers or sellers walk through our homes on a weekend. That’s a lot of lead activity, and when they’re registered, it gives us a chance to use effective follow-up campaigns. Every Monday, our managing brokers have a sales and marketing WIG (Wildly Important Goals) call after the mega open house where agents share success stories.
Zillow videos are also really important. With the Zillow Premier Agent app, you can upload a walkthrough video of a listing. We also have a unique process for loading high-quality custom videos. If your listing has a video, Zillow prioritizes the listing first in their search results, and it’s the first thing a consumer sees. Our program doesn’t cost the agent anything, and 41 percent of our listings now have a video. That’s the highest for any brokerage in the country. When we find something that gives an agent an advantage, we try to replicate it over and over—plan, measure, execute and correct. This is common sense, but it isn’t always common practice.
We’re always testing something. Predictive analytics aren’t always that predictive, but we’re evaluating it. Artificial intelligence (AI) is moving to voice, so we did an Atlanta real estate skill for Amazon Alexa and Google Home. We don’t want to be on the bleeding edge, but we do want to be an early adopter.
MP: How do you make sure you’re staying ahead of the curve as a leader?
DF: I surround myself with great, visionary leaders—like Tom Ferry and Gino Blefari—who keep my game up. I talk to people like Ron Peltier. On a recent trip to Argentina with my son, I met with the CEO of RE/MAX Argentina, Sebastian Sosa, who is facing a lot of the same challenges we are. One of the things you do to stay ahead is talk to amazing people and find out what they’re doing. Sharing what’s happening with our team helps us stay on the leading edge. I also love to read books. You have to keep the sword sharp.
MP: What’s next for you and the firm…and the real estate industry at large?
DF: Personally, I want to continue to live an inspired life. I’d like to see our company double in volume in the next three years. I think there’s a renaissance occurring with agent productivity. Technology is making the transaction less complicated for the agent and the consumer.
Whether it’s new competitors like Redfin or Knock, or the discounters or legacy brands and franchises, there’s a lot of opportunity in the space. There’s never been a time when I’ve been so excited about doing what I’m doing. I’ve never seen a time where the consumer is more anxious for that agent who isn’t just meeting, but exceeding, expectations—who has a strong understanding of market knowledge and delivers core services.
When Warren Buffett invested in the real estate space, he had a long-term vision of people continuing to buy and sell homes. With the Berkshire Hathaway brand name, we can do that. When performance is measured, performance improves. When performance is measured and reported, the rate of improvement accelerates. If you create a culture where people track what they do and report what they do—not in a negative way, but in a way where they embrace a business discussion and plan to go to the next level—great things can happen. Our culture pulls people in and gives them a place where they can contribute and be recognized and go to the next level.
For more information, please visit www.bhhsgeorgia.com.
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