Makers of Tomorrow: RE/MAX CEO Adam Contos The real estate expert shares his take on the industry's future and how to lead amid ongoing uncertainty.
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Real estate is an entirely different business than it was 20 years ago and, in many ways, very different than it was even one year ago. For the most part, that change has come about due to the influence of technology — emergent digital tools and software that have disrupted nearly every facet of the market.
In addition to navigating the property technology, or proptech, phenomenon, real estate has been faced with the same difficulties as other industries worldwide — transitioning to remote work, dealing with supply chain breakdowns and managing the ongoing effects of a global pandemic.
If there's anyone who understands these challenges and the types of creative solutions they require, it's RE/MAX CEO Adam Contos. I recently caught up with him to get his take on the future of real estate and leadership in uncertain times.
With so much changing across not only the real estate ecosystem, but also the greater business landscape over the past few months, what leadership lessons have you been able to apply not only personally but also for RE/MAX as a whole?
There's a saying that "uncertainty is resolved by constant communication" and this year has proven that it rings true. From the start of the pandemic, our executive leadership team focused on being visible, supportive and transparent with our 500+ employees and our RE/MAX and Motto Mortgage networks. We launched weekly Facebook Live broadcasts, increased training, ramped up communications and participated in countless Zoom calls. Our goal was — and still is — to keep brokers, agents, loan originators and staff informed, inspired and motivated to keep pushing forward. A personal lesson I've also applied to my business approach is to view health in a holistic way. On Facebook Live every Thursday, I share my thoughts on the connection between mind, body and business. I try to provide constant value to the people in our networks, and I hope I inspire them to start each day with a win (my motto).
Most importantly, a lesson I learned from previous RE/MAX leaders was to double down, not pullback, on support during a crisis. This was extremely beneficial to our networks and ultimately, the consumers our people work with. We've seen other players and industries pullback in uncharted waters, but we have a strong enough foundation to actually increase the service, tools, training and technology we deliver. It's a huge advantage to deliver extra value when competitors go quiet. By offering financial relief to our brokers, providing new technology tools to help them do their jobs better and hosting world-class virtual conferences, we helped our RE/MAX and Motto Mortgage memberships get through the toughest times. It was the right thing to do and the goodwill it generated will pay dividends for a long time. That was a huge lesson for us all.
Given the current climate, why would anyone want to buy a franchise? Especially now?
Because brand matters. Brand creates trust and visibility for those who use it. Every new RE/MAX franchisee benefits from 50 years of RE/MAX brand awareness and visibility. Think about the difference that can make for someone who decides to open a business in times like these. They have a head start and a clear advantage over someone who opens a mom-and-pop operation with zero visibility or built-in trust.
Plus, factor in the services and resources available at an established brand like RE/MAX. Franchisees don't have to start from scratch, as their independent competitors do. They get instant access to state-of-the-art systems, services, training, technology, marketing and a whole host of other things as part of a franchise network. They also enjoy the benefits of scale and collective buying power. And in the case of RE/MAX, they get instant connections to colleagues all over the world. It's a far cry from opening an independent office, putting up a sign and trying to figure out what to do next. Franchisees can focus on growing their business from day one – while non-franchisees have to manage through a million issues that have no impact on revenue.
Motto Mortgage, which launched in 2016 and has grown to over 125 open offices, is a little different in that it doesn't have 50 years of history. But it does have the foundation it shares with RE/MAX, and the types of advantages a fast-moving franchisor brings to the table.
So to me, the question isn't "why would you buy a franchise during an environment like Covid?" — it's why wouldn't you? And it's borne out in our results. People are buying franchises and opening RE/MAX offices all over the world right now, and Motto Mortgage offices across the U.S., in very unusual circumstances. These leaders aren't hiding out on the sidelines; they're moving forward and taking action to improve their lives.
My colleague, RE/MAX Chief Customer Officer Nick Bailey, often cites a wise note from author Jack Canfield, who said your response to an event — not just the event itself — largely determines your outcome (or E+R=O). When it comes to bad outcomes, Bailey says, "unsuccessful people blame the event and successful people blame their own response." With that mindset, true entrepreneurs can cut through the fear that freezes most people in times like these. And those are the sort of leaders attracted to successful franchise brands like RE/MAX and Motto Mortgage in times of crisis.
How have you advised your network of 130,000 brokers and agents to ensure business as usual and provide leadership as RE/MAX looks to transition to a post-pandemic world?
In a fast-changing industry like real estate, does "business as usual" ever really apply? An interesting thing about the business environment created by Covid is that it forced real estate professionals to adapt and use technology that already existed. Three prime examples are video, video conferencing and virtual open houses or showings. The technology was there before, but the pandemic pushed it front and center. Brokers and agents who were reluctant to shoot videos had to finally jump in. Offices that hadn't used Zoom and other platforms had to find a way to communicate in a group setting. (As an aside, RE/MAX and Motto Mortgage provided access to free Zoom Pro accounts to every office in the world. Hundreds, if not thousands, of firms took advantage of the offer and logged millions of virtual meeting minutes.) And in the world of social distancing, knowing how to conduct virtual open houses and showings became essential. All of these involved learning new skills, which means professional growth. That's always a good thing. And all of them will remain relevant in the post-pandemic world.
So, to me, it's never about "business as usual" or a "return to normal" as much as it's about always moving forward, always improving, and always finding new and better ways to provide a great consumer experience. That's the perspective and advice I share with my staff and membership and other leaders in our network take the same message to their teams.
Our chairman, Dave Liniger, always says "If you do business today the way you did it yesterday, you won't be in business tomorrow." I think that sentiment is built into our culture — and it's helped drive our success for many years.
How has technology altered the way real estate agents sell homes, and how will it change the industry in the years to come?
Technology has changed the order of events in real estate. It used to be to find an agent, then find a house. For many people now, though, it's finding a house (searching online, generally) and then finding an agent who can help you buy it. And that's good for everyone. It empowers the consumer, which is great, and it enables the agent to provide very real value when the time is right. After all, in many cities, the market is so hot that simply putting in an offer is not enough.
Agents who embrace technology are able to deliver a better consumer experience. Technology adds efficiency to the process. It cuts down on wait times, reduces paperwork (and will eliminate it eventually), improves communication and keeps everyone aligned. It's a key part of the puzzle today.
The mistake some people make, usually in fear, is thinking that technology will replace the agent. That just won't happen. People might be ready to order just about any product online, but when it comes to the largest purchase of their lives, they want a human professional involved. Someone to guide them, support them, advise them and validate that their decisions are sound. And that's the role of an agent — a role best filled by an agent who knows the area, is an expert on process, can negotiate, can detect unseen issues, and has the experience to keep the transaction on track. As most "disruptors" end up realizing, it's not as easy as it looks. It's just that great agents make it look easy.