Being truly exceptional isn’t just a goal for Tom DeWine; it’s a business plan, a mindset and a way of life. Taking the helm of his father’s 30-year-old company, ERA Colonial Real Estate, earlier this year, DeWine set out to continue with the core values upon which his father successfully built the firm, and expand upon them to create a company that delivers a truly unparalleled experience for both its agents and consumers. Here, DeWine, along with Chief Operating Officer Linda Starr, explain their philosophy for leading the Central Texas firm into its next storied chapter.
Maria Patterson: First, let’s talk about your career paths. When and why did you join ERA Colonial Real Estate?
Tom DeWine: When I first entered the professional world, I was in sales for the medical device industry, and I stayed in that field for about 10 years. In 2005, I had a conversation with my father (Dennis DeWine), who asked me if I would consider joining him in running the business. That question coincided with an acquisition in the San Antonio market, which is where I was living. I joined the company in late 2005, having completed my licensing while I transitioned out of my previous industry. Since that time, I’ve been blessed to have occupied a number of positions and responsibilities within the company that have afforded me a valuable understanding of the challenges and requirements needed to run our operations. My dad formally retired as of the first quarter of this year and has been retained as a consultant, still passionately committed to the success of the company. We’ve had 30 years of success built around a strong culture and I take great pride in the fact that the core values my dad started the company with three decades ago are the same values that inspire us today.
Linda Starr: I had a very different path. I spent 35 years in the tech industry in various global, executive positions. Personal reasons led me to rearrange my priorities—I wanted a job where I could contribute highly, but keep my feet more on the ground. I was drawn to real estate and began to interview, but I wasn’t all that attracted to certain styles of real estate sales companies. Then I met Tom, and we very much have a shared view of things. The more we talked, the more it made sense to me. I could help on the technology side, which is coming to real estate in faster and bigger proportions. I could also help build the company from a product, sales and marketing standpoint. So, I joined the firm in the beginning of December 2016.
TD: Hiring Linda was an interesting process. I was committed to finding an individual with a fresh perspective from the institutionalized way we think about real estate. I wanted someone who could offer a different way to overcome the challenges of this industry. It’s been such a delight to be challenged by Linda, instead of just doing things the way they’ve always been done.
MP: How many offices and agents does the firm currently have?
TD: We have four offices that span the length and breadth of Central Texas. We serve the communities of Killeen/Fort Hood, Salado and Georgetown, in addition to the Austin metro areas, Greater San Antonio and the Hill Country of Kerrville and Fredericksburg. With 90 sales agents and about 30 support staff, we have ranked within the Top 15 ERA companies since 2004. We provide professional property management as well as transaction management services in each of our markets.
MP: How would you describe your firm’s positioning in the marketplace?
TD: In each of the communities we serve, we have a highly productive group of agents that make a significant impact in terms of real estate services and community involvement. We prioritize on-purpose selection of the highest quality people and then focus on the development of their skills and abilities. This has produced an exceptional per-agent productivity rate, with our agents closing an average of 23.4 transactions per year. Additionally, our client service has been at a 98 percent satisfaction rating, earning our team a coveted ERA 1st in Service Nomination four years consecutively.
LS: We’re looking to differentiate ourselves in the marketplace as providers of the best experience and customer satisfaction. Our agents know how to set expectations upfront with clients and how to pivot toward turns in the marketplace. Our agents are providing a satisfying transaction and shortening the timeframe as well.
MP: How do you go about creating the “best experience?”
TD: The goal is to create an experience for our agents, staff and clients that is unlike anything you get from another real estate brokerage. This is a tremendous standard that requires continuous innovation, diligence and teamwork. As an example, we focus on providing our agents with valuable tools and resources so they can work smarter and make more money, all while achieving life balance. This intention led us to launch transaction management services in order to free up time for agents to grow their business and make contributions to their community.
LS: It’s always about the experience—every touch point your client has with your product or service. That’s where we can keep growing.
MP: What is your strategy toward growth?
TD: Staying true to our core values is key to our strategy, and has been part and parcel of our growth so far. Right now our plans include a very selective process of growing the agent population as well as company acquisitions to expand our marketshare in every location. I also characterize our growth in terms of increasing the value we provide. This goes back to our desire to create the best experience in real estate and who we want to be in our community, for our community.
MP: What attracts agents to your firm?
TD: The core values we operate from are: professionalism, integrity, results, commitment to excellence, customer service, contribution to the community, and teamwork. Frankly, these values are what enable us to attract the right agents. Living these values each day has created the success we’ve had, the satisfied clients we do business with repeatedly and the positive environment we enjoy. This is very attractive to agents who see value in this kind of experience.
It’s also important to note that we focus on selection and development when it comes to agents. It’s not just about having a license and a heartbeat. For us, selection begins with the end in mind. What does the agent want to achieve? What are their values? What are their priorities? We’re purposeful about uncovering those things when talking to agents about joining our team because I know that the agents who succeed in this company share our core values. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t stay here.
LS: We have this philosophy of on-purpose recruitment—bringing in people who believe in and hunger for the same things we’re trying to do to grow the company. We want to have expertise in the areas we serve, as opposed to rack ’em and stack ’em agents. We want people who care about serving the specific needs of other people. That’s a hugely important factor when building out your company.
MP: Once you’ve selected the right agents, how do you keep them on board?
TD: Retention is all about value. We strive to provide value to our team by leveraging every resource available to us, from our ERA partners to third-party vendors, in order to drive sales productivity, efficiency and service. Woven into that is a tremendous amount of company-generated business and a high level of support from our sales support team. We’re not a place that parks agents. We’re a very high-touch environment. Everything is geared toward an agent making more money with us than they could anywhere else.
MP: What is your approach to coaching and training?
TD: We have a high productivity standard. We want agents to be closing at least 24 deals per year. This type of production begins with coaching and training. We reject the standard notion that an agent will spend the first six months or longer trying to chase their first deal. We believe that should happen within the first 100 days of coming into this company.
LS: We don’t go down the path of traditional teaching and training—cramming information in and hoping it sticks. Every agent is different and comes to us with different experience. The key is coaching and mentoring on a one-to-one basis. We also brought someone on board in a consulting role who can help agents with contract questions. We want to make sure the forces are here to expedite and accelerate agent growth.
TD: Five or six years ago, we decided that if we’re going to be a company that lives by our core value of being high-level professionals, we had to redefine what education and training will look like here. Most competitors had a front-loaded series of events, and agents came out of it retaining very little knowledge. They didn’t have a transitional experience to help them put it all into play. That’s why high-touch support and education is an ongoing process here. We never stop learning and teaching.
MP: What’s your strategy for effectively marketing the firm?
TD: We tend to bring marketing back down to the core element of our business: listing inventory. Just like a retailer or grocery store, if we have no inventory, then nothing else we’re doing matters. That’s why we have an ongoing initiative to develop unstoppable listing agents who win listings and get them sold.
MP: What are some of the strategies that help you get more listings?
LS: You have to keep in mind that you want the best and truest experience for clients, which means having expertise in the right areas. Are you a young, first-time buyer? Are you relocating? We help our agents look for resources online to be more prepared for the specific needs of the person they’re servicing. When someone calls, we advise our agents to take five minutes and go on Facebook and LinkedIn to find out more about them before they call back. Are they retired? Are they a military officer? A 30-something entrepreneur? The preparedness piece is a big part of the implementation as well as the experience for the consumer. It’s how you stand out as an agent.
TD: There’s an interesting evolution that’s happening in the world and the real estate industry itself. The experience of the consumer, and our marketing and preparedness, needs to be very personalized to the consumer. We’re marketing to many, but what becomes valuable to the consumer is when they feel like they’re the only person the agent is talking to.
MP: How do you stay ahead of the technology curve?
TD: It’s become easier in one respect because there’s more information at hand. You just have to look and pay attention to developments and innovations. Discernment is the real trick. We view technology as a means for creating value and sales. We’ll adopt any innovation or tool that enables us to achieve either. Linda is a game changer in this respect. She’s given us the ability to vet and filter an idea in a way that I haven’t been able to do before.
LS: I’m looking at the horizon and seeing where things are going, and seeing what might translate to our values from a technology standpoint, and what has value to the consumer experience—because that’s what defines our value.
MP: What’s on deck for the future of the firm?
TD: We have the desire and intention to accelerate growth in the form of attracting more and more high-quality people and providing them with an exceptional level of career development and sales support. This will involve on-purpose recruiting and acquisitions when a company is a cultural fit. All of this will be underpinned by a commitment to living our core values and executing on our vision of creating an exceptional real estate experience for our employees, clients and agents.
For more information, please visit www.colonialrealestate.com.
Maria Patterson is RISMedia’s executive editor. Email her your real estate news ideas at email@example.com.
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