Real Living is the Cover Story for Real Estate Magazine February 2020
Real Living: ‘The Home of Lifestyle Advisors’
By Maria Patterson
Editor’s Note: This is the cover story in the February 2020 issue of RISMedia’s Real Estate magazine.
Energy and excitement ran high at Real Living Real Estate’s recent Real Living RLBridge broker event in Atlanta, Ga. Nearly all of the network’s broker/owners congregated to discuss business, share best practices and celebrate a new order at the network.
Real Living, part of the HSF Affiliates LLC family of real estate brokerage franchise networks, is growing with new franchisees, new resources and fresh, new branding that positions the network and its professionals as the “Home of Lifestyle Advisors.” Network members are energized, and their clients are responding, resulting in sales growth at franchisees across the country.
At the center of the action is network CEO Allan Dalton, who is relentless in his support of Real Living franchisees and their needs. Dalton has more than three decades of real estate operations, leadership and marketing experience. He is the former president and CEO of realtor.com®, he co-founded TownAdvisor.com, he co-owned a 32-office brokerage and has created marketing systems for leading real estate brands.
He begins his second year as Real Living CEO with ample enthusiasm (as always) and momentum. With the future undeniably bright for the Real Living network and its members, Dalton weighed in on progress and prospects.
RLBridge broker event, Atlanta, Ga.
Maria Patterson: Allan, you are deeply respected within the industry for your leadership roles, both as the former president and co-owner of a major real estate brokerage and then as CEO of realtor.com®, and for the growth and success of these companies. Should we expect the same growth at Real Living? Allan Dalton: I am very optimistic that the answer is a resounding yes. Not primarily because of me or my past achievements, which you so generously referenced, but instead, because of the incomparable Real Living brand and its existing network brokers and agents, and due to the wonderful balance of synergy and sovereignty that the Real Living brand and network enjoys.
Gino Blefari, Chairman, Real Living Real Estate
MP: Interesting choice of words, “synergy and sovereignty”—please explain. AD: HSF Affiliates provides many additional resources that Real Living, on its own and at this stage of its growth, could not expect or justify. Specifically, Real Living immensely benefits from the heralded leadership of Gino Blefari, our chairman; Chris Stuart, our vice chairman; Michael Jalbert, our EVP for Global Field Operations; Teresa Palacios Smith, our VP of Diversity & Inclusion; and Rosalie Warner, our SVP for Network Services. However, beyond this Hall-of-Fame-like executive team (none of whom require additional resume-related attention), is an impressive and deep bench of talented executives and staff, dedicated to the growth of our “Re-engineered Real Living.”
Chris Stuart, Vice Chairman, Real Living Real Estate
MP: What does “Re-engineering Real Living” mean to your network and the consumer? AD: We are unlike other brands that have to patch or alter their brand as it no longer conveys the intent of its leaders; there is also often an unwitting tendency to conflate what reimagining one’s brand means with merely redesigning one’s logo. Real Living, to the contrary, has completely and strategically overhauled its value proposition.
MP: How did you accomplish this, Allan? AD: When Gino Blefari appointed me CEO of Real Living and I took the helm of leadership, the Real Living brand and network had a different challenge.
MP: What was that specifically? AD: We had to unearth and expand upon that which was inherently remarkable and distinctive about the Real Living brand, and then build out its value proposition from there. It was like the legendary Marvel Method, whereby first, the iconic character is imagined and branded, then the emerging value proposition emanates from the discovered DNA.
MP: And what is the DNA of Real Living? AD: Ironically and appreciatively, it was discovered by a competitor—that being Realogy. Realogy publishes research that revealed that Real Living, in its relative present-day smaller size and years in the business, was found to be the third-most recognizable brand in real estate. When I first saw these results in a Century 21 brochure, I must confess that my first reaction was, “This must be what they mean by ‘fake news.'”
MP: Why do you think Real Living, which is much smaller and has been around for a much shorter time than many other brands, scored so highly? AD: I believe it is for two reasons. First, that we sound more like a real estate company than any other brand name, and secondly, there is a primitive pull to the word “living” or “life” as the industry is evolving from selling homes to selling lifestyles. Our members love the connection between Real Living and how we are now positioned to be the Home of Lifestyle Advisors.
Real Living’s fresh, new branding positions the network and its professionals as the “Home of Lifestyle Advisors.” Above, Navona Hart, owner/broker of Real Living Cornerstone in Farmville, Va.
MP: Tell me what it means to be a “lifestyle advisor.” AD: Simply stated, moving forward, there will be great pressure on industry fees unless brokerages and their agents move beyond only asserting transactional value and not relational or advisory importance and relevance.
MP: And what are you doing to ensure that? Your claim to be the Home of Lifestyle Advisors is not just a pithy slogan, but substantive and meaningful? AD: Shakespeare in Hamlet writes, “Suit the actions to the word and the word to the action.” To that end, we have introduced to our network not only extensive lifestyle, advisory related training, but also sweeping consumer-centric content through our network’s beloved “Real Living. Real Answers.SM” Our content includes digital and offline programs such as:
“The Real Living Lifestyle Planning Guide” and “Neighbors Know Best,” a consumer testimonial program to support how we market our properties, and a rejection-free prospecting program “Downsizing with Distinction,” “How to Effectively Move Up” and “Why Homes Don’t Sell,” videos and guides for expired listings “Do You Want to Be a FSBO or Select a FMBA?,” a one-of-a-kind program for FSBOs
“Real Living. Real Answers.” also includes “When to Rent and When to Buy,” “Before You Select the Right Price for Your Home, Select the Best Pricing Strategy” and, more simply, but catastrophically, overlooked content.
Real Living Real Estate Vice Chairman Chris Stuart
MP: “Catastrophic”? Allan, that’s a strong word, or even an indictment… AD: Absolutely. One of the reasons I select that sensationalistic-sounding word is that only 12 percent of consumers, according to NAR (National Association of REALTORS®), return to their agent for future business transactions. This is, in my view, because during the time they are not selling, agents do not engage them in a fashion similar to other professionals. Agents focus more on creating a sphere of influence vs. influencing their sphere, and more on databases than on developing a client base like other professionals with whom we covet analogous status. What is catastrophic is that consumers maintain, figuratively speaking, one doctor, one lawyer and one financial planner, while they simultaneously and routinely engage in real estate roulette and randomly search when it comes to selecting their real estate agent. And this typically occurs only when a transactional need surfaces.
MP: How are you changing this pattern? AD: One example is our Real Living Lifestyle Planning Guide. This incomparable relational program allows our network lifestyle advisors to lock in clients for life rather than merely mimicking how the industry wishfully proclaims that “I want to be your agent for life” yet lacks any corresponding plan for building and sustaining these relationships. Imagine a financial planner not having any financial plans.
MP: So your lifestyle advisors also advise consumers to do planning? AD: Yes, but with the help of the Real Living self-help planning guide.
MP: And how is this working? AD: Our three leading brokerages led by Jason Sherman and Justin Levitch of RLAH in Washington, D.C.; John Meesseman, Real Living Kee Realty, Clinton Township, Mich.; and Bob Molta, Real Living Realty Professionals, Longmeadow, Mass., have all told me it is a profound and effective differentiator.
(L to R) Bob Molta, Justin Levitch, Allan Dalton, John Meesseman
MP: You mentioned the brand’s leaders. Please share more about them. AD: Our leaders have emerged both nationally and locally. Nationally, our entire essence as a brand and franchise management team begins and ends with Gino Blefari. Gino is the only true “triple threat” I have known in real estate. Before becoming CEO and chairman of HomeServices of America and Real Living Real Estate, respectively, Gino was the No. 1 agent in a county of almost 2 million population for years. He then managed the No. 1 office in a major brokerage. Later, he became the president of the No. 1 Century 21 company in the world. After that, he founded one of North America’s seven largest brokerages. Gino’s accountability systems, driven through his meticulously authored West Coast offense, is a career changer for brokers and agents.
Chris Stuart possesses the greatest integration of brokerage experience and innovation, together with high-tech experience, of anyone I have ever met in real estate, and it is enormously impactful that he is our Real Living vice chairman.
Michael Jalbert, EVP of Global Field Operations, is an organizational maestro and was instrumental in Realogy’s worldwide growth as he is becoming for HSF Affiliates and Real Living.
Rosalie Warner, the former president of Prudential Real Estate, is our SVP for Network Services and represents the executive gold standard in execution and results.
Teresa Palacios Smith, a longtime real estate and relocation specialist, is the former president of NAHREP (National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals) and is, I believe, our industry’s most credible and passionate voice regarding the vital importance of diversity and inclusion.
And Real Living’s marketing is drawing great raves from consumers, brokers and our agents. This widespread and enthusiastic buy-in would not be possible without the leadership of HSF Affiliates’ VP of Global Marketing Wendy Durand, and especially the relentless creativity and world-class marketing acumen of Marketing Manager Marie Cabo. Marie is instrumental in executing our new consumer-centric culture.
MP: Allan, you also mentioned local leadership… AD: Rusty Willis of Real Living Capital City Realty in Atlanta, Ga.—arguably, the most respected and beloved broker in the entire Real Living network—recently conceived of and hosted a three-day, broker-to-broker event in Atlanta, attended by the majority of Real Living network brokers from across America. This is an example of exemplary leadership that any other brand would be hard-pressed to duplicate. Attending the conference were three exceptional leaders: RLAH’s CEO Jason Sherman, who, along with business partner Justin Levitch, has grown to become Real Living’s No. 1 brokerage; John Meesseman is without question as fine a brokerage operator as I have met; and Realty Professionals’ Bob Molta is a remarkable developer of people and strategic genius. This event was highly beneficial for both brokers and their teams, as brokers were able to take back actionable programs, strategies and ideas to better their teams and strengthen their relationships with clients.
Allan Dalton and Rusty Willis
MP: Tell us about some of your newest franchisees since you became CEO. AD: Two of the newest include Kathy and Jim Rebhan of Real Living Carolinas Real Estate in Charlotte, N.C., whose business is up 40 percent since we re-engineered Real Living; and the other is industry icon Ken Baris of Jordan Baris Inc., REALTORS® Real Living in West Orange, N.J., who is experiencing unprecedented growth even though his company has been a top performer for decades in Northern New Jersey.
(L to R) Teresa Palacios Smith, Rosalie Warner, Allan Dalton, Gino Blefari, Ken Baris, Tricia Kobos and Champ Claris at the grand opening of Jordan Baris, Inc. REALTORS® Real Living.
MP: We have never seen you more excited. How would you summarize your unmistakable and infectious excitement for Real Living? AD: While so much of the industry is talking about disruption, pressure on fees and endlessly speculating on business threats without any solutions, Real Living network members are increasingly rejoicing in:
Being connected to the stability of HSF Affiliates and, ultimately, Warren Buffett, chairman and CEO of the Berkshire Hathaway enterpriseNot being a brand that has over-saturated the marketsCommunities love the campaigns focused on that where they live is “Where Real Living begins”Real Living’s leadership components, with all their resources and experience, are working tirelessly to ensure that our network agents not only remain ultra-relevant and flourish, but that Real Living leads the way for the industry to evolve from its transaction value to the combination of transactional and relational value—real estate with lifestyle
Allan Dalton with franchise owners Jim and Kathy Rebhan and Ken Baris
MP: Allan, it’s clear you’re ready for a bright future at Real Living! AD: This is the most exciting time for the brand and our network. Real Living provides a strong value proposition, transcendent tools and expert leadership to help network professionals grow their businesses. For consumers, the brand stands apart, tying lifestyles and lasting relationships into the real estate process with the aspiration of better and ongoing real estate service over time.
For more information, please visit www.realliving.com.