Game Changers: Driving brokerage growth through REOs, Relos and new agents

Game Changers Susan Jenkins, Ph. D., principal broker and CEO and Barry Jenkins, broker-owner and chief legal compliance officer for Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate Native American Group in Virginia found brokerage growth success in REOs and relocations But, the growth of the firm skyrocketed when they joined Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate. Now, they’re updating their strategy to recruit new-to-the-business agents.

“I have an entrepreneurial spirit,” says Susan. So, when an experience home schooling her daughter didn’t work out, Barry suggested she get into real estate. “It was a two-person company, formed in 2007, and named Susan Jenkins Real Estate. How corny is that?” says Susan. They soon discovered that the name wasn’t offering any point of differentiation. “My difference is that I’m Native American. I’m Delaware Lenape and Cherokee. My great-great-great grandfather was Chief of the Delaware Nation,” says Susan. They renamed the firm The Native American Group.

Getting 8(a) SBA certified

Because Susan’s heritage was well documented, she decided to go through the 8(a) Small Business Administration’s Business Development Program to secure government contracts for housing. It was a grind. “The premise of 8(a)is that you have to prove you’re successful to get in, and then prove you’ll be successful once you’re in, seems a little backwards,” says Susan. But, she persevered and eventually got certified, right when the market went belly up. “Even then, we couldn’t get business, so we offered to do it for free. We went to a broker who’d won the certification for the whole state of Virginia and offered to handle all of the listings for free,” she says. They did that for six months and rebid for the whole state and won. “The guy that we worked with for free had to come and subcontract under us,” Susan laughs.

That was the launching point for brokerage growth that they needed. “We parlayed that into Freddie Mac business along with banks that needed REO services,” says Susan. That early success caught the eye of Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate. Susan was against the idea of franchising, while Barry was for it. “I thought, I don’t want to give up 7% of our million dollars. I wanted to carve out the REO and just franchise the rest, but they weren’t interested as, at the time, our REO contracts were 90% of our business,” she says.

Joining a franchise

It took two years, but, in 2013, Barry finally talked her into it. “It was a paradigm shift for me. I always looked at Better Homes and Gardens as taking, versus what they were giving,” she says She realized they could help with brokerage growth. Plus, she says that she wanted to create a legacy company that she could pass along to her children and this was the way to do it.

That brand awareness allowed them better recruiting, and says Barry, they parlayed it into numerous other contracts, specifically in relocation since they are in a heavy military town. “We went after the Cartus account, and that proved to skyrocket our GCI, probably another 2 to 3 million,” says Susan. She notes that they saw the downside of having everything in REO. BHGRE allowed them to diversify. That led them to lead generation. They currently use Zillow, Ylopo and OJO Networks. “We’ve had great success with a higher conversion on the referrals versus the Internet, but it’s worth is,” says Susan.

They also decided to give back by sending people through real estate school and use that as a recruiting strategy at the same time. “Somebody saw something in me and paid for my real estate school, so we decided to do the same. So, far we’re sent about 70 people through school,” says Susan. According to Barry, “We built the firm organically, no mergers or acquisitions. We built it on people coming right out of real estate school.” The brokerage growth started moving up. They went from 13 agents and one office to 65 agents and four offices. “We’d love to get up to 100+ agents. We’re working on our training programs so we can scale that type of growth,” says Barry.

“We’re a very faith-based organization,” says Barry. “We took the Golden Rule of treating others the way you want to be treated, and we made that our mantra. We go the extra mile for people, and we really put ourselves out there, and [agents] embraced it.”

In addition, because their brokerage has so many government and relocation contracts, they are able to bring business to the agents. “Our model is a broker-centered model,” says Barry. Adds Susan, “We understand the power of partnership.” And, those partnerships contribute to the brokerage growth.

Susan and Barry Jenkins and Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate Native American Group was named a RealTrends 2021 Game Changer. In the past five years, between 2016 and 2020, they saw 70.3% growth.