Game Changers: Build the value first; brokerage growth problems solved

Game Changer Neil Walter developed four pillars to drive brokerage growth. Once they had the value to offer agents, it solved all of their growth problems.

After getting involved in the family brokerage in 2005, RealTrends Game Changer Neil Walter, CEO of ERA Consolidated/Skyline in Utah, weathered the recession and resulting market. In 2015, Walter and his brothers had to make a decision: Stay in the brokerage business or get out. That year, his father, who founded the brokerage, and his partners wanted to sell controlling interests to Neil and his brothers. “We had to make a decision about whether we wanted to be in the business seriously,” says Walter, who grew the business 96.5% in transaction side percentage between 2016-2020. “We started doing some technology developments in the 2012-2013 timeframe and had to rebuild our organization around a couple key principles of growth,” he says.

So, the chose to be serious about the business. “The first year, we were just trying to figure out our strategic plan and identify our opportunities,” says Walter. “The next year, we acquired an organization in Las Vegas with two offices and about 130 agents. We also saw some organic brokerage growth. I think we recruited 30 agents in Salt Lake City that year,” he says. Then, they had a difficult merger. They were sued by the acquisition’s franchise. “It was very messy and it cost us a lot of momentum in Las Vegas,” says Walter. They had a few more acquisitions that got them to 270 agents. They soon realized that if they wanted to grow, they needed to offer a better value proposition.

They identified four pillars that would serve as the basis for the value they would offer agents: Marketing, technology, research and education — better than they have been doing. This focus drove growth. He notes that once they identified and developed their value proposition, brokerage growth came more easily. Since implementing them, they’ve gone from 270 to 600 agents all organically.

“Without having value to deliver to agents and the client, we’re just exchanging people in a market that’s been highly fluid. There’s been a lot of agent movement over the years. We had to solve the value problems before we ever had a chance at solving the growth problems.”

Neil Walter, CEO of ERA Consolidated/Skyline

In terms of marketing, we started offering professional photography, Matterport tours, social media marketing campaigns, a texting platform and more. “We started doing some technology and development related to cohesive marketing campaigns,” he says. “We wanted the experience to be the same online as offline. So, we invested in in-house photographers and graphic designers to do so.”

Second, they focused on technology. “We became frustrated with the lack of coordination among technology platforms, so, five years ago, we wrote our own.” It offers transaction management, marketing solutions and brokerage operations. “It fills the gap,” he says. So much so, that other professionals have asked him to license it. “Everybody is out there trying to build it today,” says Walter. He says their model is such that they deliver value that gets all the way to the customer or we don’t implement it.

Next, is eduction. “We believe one of the greatest deficits in our industry is a deficit around education. Pre-licensing is a minimum standards approach. Again, they invested in building a system. “We hired a Doctorate of Education and a Ph. D. in global leadership from Pepperdine University. We brought in real education professionals and built a pre-licensing and continuing education curriculum,” he says. They have over 50 courses now available, some is ERA exclusive but most can be used by any real estate professional or the public for free.

Research is the fourth component to drive brokerage growth. They hired a research analyst with a master’s degree in statistics. “We publish monthly market research across all of our markets,” says Walter. And, they publish an annual report that takes an in-depth look at our markets. “It’s distributed to over 100,000 people online. We print and mail 20,000 copies annually.”

Now focused on recruiting, Walter says that they take “more of an attraction-type recruiting approach.” “My brokers aren’t out cold calling or pounding on doors. They’re just looking for good people who like the way we operate our business and are like-minded,” he says.

For Walter, he says, “it’s simple. Instead of focusing on all the things we can’t control and responding to them; we focus on the things we can control and be very intentional about those.” For Walter, that’s the way to drive brokerage growth.

Neil Walter of ERA Consolidated/Skyline was named a RealTrends 2021 Game Changer. In the past five years, between 2016 and 2020, his firm saw 96.3% growth.