In 2013, Jim Sparkman, Donald Sturgeon and Mark Farrow were all real estate agents at a firm in Salem, Ore., when all three individually had discussed leaving that brokerage and going in a different direction.
Sparkman came up with the idea of the three joining forces to form a HomeSmart Realty Group, a model the other two were not familiar with.
“Upon hearing his pitch, we saw that it truly was the future of real estate, and the direction the market was heading,” says Sturgeon. “The model itself and the support from HomeSmart was an opportunity we couldn’t pass up, and we decided doing it together would be more successful than any one of us would be on our own.”
Combined, the trio has 46 years of experience in the real estate business, and that knowledge has positioned the firm as a leader in the market in a short period of time.
“It’s been a strong year here in the Willamette Valley. Property values are up about 8 percent from 2016, though inventory is still incredibly low and continues to get lower,” says Sturgeon. “We’re beginning to see properties have a little more days on market, but it’s still definitely a seller’s market here. We can see that we’re plateauing to a certain extent right now.”
The biggest challenge as a brokerage, Sturgeon says, is how fast the market has grown and staying ahead of that growth.
“We went from 14 agents when we opened to 230-plus,” he says. “One of our greatest challenges is making sure we have all the pieces in place to still deliver a high level of service to all our agents, and as we grow, making sure the level of service doesn’t wane. We also need to make sure we have the backend support. Hiring strategic staff and making sure our facilities are adequate for our agent count and need is also important.”
And the growth isn’t going to stop anytime soon. The company started in Salem, grew into Portland, became licensed and took over territory in Vancouver, Wash., and is currently looking at two other strategic sites in the Northwest along the I-5 corridor for more expansion.
Farrow notes that the Salem office is also moving its facilities from a 1,600-square-foot office to one nearly three times its size in a recently renovated building.
When it comes to its team of agents, the three co-owners all feel that training is an important aspect of success, and the goal is to establish a long-term relationship with agents and set them up with a certain level of success right off the bat.
“One of the things we all strongly agree with in our business plan is education,” says Sparkman. “We want to keep ourselves ahead of the market, and we do that with training. We have regular weekly training classes, and we conduct an extensive new agent training program once they come fresh out of real estate school.”
The new building will also include a training facility, and some form of training will be occurring either live or via the web five days a week.
“There’s educating our agents on the tools and technology that are available to them and how to use them to their advantage, there’s teaching lead generation and prospecting techniques to help them generate business for themselves, and then there’s contract and transactional training,” says Sturgeon. “We make sure we hit on all those prongs of what we consider to be an effective training platform.”
Agents are attracted to the firm, the trio believes, for six reasons: access to the latest technology; a training platform that works for them; strong broker access; a recognizable and respected name in the community; a max commission structure; and being part of a vibrant culture.
“When we’re talking with agents, whether it be through persistent email campaigns or direct phone calls, we find out what’s important to them and speak to that because we have all the pieces in place to deliver on all six of those items,” says Sparkman. “Another big part of attracting agents is our existing agents. The vast majority of those interested already know an agent with us who speaks highly of us.”
Above all, Farrow says HomeSmart prides itself on its culture.
“We believe in heavy involvement in the community and within organizations. If there’s something agents feel passionate about, we want to know how we can support them,” he says. “Secondly, what really sets us apart is our top-notch training and our fee structure compared to the other big national brands in our marketplace.”
Vitals: HomeSmart Realty Group
Years in Business: 4
Size: 3 offices, 232 agents
Regions Served: Mid-Willamette Valley and Portland metro market
2017 Sales Volume (as of Oct. 1): $ 382,780,332
2017 Transactions (as of Oct. 1): 1,349 transaction sides
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