Premium content from Austin Business Journal by Kate Harrington , ABJ Staff
Date: Sunday, August 9, 2009
Robert Grunnah and Kathleen Bucher — among the most well-known people in Austin residential real estate — are making a move that brokers and real estate experts say will become more common as the economy shifts and Realtors begin preparing for recovery.
Grunnah, owner of Castle Hill Investments LLC, and Bucher, owner of the Bucher Group, have become affiliated with Keller Williams Realty. The move means that they will give about 30 percent of their commissions to Keller Williams with an annual cap of $18,000. On the upside, they’ll be able to keep their branding and essentially run their businesses independently while riding the coattails of the third-largest real estate franchise in the country.
Bucher is ranked fourth in the Austin Business Journal’s 2009 Residential Real Estate Top Producers list for sales volume in her category, and Grunnah is ranked fifth in his category. Grunnah sold $21.7 million worth of residential real estate in 2008, while Bucher’s tally was about $21 million during that period.
Keller Williams executives said it’s a major coup for their company, and is indicative of where the industry is heading.
“With the shift in the market, agents are having to re-examine their entire business model, the tools and the education they need to power through a market like this. And they’re looking for a platform that they can leverage to grow their businesses, capture market share and have an advantage economically,” said Eric Copper, a broker with Keller Williams’ Austin office.
Chad Goldwasser, founder and CEO of Goldwasser Real Estate and a former Keller Williams broker, said the shift is bigger than just the two heavy hitters aligning with Keller Williams.
Goldwasser said brokers now more than ever are looking for companies where they will get value and “be given more than just a phone and a ‘I hope you do well.’
“They’re looking for companies that will put things behind them that will help them be successful, like advertising,” he said. “It’s not just about who will pay them the most split. They’re looking for who will give them the best guidance.”
Grunnah said some powerhouse firms require what he considers an arcane allegiance to “the firm” and that individual agent branding be subordinate to the main company brand.
Goldwasser said clients also are shifting their focus and expectations in this market, and for firms that are stuck in an older-fashioned mentality, that could spell doom.
“I think you’ll see more and more companies trying to survive,” he said. “Lots are trying to survive instead of pushing forward and thrive.”
It’s a mindset Goldwasser said he observed at a recent conference in Denver attended by “some of the top agents in the country.”
“There are a lot of agents in this industry stuck in the old ways, hoping that sending out a postcard will work and get them business,” he said. “I think there needs to be a shift in thinking in the entire industry.”
Bucher, who switched to Keller Williams from Coldwell Banker United Realtors, had nothing bad to say about Coldwell Banker. But after about 20 years as a top producer, with Coldwell Banker and Re/Max of Texas, she said it made sense to shift to a company that offers more independence and would allow her to spend more of her money on marketing and clients. Keller Williams recently launched a luxury homes division, a segment Bucher specializes in, which also made the move attractive, she said.
Similarly, Grunnah, who with Castle Hill Investments focuses on duplexes and quad-ruplex housing, said the affiliation will allow him to expand his brokerage model’s reach through Keller Williams’ infrastructure and national reach.
Another shift in residential real estate came earlier this summer, when AvenueOne Properties Inc. and Mary Nell Garrison Realtors merged. The new entity,
AvenueOne Properties, joined two companies with backgrounds in upscale home sales. Neither Trey Garrison nor Ross Plummer, top executives at the merged group, were available for comment.