Counter-cyclical First Team Real Estate Expands in Down Market
Now is the Best Time to Grow Market Share, says Company Owner/CEO
The current downward cycle in the housing market, complicated by tightened lending standards, distressed properties, and shadow inventories in all price ranges, has created many new challenges with un-met solutions for home buyers and sellers. This has positioned First Team Real Estate and its Estates division, First Team Estates®, to grow its operations by providing new and real-time solutions supported by technology to meet the evolving consumer needs. During 2010, the company expanded by 8 branches beyond Orange County, CA into several new markets, and merged four smaller branches into two larger state-of-the-art offices in high-visibility locations.
In the past year, First Team branched into new territories outside its home base of Orange County by opening offices in such luxury locales as Beverly Hills, Marina del Rey, Pasadena, Westlake, and San Diego, CA.
It also opened two new facilities, including a an ultra-modern, high-tech, 12,000-square-foot office with two waterfalls in the lobby and a 1,100-square-foot meeting room, in a prominent location on Crown Valley Parkway in Mission Viejo, adjacent to The Shops at Mission Viejo and The Kaleidoscope.
First Team owner and Chief Executive Officer, Cameron Merage, said increasing the company’s size during a down market is a natural move given its tradition in doing so during its 35 year history. It is also in view of the company’s decade-long statistical position as Orange County’s top ranking real estate company in total sales exceeding its nearest competitor by 2 ½ times, in 2010. That ranking was determined by independent compilation and analysis of industry figures, which also show the company ranks ninth in overall sales volume across all national and local brokerages across the U.S. This growth is unique in that First Team is the largest non-franchised brokerage in Southern California, founded in OC in 1976 and still family owned and operated.
“The company has always had a counter-cyclical tradition of growing its market share in down markets. In the 35 years of its existence, it has grown dramatically and consistently due to being an aggressive leader in constant innovation, refinement, and improvement in the ways it meets changing market, agent, and consumer needs,” Merage said. “That has put us in a very solid position to grow at a time when consumer needs are much wider and more complicated than when the market was at its peak.”
Merage added that any down market is challenging, but the current real estate situation is even more difficult to navigate than in the past, due to a variety of factors. Financial institutions have made it much more difficult for buyers to qualify for loans; that and a mix of short sale properties, bank-owned properties in all price ranges, and a shadow inventory of bank-owned properties yet to be put on the market, require a new kind of expertise in real estate agents and the companies that support them to maximize opportunities for buyers or sellers represented, he said.
He maintained that First Team has set itself up to thrive and grow in just such a market due, to what he calls, “key drivers” it has constantly put in place over the decades since he founded the company. A partial list includes proprietary analysis tools unique to First Team that help identify home price trends in any given neighborhood; proprietary software for compiling buyer inquiries, called the Buyer Pipeline, and matching them to company listings; real-time advanced training and coaching to update and prepare its agents to meet current consumer needs; extensive strategic marketing to maximize listing exposure and the support of non-competing, full-time sales managers at every office location; an exclusive joint venture with Wells Fargo Bank and private mortgage lending, for portfolio and non-portfolio mortgage financing.
“When any brokerage firm develops a strong foundation, which anticipates and meets the changing needs of consumers and agents in a dynamic market like First Team has, it then is in a position to differentiate itself by driving more value to its consumer base. As a result, it grows in markets like the one we see now. This is as opposed to a peak market, where none of the problems we’re seeing now typically exist,” Merage said. “It’s why a down market provides better opportunities for a well-developed company to grow.”
The drivers have been particularly effective for the company’s luxury properties division, First Team Estates and Luxury Portfolio, which specialize in properties valued at over $1 million and produced 1.2 million high net-worth international home buyers online in 2010.
Because of the international scope of First Team Estate’s carefully established marketing network for globe-trotters interested in very high-end homes, the Pipeline system has given the division a super-charged boost, leading it to expand its luxury markets into such areas as Beverly Hills and Marina del Rey.
“I have been called a contrarian many times over the years,” said Merage. “We don’t follow the crowd. By anticipating the demands brought about by the changing markets, we get the edge over competitors and stay ahead of the curve. We do it with one thing in mind: to drive value to the consumers through our sales executives, who are in turn, the main supporters of the drivers, which ultimately serve our clients.”
For more information about First Team Real Estate, visit the company’s easy-to-navigate website, www.firstteam.com. For more information about the company’s luxury properties arm, First Team Estates, visit www.firstteamestates.com.