Market Insight: Century 21 focuses on growth even in tough times

November 18, 2011

Century 21 is one of the most recognizable real estate brands in the country. Yet compared with brokers like Long & Foster, the firm once known for its agents in mustard-yellow jackets has a small presence in the Washington area. The company’s local offices are franchises, independently owned and operated but supported by the New Jersey-based company.

Last week, Century 21 Redwood Realty, a franchisee with offices in Ashburn and Arlington, celebrated a new office in Dupont Circle. I sat down with one of the founders of Redwood, Nicholas Pasquini, to find out why, in the middle of one of the worst periods in the housing industry, his company is expanding. Century 21 chief executive Rick Davidson was in town for the event and also to lobby Congress for changes to housing policy.

Your Redwood franchise started in 2006 and you’ve grown from six agents to 85 agents today. How have you been able to grow during this market downturn?

Pasquini: This is the time to expand. When the market was hot, nobody moves because everybody is making money. When the market slows down, the agents look at brokers and say, what are you doing for my business?

We’ve brought on five agents recently from five different local brokerages. We generate leads for our agents. I hired someone full time to sit and watch the leads from the Web. Within minutes of someone clicking on one of our properties, that person will get a call from someone in my office. Big brokerages like Long & Foster can’t do that.

We also have the technology to create custom Web sites for our agents and have a progressive commission policy, among other things. We have positioned ourselves as a hybrid between the big-box broker and the online broker. We’ve found the weaknesses and strengths in both.

Rick, what are you lobbying Congress about on this trip?

Davidson: We need to reinstate the higher limits of loans backed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. We need to remove uncertainty. Anything that is creating additional uncertainty is difficult for a very fragile market recovery. The loan limits, the deductibility of mortgage interest, the reform of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac — I urge our policymakers to very carefully weigh their decisions to make sure the short-term implications aren’t created by the long-term goals.

What’s your outlook on 2012?

Davidson: A slight increase in number of homes sold in 2012 and a slight decline in average price.

A lot of home buyers use apps and Web sites like Trulia and Redfin. Are they competitors or helpful to your business?

Davidson: I view them as helpful. It’s about the consumer experience. If consumers can have the experience of looking at all listings available in that marketplace, then I view these aggregator sites as a benefit to the consumer and an assistance to our business. The consumer might not see a listing controlled by Century 21 because they don’t know to go to a particular Web site. Depending on how much search engine optimization there is, we want to be one of the first results up there. But, if for some reason the consumer doesn’t come in that way, I want them to come to an aggregator site.

It’s shortsighted for the National Association of Realtors to implement a new policy ruling [that restricts the amount of listings data that can be displayed on the national real estate franchiser’s Web sites without consent from listing brokers]. It’s not competition; it’s about the consumer.

Name one thing that we need to turn the real estate market around in 2012.

Pasquini: Confidence. That’s what’s holding the market back. What’s the confidence going to be in 2012? Why do we have 25-year-olds in this city making $80,000 choosing to rent? How do you get that person back into the marketplace [to buy]? Probably at the end of the day, he’s costing himself money by renting. It doesn’t make sense.

Also, it’s jobs. It will be interesting to see what happens in an election year. I’d have a hard time navigating that.

Does your business provide an insight into local real estate? We’d love to hear from you, whether you are a contractor, homeowner, house hunter or a real estate professional. Tell us your story. E-mail realestate@washpost.com and write “Market Insight” in the subject line.

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