At William Raveis Real Estate, Mortgage & Insurance, social media and other digital tools are in heavy use, helping agents with organization and promotion and improving the firm's success in the market and their employees' satisfaction.
The Shelton-based firm is the Courant/Fox CT Top Workplaces 2012 winner in the large employers category for the second consecutive year. It has been praised, by its employees and through national awards, as one of the most innovative real estate firms.
"This is the third real estate brokerage that I have worked at during my career, and it is by far the most innovative in training, technology and staying ahead of the competition," one agent wrote in the survey by Workplace Dynamics.
The survey prompted employees to answer questions and complete sentences including this one: 'I love my job because ... .' One Raveis employee said: "The company makes my job easier."
Many agents credit the company's founder, chairman and chief executive, Bill Raveis.
"Bill always asks, 'What can I do to make your job easier? What do I need to be doing?'" said Maura Hammick, an exceptional properties specialist in the Avon office.
Raveis said his company's business model is a little different because the agents are considered the customer.
"We're really pushing the iPads, the iPhones. Everything is going mobile," Raveis said. "We're re-engineering all of our branches, so the agents will be more of a cross between the Apple Store, Kinko's and with a little Ralph Lauren."
Other firms have followed a digital path, including Prudential Connecticut Realty, this year's No. 2 large company.
Jean Zdanowski, a regional administrative coordinator for Prudential, said she has watched the real estate market and Prudential become more tech-savvy.
"When I came here 18 years ago, we were doing things by hand, writing things by hand. Everything was done by the telephone, calling things in at the end of the month," Zdanowski said. But no more.
Both Prudential and William Raveis use a "dashboard" system that allows agents to access their files online. And both companies use several forms of social media, which have been well received by agents and clients.
William Raveis has nearly 90,000 views on YouTube, more than 9,400 likes on Facebook, and also uses Pinterest and Google+. And Prudential recently released a mobile phone application and mobile website.
"We make sure that everybody has the most innovative opportunity to serve the clients, so we can communicate with them how they expect to be communicated with," said Candace Adams, president of Prudential Connecticut.
Prudential has introduced a short-sale and foreclosure program that has allowed the agents to provide immediate assistance to clients for selling or buying properties. The company has listed nearly 100 properties through the program.
The sophistication of online access to materials and information once only available in an office means that at Raveis, as at many other companies, employees need not report to an office. As large companies, William Raveis and Prudential use their headquarters to offer a support system for technology and management.
Heidi Picard-Ramsay, a sales vice president in the William Raveis office in Avon, said when she first joined the company, the local office was in a more home-like setting, but it moved soon afterward to a plaza location with cubicles.
While much of their material is now accessible online, agents still can work in the office, where training sessions are also held. In addition to business meetings, agents meet at family and company get-togethers.
At the corporate level, Prudential has departments for marketing, technology, education, and relocation.
The Raveis agents get all education and technology training free. Picard-Ramsay said that the team atmosphere of the company helps those agents who are not as adept at technology.
Even with the perks, it still can be challenging to retain staff because real estate agents are independent contractors, not traditional employees, and they can have widely varying goals for themselves. Does that make it easier to maintain a satisfied workforce?
Not necessarily, said PJ Louis, senior sales manager for William Raveis in Avon. "I actually think it's harder," he said. "They could walk out today and say, 'I'm joining another firm.'"
Picard-Ramsay leads a team of six agents that work under her name, Team HPR. Under William Raveis, she receives her own promotional materials featuring her own logo.
Once an agent becomes established, it becomes less about marketing William Raveis and more about the agents themselves, according to Hammick and Picard-Ramsay.
"I never thought a company would do what they've done. You feel like a family," Picard-Ramsay said.
The long, slow recovery of the housing market, which has still not seen a bottom in prices in all places, adds to the challenge, of course, but as William Raveis and Prudential both expand geographically, opening more offices, the companies have experienced growth, even with a slow market.
Raveis said the competition is "sort of just melting away," allowing his firm to build market share to 15 percent, with $4.5 billion in total sales in 2011.
More agents have also been joining William Raveis, which grew from 2,200 agents in 2009 to 3,000 in 2011. In William Raveis' Avon office alone, 15 people have joined the company, and there has been little turnover.
Innovation and flexibility remain the keys. As one Raveis agent surveyed wrote, "The support and training that is offered helps me to know if there is something I need to better my career. I need only ask and take advantage of the opportunities."
William Raveis At A Glance:
Business: Home sales, mortgages, insurance
Towns: Shelton headquarters; many branches
Employees in five-town area: 563
Bill Raveis sponsors employee contests, in which they can win trips to such places as Paris, London and the islands. Even prospective buyers can win a trip to the Bahamas through an annual drawing.
The company recently hosted an event for all offices in Hartford County at 50 Cent's mansion in Farmington, which is listed for sale at $9.99 million.
Why It Won:
Agents say the atmosphere is enthusiastic and supportive. Managers keep an "open door" policy in each office, and agents often team together for sales.
Agents credited the support and creativity of Bill Raveis, the company's founder and CEO. The firm also provides constant training and new technology.
"I enjoy interacting with all types of people and enjoy new challenges. There are many tools at Raveis that are at our disposal and the flexibility in this business is nice, as well."
"I feel I am treated like a family member. Everyone is always willing to answer a question or help in any way."
"I like working for a person rather than an anonymous company. I can always pick up the phone and talk to Bill and actually get him."
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