Around U.S. Thanksgiving, 1979, Walter Schneider and Frank Polzler, co-founders of Re/Max Integra Group of companies, had a steep hill to climb. They were in Denver negotiating the rights for their new real estate franchise in Canada. Like many entrepreneurs, the odds were stacked against them. At the time, even though both had been in real estate for a couple of decades, as franchise owners they were undercapitalized and inexperienced.
“Frank and I liked being the underdogs, which I think was good for us,” reminisced Schneider recently. They were driven and energetic and recognized an opportunity that would disrupt archaic and regressive real estate practices that were unfair to the top producers, says Schneider.
While the MLS was working, ethical standards were thread bare and consumer protection was at its infancy. “A full-time Realtor would get paid just as much as a fly-by-night person,” says Pamela Alexander, CEO of Re/Max Integra’s North American regions and daughter of Frank Polzler.
“The industry had a classic 50-50 split. The top producers were subsidizing the non-producers. People were showing up in the office, not doing anything, and they were still making the same commission split as others were. So, the top producers were looking for something different. And that’s what we embraced,” says Schneider, who is also president of Re/Max Integra.
Back then, Schneider and Polzler called themselves road warriors. They shared motel rooms for 15 years and clocked in 16- to -18-hour workdays. “But that’s the price you pay for success,” says Schneider.
Today, as their company celebrates its 40th anniversary, Schneider is still wowed by their partnership and often flashes back to their collective journey. “It’s a journey of two fellows and their extended families and them all sharing the same goal,” he says.
Re/Max Integra’s expansion is landmarked by three distinct growth spurts: the Canadian period where they started from scratch and became a leader, the U.S. expansion period (between 1987-94) and their expansion into Europe and Middle East.
The firm’s journey to the top is peppered with then and nows. “When couples went to qualify for a mortgage in the 1970s, they would look at the couple’s income, take the gentleman’s income and take half the female’s income for them to be qualified. And today 22 per cent of the market consists of single female buyers,” says Schneider.
That’s the beauty of the real estate business, says Alexander – that it put women and men on equal footing, as consumers and as agents. However, the shortage of women on the brokerage side of the business still exists, she says. She remains hopeful that the next generation of women in the business will step up as entrepreneurs.
Through all the industry shifts and since its inception, the Re/Max Integra mantra has been consistent. They aim to be the home of the top producers and the place for the industry’s most productive agents. And “technology has made it better for everybody. It’s a fantastic addition to the industry, and into the business. Now, the sales associate must provide incredible value outside of what the technology provides,” says Alexander.
While the service part of real estate, the access to technology and information, and the speed of transactions has changed, “the emotional side of the sale has not changed at all,” says Schneider.
What has also not changed, since day one of Re/Max Integra, is its culture of entrepreneurship and of being the best an agent can personally be, for the consumer, and for the brand, adds Alexander. Perhaps that’s what keeps Re/Max Integra ahead in the game, in a growing pool of competitors flooded by ibuyers and discounters who are replacing agent commissions with a flat-fee structure.
“We fight to own the space and we are determined to continue to own the space,” says Schneider, while accepting that consumer profiles have changed, thereby upping the stakes for their agents.
“We’ve had low-commission competition in the marketplace for 40 years. They just have different names and they come and go,” says Alexander. There will always be sales associates that are going to be drawn to new competition, but “it’s just not who we are. It’s not our culture.” She says the competition has benefitted Re/Max in internally critiquing and bettering its practices.
While acknowledging that Re/Max may have lost some brokers and agents to discounters and cloud brokerages, the company prides itself for having brokers who are in the offices, on the ground, celebrating each other’s successes and being part of a community that puts quality of service ahead of personal needs.
“Real estate is a tough and cyclical business. When a Re/Max agent is on the low end of that cycle, they can rely on a colleague on the top to bring them back up,” says Schneider.
Countering the argument that Re/Max is one of the more expensive brokerages to affiliate with, Schneider says, “There’s no company in the business that has a toolbox that we have. We create the highest value and our validation of that is we’ve had the highest producers, the highest production per associate with 16.7 transactions per year. We have market share and we have a global footprint.”
“When you deliver on the promise of value, the consumer will pay,” says Alexander, just as they would to buy a BMW or a Mercedes. And the same applies to agent commissions. Putting the value of a Re/Max agent into perspective, Schneider says, “The global validation is that nobody in the world sells more real estate than us and nobody in the world has their flag in 106 countries.”
With their eyes firmly fixed on the next 40 years, Schneider says, “I’m fiercely proud that we are a Canadian company that has rocked it here in Canada. I’ve gone to the United States, have rocked it there and now, I’ve gone to Europe and the Middle East and done the same thing there.”
Being tight-lipped about several new initiatives the company is expecting to launch at the end of January, Alexander says, “When I think ahead into the next 40 years, what I’m most proud of is that we have not just changed the commission structure – everyone has a high commission structure – but in this country, when a consumer thinks of Re/Max, they think that this will be a professional experience.”