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What RE/MAX’s big push into Buffalo real estate market means

RealtyUSA and Hunt Real Estate Corp. have dominated the local real estate market, but they are about to get competition from a national rival eager to make a big push in Buffalo.

RE/MAX LLC, one of the nation’s biggest and best-known real estate companies, wants to significantly grow its presence in Western New York, bringing more money and resources from the organization to its local franchise. That could mean better marketing to help home sellers, more tools and support for both buyers and sellers, and more training to recruit and benefit RE/MAX agents.

“We need to grow in Buffalo. We need a larger presence, as large a city as it is,” said Terri D. Bohannon, the corporate region vice president. “We like to go into a community and stir up the market a little bit. We feel like Buffalo is one of those untapped markets.”

RE/MAX’s emergence won’t necessarily enable Buffalo area homeowners to sell their properties for higher prices or even pay lower commissions on sales. Commissions vary widely from firm to firm, and often consist of multiple parts. They can even vary within a firm, as individual agents decide how high to set them above a base amount. And sale prices are determined by the market, not by agents.

“That’s not really going to have anything to do with how the agent conducts business,” Bohannon said. “It’s how your market is reacting to the economy and anything like that.”

But RE/MAX does expect to increase its television, radio, print and billboard advertising in the marketplace, to drum up brand awareness of its hot-air balloon logo. The company will also mine sales data to identify and target local agents with a high production volume and large clientele, in an effort to build a more professional team and grow its customer base. And it will introduce its existing agent team locally to other services it offers nationally that they may not be familiar with, such as an online design center for brochures and flyers.

“If any of those folks have traveled the country or the world, they most likely will have seen RE/MAX because of our presence in other countries,” Bohannon said. “To not see it in Buffalo, they may not realize it until they start to see it. It creates that curiosity.”

The heated real estate market in Western New York appears to have attracted the Denver-based company to expand its two local offices with 28 agents. The Buffalo area has experienced a steady increase in prices for the last 20 years and more frenetic activity than other parts of the state. Homes are flying off the shelves in many neighborhoods almost as soon as they are listed, with multiple bids and heavy competition driving prices to new peaks.

If RE/MAX increases its brand awareness and its marketing of individual homes for sale, that could also lead more buyers to those properties, potentially driving up prices even further.

“It definitely helps, especially with the Internet presence. There’s more exposure,” said Margaret L. Eisenhauer, the broker who heads the Buffalo-area franchise of RE/MAX.

Additionally, RE/MAX is counting on potential turmoil among real estate agents and consumers that could be created from Pittsburgh-based Howard Hanna Real Estate Services’s acquisition of RealtyUSA this month. That deal combined two family-owned companies and created the nation’s third-largest brokerage but also ended Orchard Park-based RealtyUSA’s independence. And it could trigger moves by agents to other firms if they’re unhappy with the change.

Finally, RE/MAX is betting that its recent corporate acquisition of the previously independent statewide RE/MAX franchise in New York will pay dividends in strengthening its relationship with its local franchise, RE/MAX North, which is owned and run by Eisenhauer. The deal doesn’t change the ownership or operations of RE/MAX North.

“We’re very excited. We feel so much more connected to the power of RE/MAX,” said Eisenhauer. “They’re actively engaged, energetic and proactive. I’m expecting more growth.”

Besides the market’s big three firms of RealtyUSA, Hunt Real Estate Corp. and MJ Peterson Corp., RE/MAX also competes against a host of other national brands, such as Coldwell Banker, Century 21 and Keller Williams, and locally based firms like WNY Metro, RealtyEdge, Gurney Becker & Bourne, Stovroff & Taylor Realtors and J. Lawrence Realty, among others.

Last year, Eisenhauer’s agents completed 447 residential transactions, or about 17.8 per agent, and she has added four agents in the last year to her Amherst and Grand Island offices. She said she hopes to add at least another four in the coming months – one was hired this week – and also expects to start developing the brand’s commercial division, which will be new to Western New York. Additional offices are also possibilities in the future, she said, without giving specifics.

“We are proactively trying to work with our region owners,” said Bohannon, who’s now overseeing New York. Eisenhauer “has done a great job, has a good company, and she is ready for some growth. We’re ready to help her do that.”

Founded in 1973 by Dave and Gail Liniger, and still based in Denver, RE/MAX has more than 100,000 agents in nearly 100 countries, and is ranked as the leading brokerage brand by number of transactions. All of its offices are independent franchises of the corporate brand. But the privately owned company had also sold off many of its statewide and regional operations – known as master franchises – decades ago to raise cash to expand the business.

Now a publicly traded company after an initial public offering three years ago, RE/MAX has been reacquiring many of its regional franchises as those owners aged and sought an exit. Since 2007, the company has repurchased 12 of these master franchises, including California-Hawaii, Carolinas, Florida, Mountain States, Texas, Central Atlantic, Southwest and Alaska.

Most recently, this month, it repurchased its Long Island-based New York State region from Pierre Titley, who has owned RE/MAX of New York since 1987, and still owns RE/MAX Quebec. That purchase gives RE/MAX more direct control over its 60 independently owned and operated offices from Buffalo to Long Island, with 850 agents.

“Our goal in New York is to support the development of our affiliates and to expand our presence across the state,” said Dave Liniger, chairman and CEO of RE/MAX LLC. “Our focus is always to provide the tools they need to deliver the best customer service possible to homebuyers and sellers.”


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