When Jim Garman was thinking about starting a new residential brokerage firm in the summer of 2009, he asked himself a simple question.
“What if Tommy Fonville and Johnny Morisey were to start from scratch today? What would it look like?”
Fonville and Morisey are the fraternity brothers who in 1972 founded Fonville Morisey Realty, one of the Triangle’s most successful brokerage firms. Garman, a homebuilder who also spent several years working as a Fonville Morisey agent, wanted to create a brokerage firm that challenged the industry’s traditional culture and embraced the demographic and technological changes sweeping the housing market.
The agency would be designed with millennials in mind, the generation that is expected to account for a large percentage of the residential real estate transactions in the coming decades.
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The result of Garman’s brainstorming is Go Realty, a company he co-founded along with Kevin Woody, a veteran Triangle real estate agent, at the beginning of 2010 in the depths of the recession. Go survived the lean early years, and today has about 70 agents working out of offices in Cary, Garner, Durham and Holly Springs.
Last month, the company became a franchise of Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate, giving Go access to the resources of a network that provides technology and marketing support to more than 8,900 affiliated sales associates in the U.S.
Talk to Garman and Woody about Go and it’s easy to get the impression they’re talking about a tech startup and not a brokerage firm. They speak constantly of the importance of innovation and collaboration; of embracing technology and having a creative working environment with a flat organizational structure.
The firm proudly touts itself as “not your father’s real estate company.”
Garman and Woody say what they’ve discovered about the millennial homebuyer after four and a half years in business is that they are turned off by the traditional top-down structure. These buyers approach the process armed with lots of data, and Go wants “agents who are not going to be threatened by that,” Woody said. They also want agents who embrace social media.
To help find agents that fit its culture, Go launched its own licensing school 18 months ago, and today about 20 percent of its staff have been hired after taking the class.
Garman and Woody say Go’s approach to buying and selling homes results in tangible differences in the way the firm operates.
The company has created its own seller agreement that is designed to avoid much of the legalese found in the standard form used by many firms. Go agents have pictures of their clients – not themselves – on their business cards. The firm’s four Triangle offices use open floor plans, and Go takes pride in them being mistaken for a coffee house or startup incubator.
The goal is to have clients associate Go with a lifestyle, and to build a relationship with those clients that extends beyond just a single transaction. One of the advantages of Go’s new affiliation with Better Homes and Gardens, Garman said, is that it gives the firm access to content that will be relevant to its clients through the year and not just when they’re looking to buy or sell a home.
Go’s approach – particularly its focus on younger clients and technology – is similar to Redfin, the Seattle-based online real estate brokerage firm that launched in the Triangle early last year.
The question that remains to be seen is whether the approach and marketing efforts of companies such as Go and Redfin will give them a distinct advantage over more traditional brokerage firms in the years ahead.
Although the people buying homes in the future may approach the process differently, the transaction remains the biggest expense most people will ever make. That means referrals and established relationships are likely to continue to play crucial roles in the decision-making process.
Go’s founders are confident they are building a company that will appeal to where the housing market is headed. They say the company’s revenue grew 100 percent in each of its first three years, 60 percent in the fourth year, and is on pace to increase 25 percent this year.
“When the millennials look around for a brokerage firm, they’re going to want something special and different,” Garman said. “And we’re going to be that firm.”