Top agent Jo-Ann Forster shifts her team from Coldwell Banker to EWM
By Yudislaidy Fernandez
Veteran Realtor Jo-Ann Forster and her eight-member team have left Coldwell Banker, where she was local top producer, to join Esslinger-Wooten-Maxwell Realtors looking for growth and change, she says.
It's a jump from one of the market's largest residential firms to the other.
With competition stiff among realty firms in a slower residential market, firm owners are seeking to lure new and seasoned sellers, industry leaders say.
Looking for a reinvention like the "Madonna of real estate," Mr. Forster said, she decided to join the forward-thinking, technology-driven business model of Esslinger-Wooten-Maxwell.
"We always have to reinvent ourselves, especially in the world that we are today," said Ms. Forster, who has spent three decades in real estate.
A leader in South Florida's residential market, Ms. Forster was named Coldwell's top producer in Miami-Dade since joining the company in 2003 and was the state's overall top producer in 2007.
Ron Shuffield, president of Esslinger-Wooten-Maxwell, says he has worked with Ms. Forster for years, one by the side of the seller and the other by the buyer.
"Some people don't think about how our industry is different. We have competitors but we are working together," he said. "In the past 25 years, I've watched her work when we've done deals together and Jo-Ann has said, "If I ever leave, I am coming to you.'"
The staff at Esslinger is also excited about working with her on the same team, he added.
Esslinger-Wooten-Maxwell is a subsidiary of HomeServices of America Inc., a Berkshire Hathaway affiliate. HomeServices and Coldwell Banker rank among the largest residential realty firms nationally.
Ms. Forster, who specializes in selling luxury real estate, has moved to Esslinger's Coral Gables office at 550 S. Dixie Hwy. with her administrative and sales team of eight.
With the team approach the "new paradigm for top agents," she said, Esslinger understood that she would make the move with her full staff.
She plans to continue using her Web site and name, Unique Homes of Miami, she said, and all of her home listings are being transferred from Coldwell Banker to Esslinger.
With headlines constantly reporting on the debt of companies, Mr. Shuffield says the financial strength of his company amidst the economic downturn is reassuring to his employees and consumers.
"What Jo-Ann looked at was the financial stability of our company and the quality of the products that we offer to tap into the technology and resources that can help her market her properties…," he said.
Realogy Corp., parent of large national franchise Coldwell Banker and others such as Century 21 and ERA, reported a $259 million net loss for the first quarter, despite slashing $310 million in expenses and generating $101 million in commission income from new franchise sales.
Ms. Forster says the company's financial standing was not a reason for leaving.
Many companies in the world right now, from large to small, have been impacted by the economic crisis, she added.
"Coldwell has been around for 100 years and I am sure they'll be around for another 100 years," she said.
One reason Ms. Forster said she made the leap to Esslinger is because of the company's interest in staying at the cutting edge of technology.
Mr. Shuffield says the company strives to have the latest technology and uses interactive tools to help associates reach more buyers.
For example, the company started blogging 18 months ago and is posting videos on Youtube.com to get industry professionals and customers to better understand market conditions and changes, he said. "It exposes our services to that many more people."
Ms. Forster says she plans to continue playing the real estate game her way.
"I am my own competitor… My goal is not about money or volume," she said. "I do seminars for the board of realtors and I tell them "If you focus on money and volume, everything falls.'"
Attracting new talent and top sellers is a priority for residential firms in this tough market, where the fall of some companies is accelerating the process.
Jeff Morr, chief executive officer and founder of Majestic Properties, an independent real estate firm in Miami, says with some "smaller brokers closing shop," some former agents have returned to his company because of the opportunities and stability.
Mr. Morr said Majestic also offers resources that smaller companies can't, such as top marketing tools to promote their listings.
Majestic has added four new agents in the past month and recently welcomed back two former agents.
"In the last three months, business has been good and consistent and we are expecting an incredible season coming up," Mr. Morr added.
Mr. Shuffield says in recent months he's also had a "surge of new and seasoned associates seeing what we are doing and wanting to join. It's gratifying to see those within our industry recognize not only the quality of our company, but the quality of the people who are here."