“Mr. Picciani could take his business completely independent or he could potentially join the broader Brookfield system, but it’s really up to him.”

By Kathy Bevan

While the majority of GMAC Real Estate offices and salespeople in the U.S. are expected to convert to the Real Living real estate brand recently acquired by Canadian franchisor Brookfield Real Estate Services, GMAC Real Estate Services in Canada has not yet determined its future course.

“We are having discussions with Brookfield and decisions will be communicated at a later date,” Joseph Picciani, president of GMAC Real Estate Canada, told REM. Picciani has an independent licensing agreement to use the GMAC brand in Canada.

In the U.S., Brookfield had held interim rights to the GMAC brand after purchasing GMAC Real Estate from General Motors, with the understanding that Brookfield would develop its own brand or acquire one. Following its acquisition of Ohio-based Real Living in November, Brookfield announced it would rebrand its U.S. GMAC Real Estate Services operations with the Real Living name.

At Brookfield, which is best known in Canada as the parent company of Royal LePage and La Capitale, president and CEO Phil Soper says, “Mr. Picciani could take his business completely independent or he could potentially join the broader Brookfield system, but it’s really up to him.” GMAC Real Estate in the U.S. has approximately 13,000 agents; GMAC Real Estate in Canada has about 400 salespeople. Soper anticipates that GMAC in the U.S. will be downsized by about 1,000 by the end of 2010, when he expects the conversion to the Real Living brand to be complete.

Conversely, Soper expects to grow the existing Real Living network, which has about 2,000 salespeople working out of 130 offices, focused in the central Ohio area – a region in the U.S. where the GMAC Real Estate network was not much in evidence.

“Now we’re strong on both coasts and in the middle and there’s room to grow,” says Soper. “Our market share in the U.S. is below two per cent, compared to 23 per cent in Canada – we’re a reasonably sized fish in a very large pond down there, which I think should give us some growth opportunity.”

Soper is also planning to expand Real Living abroad, leveraging GMAC’s international relocation operations in global centres such as London, Singapore and Shanghai. There are no plans to introduce the Real Living brand into Canada.

“Real Living is certainly unique and could probably carve out a piece of the Canadian market, but it’s not why we did the Real Living deal and it’s not our strategic focus – we have a very strong brand in Royal LePage,” Soper says.

Part of Brookfield’s strategic plan, however, is bringing some of Real Living’s approaches to selling U.S. real estate into its Canadian network. The American firm is known for its focus on female buyers, its service-oriented, “warm” culture and homey office environment, as well as its integrated technology, which Soper calls the U.S. company’s most interesting differentiator.

“If you look at the way the system integrates with local MLS and how that works all the way down into the agent’s dashboard, when they’re preparing listings or contracts or putting together a marketing campaign, there’s a high degree of integration – much greater than I’ve seen in any other system anywhere in the world, including Royal LePage,” says Soper. “The underlying thinking has really opened our eyes and in future versions of our La Capitale and Royal LePage platforms, we’ll definitely incorporate Real Living technology.”

Posted: 2009-12-30 07:33:17

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