Century 21 is one of those longstanding brands in the industry that truly operates a stable, consistent business. The company, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary in July, is routinely recognized for its name recognition among consumers. For 22 years in a row now, it’s been the No. 1 leader in brand awareness, according to an ad tracking study conducted annually by global market research firm Kantar.
“If you stop a random person on the street and say ‘name some real estate brands,’ Century 21 is going to be in the top five of many people’s lists,” Jay Thompson, former Zillow executive and one time-Century 21 agent (and current Inman contributor), told Inman. “They’re well-known, which from a consumer’s perspective, is good.”
But that kind of association as an “old school” brand can also be a potential disadvantage in an industry that craves the new and innovative.
Still, the company has kept a steady course through the pandemic, sticking to the fundamentals of its business and continuing to grow its franchises through times of uncertainty.
Moving into 2021, Century 21 is undoubtedly on solid footing. But it will need to continue to innovate if it’s going to draw new agents and customers to its brand. Here are some things to keep in mind as the company faces its golden anniversary.
Recruiting new agents
Century 21 has over 146,000 sales professionals in about 13,000 offices across 84 countries and territories, according to the brand’s website. Comparatively, that’s a slightly larger footprint than the other brand under the Realogy umbrella that’s probably most similar — Coldwell Banker — which has about 94,300 agents across 43 countries and territories. Both far outnumber Realogy’s other non-exclusively luxury brands, Better Homes and Gardens and ERA, which have about 13,000 and 35,000 real estate agents, respectively.
In July, the company announced its recruitment of Kyle Seyboth and his 12-person team from Keller Williams, a point of pride that’s helped Century 21 gain some attention from outside agents, according to the company’s CEO Mike Miedler. In 2019, Seyboth topped the Real Trends + Tom Ferry The Thousand list for transaction sides with 497 closed transactions and $127.7 million in sales.
At the time, Seyboth cited Century 21’s senior management team with its commitment to technology, agent education and marketing programs as the primary draw to join the brokerage.
“He does a great deal of stuff with us, and we have a lot of momentum off him,” Miedler told Inman.
Surging homebuyer demand amid the pandemic undoubtedly played a big role, but Miedler said in a recent conversation he had with Seyboth, the agent mentioned that since his move to Century 21 about seven months ago, “He’s literally tripled the size of his business and what his goals were.”
Early into 2020, the company gained clout within the industry and among its agents by making Forbes’ best employers for diversity list. Century 21 clinched the 35th spot on the list out of a total of 500 employers, and was ranked the No. 2 real estate company on the list behind commercial property firm JLL, beating out Realogy (191), Keller Williams (223) and Coldwell Banker (402).
Its strong commitment to diversity will certainly give it an advantage in 2021, particularly as the U.S. emerges from a year rife with racial unrest. Century 21 was one of the founding members of the National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals (NAHREP), and in recent years has spearheaded initiatives like its “Empowering Latinas” program, which promoted outreach to junior colleges and high schools in markets with large LatinX populations like Miami and Houston in order to encourage young Latinas to consider real estate as a profession.
The company also recently made a smart hire with Cesar Lostaunau from Allstate Insurance, bringing him on as their new director of growth markets/diversity and inclusion. In this role, Lostaunau will develop and implement strategies to drive engagement with diverse growth markets, as well as lead diversity and inclusion efforts within the brand’s workforce. While at Allstate, Lostaunau developed the company’s first comprehensive sales diversity recruiting program.
Continued adoption of tech and tools
At the end of 2019, Century 21 relaunched the new and improved 21Online, what Miedler called “an online productivity hub” that can be personalized to an individual agent’s performance and business needs. Based on an agent’s output and goals, the platform can guide agents toward the company’s different tools and online classes to help them meet those goals.
So far, Miedler says, they’ve seen strong adoption from agents.
“We’ve seen huge adoption by our agent base because it really is so personalized,” Miedler told Inman. “Your top agents are not going to necessarily be looking for the same thing that a first-time or less experienced agent would be looking for, and it really personalizes their goals and their perspective and what they’re trying to accomplish.”
“As with all franchises, and especially franchises with a large franchisee base, a big challenge is educating their franchisees on how to be more competitive,” Stefan Swanepoel, chairman and CEO of real estate consulting and publishing firm T3 Sixty, told Inman in an email. “In this arena, C21 has built several in-house education and coaching programs that appear to have some traction … Many brokers struggle with expressing their value proposition, and with recruiting and retaining agents, so these initiatives are aimed squarely at the issues that are challenges for any broker.”
Miedler was also excited to share that the brand has something new in the works they plan to beta test this spring, which they hope may catch the eye of younger buyers entering the market.
“I don’t want to give too much away here, but we’re going to put together, basically, a communication consumer program that is as easy [to use] as the Domino’s pizza tracker app that tells you where in the process you are,” Miedler explained. “You order the pizza, the pizza’s in the oven, the pizza’s now on the delivery truck, the pizza’s now on your street, and it’s about to be dumped at your front door. We want to make the real estate process that easy and that communicative so that our consumers really enjoy the experience every step of the way.”
Jeff Lobb, founder and CEO of Sparktankmedia and Coach 52, as well as a one-time Century 21 agent, noted that tech adoption would likely be a primary challenge for the company in the new year.
“I think Century 21 has done a great job on the corporate front with forward-thinking technology and bringing new tools to the table,” Lobb said in an email. “[But one challenge will be] getting agent adoption to the the tools and resources available that the company invests in deeply to enhance production.”
Miedler himself admitted that Century 21 isn’t impervious to the problem of agent tech adoption that’s faced across the industry. Within the brand, Miedler said agents could be using anywhere from six to 12 different tech tools. Because each agent and each market is so unique, though, he added that companies who try to coerce agents into adopting their all-in-one, end-to-end platforms might be misguided in doing so.
“I think there’s a lot of push back against that because agents are only going to pick and choose what works for their business, what makes them most effective and efficient, and everyone goes about this a little differently in how they approach their customer, and what they do to prospect, what type of market segments they’re serving,” Miedler said.
“So it’s never going to be homogeneous where it all plugs in together and works with one another. I think that’s one of the major stumbling blocks for our industry, is that we’re all trying to figure out and solve how we make this perfect product for everybody. But you’re never going to make a perfect product when there’s not a perfect flow to how a deal works … or symbiotic system that works across all different marketplaces.”
Differentiation and relevance
Another primary challenge for the company this year and in years to come will be differentiating itself from other brands with traditional models. It’s not a unique challenge by any means, but one that it will want to carefully consider, especially as newer, shinier models keep popping up.
For instance, when asked point-blank if there was any one factor that clearly differentiates Century 21 from its very similar fellow Realogy brand Coldwell Banker, Thompson said, “Honestly, I don’t think there is.”
“I think if you ask that same stranger on the street, ‘What’s the difference between Century 21, and Coldwell Banker, and RE/MAX and Keller Williams?’ they’re going to go, ‘I don’t know, they’re all just real estate brokerages,’” Thompson added. “And I think that’s a problem that every real estate brokerage and franchise has.”
Lobb mentioned much of the same in his email to Inman, saying, “With a lot of the noise and press on many new models and brands, C21 is challenged to create public-facing differentiation to the industry with a clear message to be significantly different.”
The company, however, did make a step in the right direction with its strategic rebranding in 2018, which gave the brand’s logo a fresh, modern look. But it will need to do more of this kind of work in order to truly differentiate itself and stay relevant for younger generations of homebuyers aging into the market.
“I think that surprised a lot of people because that decades-old logo was gone, and it’s kind of hip and trendy now,” Thompson said. “There’s so much more to a brand than a logo, but it’s the public-facing part of the brand. But I think that was good that they rebranded, because it showed that they understood ‘look, we are old and established in kind of this system and we need to break out of that,’ and I think their rebranding did that.”
In addition to the new consumer-facing app Miedler mentioned to Inman, he spoke about other ways in which the brand is trying to be more aware of the new needs millennial homebuyers are bringing to the market, and think about ways Century 21 can address them.
“We’ve got 90 million millennials who are coming into the real estate space who are buying homes for the first time, who are really moving up the amount of household formations that we’re going to see here in the U.S. and throughout the globe, and candidly, they buy and sell things a lot differently than previous generations,” Miedler said. “So we’re going to have to bring that knowledge to the table and be able to meet them in the process and in the transaction the way that they want to be met. That’s where our ultimate focus is, to differentiate our professionals and our brand out there, because we believe we can become the brand for the consumer that agents, brokers and everyone else will follow.”
It’s that kind of pivoting that will help the franchise grow into a new era with more ease.
“Overall, I think the biggest challenge these ‘traditional’ brands face is relevancy,” real estate analyst and consultant Mike DelPrete told Inman in an email. “Relevancy in the face of disruption, relevancy in the face of massive investment capital backing new models. Relevancy for agents attracted to new, flashy models that promise quick riches or AI-powered tech tools. How do they compete?”
As one of the largest franchises in the country, Century 21 already has a good foothold on the market.
“Century 21 is one of the most recognized residential real estate brands in the world, and the sixth largest franchise brand by sales volume, fourth by sides, and fourth by agent count, with 50,000 agents associated to the brand in the U.S., as per the 2020 Real Estate Almanac,” Swanepoel said. “It is a franchise organization, and 45 of its franchisees appeared on the list of the Top 1,000 brokers.”
During the fourth quarter, parent company Realogy posted revenue of $1.9 billion, matching the previous quarter’s record high and marking an all-time fourth-quarter high. During the whole year, the real estate holding company brought in $6.2 billion in revenue, just a modest increase of 6 percent from the year prior, reflecting the halt to the market that arrived during the second quarter amidst COVID-19 shutdowns. The company’s fourth-quarter transaction volume also soared 45 percent year over year.
That strong performance bodes well for Century 21, which will certainly stand to benefit from its parent company’s gains in terms of resources and technology.
Miedler stopped short of naming specific growth targets for 2021, but did emphasize that a big focus for the year would be continued increase in market share. However, he added that one of the primary ways the company works to achieve those goals starts at the individual agent, by cultivating their quality of service.
“The truth of the matter is, when you do those basic activities, that actually leads to bigger results. And if you can do that at a very small level in every single market that you’re in with every single professional, ultimately you’re going to expand the size of your market share because everybody’s doing the right activities in order to get to the goal of increasing business at the end of the day,” Miedler said. “So it’s really like an activities-based kind of approach versus, ‘Oh, we want to grow by X.’”
A 50th anniversary
For its golden anniversary, Century 21 has some surprises in store, including a few “special activations,” like one with media partner Disney, as well as some new marketing campaign rollouts, Miedler told Inman.
“My marketing team would kill me if I announced this ahead of time, but we’re looking at the next 10 years as ‘the decade of home,’” Miedler said. “And I think we’ve all seen how the home has become so much more important to us as individuals, as families, as human beings, and what it’s created here in the real estate market.
“And I don’t think there’s any other company that’s poised to bring that into perspective from a global aspect other than Century 21. So we’re going to showcase around the globe how over the next decade the home will mean more and more to us, and how as real estate professionals, we’re serving that need in many, many different markets around not just this country, but globally.”