The already fast-moving residential real estate market in Fort Worth took a moment to stop in late September when three major firms announced they were joining forces with another large firm – a Dallas firm at that.
Three Fort Worth-based residential real estate firms with differing pedigrees – Brants Realtors, Mira Vista Realtors and Bloom Real Estate Group – joined with Dallas’ Briggs Freeman Sotheby’s International Realty to create a new-yet-familiar face on the Fort Worth-Tarrant County real estate landscape.
“I know the two areas are very different, but I know that outside of our area we are known as DFW, and when a corporation moves here, they’re looking at the whole Metroplex. They’re not just looking at one or the other,” said Robbie Briggs, CEO and president of Briggs Freeman.
“This will change the face of Fort Worth real estate overnight,” said Clay Brants, who will lead the Fort Worth Ranch and Land office for the new group in the Cultural District.
“As we looked at economic growth and the companies bringing their headquarters to North Texas, we knew it would help our clients to have exposure across the region,” said Brants. “Other brokerages have asked Brants to join them. This is the only offer that made sense to us. We know that our name will be stronger and [more widespread] with this move.”
Adding in the Mira Vista agency gives Briggs Freeman access to one of Fort Worth’s fastest growing areas – Southwest Fort Worth.
“It’s great to brand yourself with a small, niche neighborhood, because you can kind of own that neighborhood, but it also limits you,” said Briggs. “So by rebranding it, those agents are going to do really well in Mira Vista, but I think it going to really expand their scope.”
Then Bloom came aboard.
“Bloom was an added surprise that I was just shocked at,” he said. “We began talking to them and they got real excited because most of them had left what I would call a traditional real estate company because they really wanted to do something different, and they were very keen on Internet, social marketing and [they’re] just kind of computer savvy younger agents.”
That’s important, Briggs noted, as 48 percent of the company’s web traffic comes from social media, an area where the younger agents excel.
“I look at them. They’re going to energize this whole group, because that’s what we’ve seen in our other offices,” he said.
Briggs Freeman Sotheby’s International Realty is the oldest privately held real estate boutique in Dallas, with more than 250 associates in six offices including Dallas, Lakewood, Uptown, The Ballpark and Southlake prior to the September announcement.
Independently owned and operated by Briggs, the firm specializes in real estate transactions with a variety of properties from historic to contemporary, to waterfront, ranch and land. Aside from the many residential properties, the company is currently the listing agent for the $725 million historic Wagoner Ranch.
While that news was big enough – the merger gives Briggs Freeman a locally-based and knowledgeable sales force of almost 100 agents working out of three offices – the impact of the Sotheby’s name on the new group can’t be emphasized enough. That, along with Briggs Freeman’s marketing expertise, gives the new group strength not just locally, but nationally and internationally.
Newcomers do not necessarily see the area as divided.
As an example, Briggs noted that Hilti Inc., a supplier of tools, is moving its headquarters to Plano.
“When they really start moving their people here, I think half of them are going to be in Tarrant County and half of them are going to be in Dallas County,” he said. “From that kind of perspective it only makes sense to be covering the whole Metroplex.”
Briggs also said the CEO of Toyota, whose company is relocating from Torrance, California, to Plano, bought a home in Tarrant County.
But that type of synergy is happening at other levels too.
“Even before we made these purchases [of the Fort Worth agencies], one of our agents that we had come to work for us, ran an ad and immediately Texas Health contacted her and said ‘We have a doctor moving from Preston Hollow over here [to Fort Worth],’ ” he said. “That kind of stuff’s going to happen all the time.”
For the agencies in Fort Worth, the merger gives them access to the powerful Sotheby’s International Realty brand and marketing muscle. Briggs fought hard for that Sotheby’s designation and the right to use it in Fort Worth.
Briggs Freeman had been part of the Sotheby’s franchise and already had an office in Southlake and in Arlington, when Sotheby’s announced residential real estate firm Williams Trew would have the Fort Worth franchise. The news shocked him, Briggs said. For one thing, one of Briggs Freeman’s agents, Southlake-based John Zimmerman, in fact, was the leading non-online real estate agent in the area last year.
The lawsuits began. Originally Sotheby’s sued Briggs Freeman and then in September 2013, Williams Trew sued Briggs Freeman. The suits were settled last year with Williams Trew selling its Sotheby’s Fort Worth franchise to Briggs Freeman. Shortly thereafter, Williams Trew merged with Ebby Halliday.
But that left the road clear for Briggs Freeman to pursue a strategy to use its marketing expertise and Sotheby’s name to better market not just Fort Worth, but the entire North Texas area. And that began the merger announced in late September.
“My agents said to me, ‘Your name is smaller than Sotheby’s. Doesn’t that bother you?’ No. It’s business, and Sotheby’s is a powerful, powerful brand that we can take advantage of,” Briggs said.
Briggs said that once a listing goes on the market for Sotheby’s, “it’s on the Wall Street Journal and Financial Times, all those websites. And then we leverage the brand every way we can, to that gives a lot of opportunity to an agent.”
Some agents don’t believe it will help them sell a $250,000 home in Burleson, but Briggs begged to differ.
“We’ve got stories of agents in Dallas that have little bitty cottages on Anita [Street] in east Dallas that all of a sudden notice that on the website they’re being hit by somebody in Holland, and the next thing you know is an Ebby Halliday agent walks in the door with this Holland client who found that house on the website. And that’s a fact,” he said.
Briggs recognizes the sometimes deep cultural divide between the glittering high-heels of Dallas society and the scuffed, if expensive, boots of Fort Worth’s culture.
“I tell people, I say, ‘Look, I went to school at Tulane. That’s Louisiana. You’re not going to find a more different [cultural] than Louisiana and nobody wants to change Louisiana,” he said. “Nobody wants to go down and change New Orleans. You go there because it’s different.”
Fort Worth, like Louisiana, has a strong sense of place, Riggs said.
“I grew up in Dallas and I always wanted Dallas to have an identity. When you say Dallas, you don’t automatically come up with an identity. New Orleans, you come up with an identity. Miami, you come up with an identity,” he said. “And Fort Worth, you come up with an identity. And I like that. I like that authentic identity of who Fort Worth is.”
While the cowboy culture may permeate that identity, that’s not all there is to it, he notes.
“These are some of the most sophisticated people in the world, and the ones that I’ve met have been some of the most entrepreneurial in the world, and yet you can just sense that they have roots in hard-working American cowboy culture and that’s a good thing,” he said.
Briggs intends to keep those separate cultures satisfied, utilizing the assets he has brought together.