You know the names, even if you're only a casual observer of the real estate market. Coldwell Banker, Re/Max, Century 21. The list goes on. And so do the ads, because national real estate brands blast away at consumers with marketing that ranges from TV spots and local signs to search engine optimization and social media. Clearly, competition is fierce for those brands. But if you're a buyer or a seller, does the brand name really matter?
Of factors that go into picking a real estate agent, some evidence suggests that brand name isn't important. According to data from the National Association of Realtors, only about 3 percent of buyers and 4 percent of sellers report considering an agent's association with a particular firm to be an important factor in hiring that agent.
While the brand may not drive a client to hire a specific agent, it's hard to say that real estate brands are irrelevant. Brands trigger different associations in the minds of consumers, says Sammer Mudawar, a Re/Max Prestige broker in Anaheim Hills, Calif.
For Mudawar, the appeal of working with a recognized brand comes down to trust.
"Brand-name real estate companies are typically more trusted by consumers, especially by those who are shopping for a service or product they have not had experience purchasing previously," Mudawar says.
The bigger brands get credit for investing in agent development, says Janice Leis, an associate broker with Prudential Fox & Roach in Philadelphia.
"The large companies are heavily invested in education, keeping all of their agents up-to-date (on the latest market trends)," Leis says. "Having a company with (significant) resources, both in terms of training and support services, is a great comfort to agents and a tremendous comfort to the clients, whether they are buyers or sellers."
But not all brokers see brand names the same way.
Realtor Carrie Benuska left a big-name outfit for a smaller, luxury brand that didn't have much name recognition in her area.
"I was concerned initially, because the company was just bringing the brand to my area and it was a complete unknown," says Benuska, who now works with Teles Properties in Pasadena, Calif. "Certainly my clients had questions about my company and wanted to make sure that their listing would receive the same amount of exposure as it would have at Coldwell Banker."
Those concerns were unfounded, Benuska says — and besides, what clients really care about is service, not the name on the door. And for her money, smaller firms can provide great service because the environment is less corporate and more flexible. Working in a smaller shop makes her feel like an "integral part of the organization, not a name in a sea of other agents."
There's a perception that bigger players in the real estate market deliver a larger pool of buyers for their sellers, and a wider array of listings for their buyers. That was true in the past, but the Internet has been something of an equalizer, says Jennifer Chiongbian with Rutenberg Realty in New York.
"Gone are the days of pocket listings, which were normally associated with being with the best branded real estate companies," Chiongbian says. "In this day and age where 95 percent of people search for their homes online, the name or brand of the company is not important."
As Chiongbian points out, inventory really comes down to the multiple listing service, or MLS, which dominates throughout the country.
"These are central databases that brokers from all competing firms have access to," Chiongbian says, adding that what matters most is the specific agent's reputation, regardless of where the agent works.