The Rise of Re∕Max 20 years on

 

Re/Max
Cayman Islands has become a household name. Yet, two decades ago, owner and
broker Kim Lund (pictured above on right) found it tough to enter the islands’
competitive real estate environment. 

Kim
started First Realty of Cayman in 1990 but soon realised it would be difficult,
as a one-man organisation, to compete with established companies. So, he
decided it was time to join forces with a strong franchise.  

“I knew
I needed an edge if I wanted to be successful in this market,” Kim says. “I
started contacting every real-estate franchise out there and none were
interested.” 

Re/Max had been Kim’s first choice. However, the company
had reservations about expanding internationally because the franchise was
focusing on developing the brand in North America. So Kim flew to the corporate
offices in Denver to meet with the founders of Re/Max, Dave and Gail Liniger. 

He
managed to overcome their concerns and, in 1991, Kim started the first Re/Max
office outside North America with his late wife, Brenda Tibbetts Lund. The
couple hired a receptionist and the first agent, Edna Ebanks, who is still with
the company today. From there, the Lunds built their business by gradually
adding agents.  

“It has
been a very positive growth for us,” Kim says.  

The
biggest change for the firm came seven years later, when the Lunds decided to
sell half the business to James Bovell, (pictured above on left) who had joined
Re/Max as a sales agent in 1994. The Lunds had the option of selling the other
half of the business to James a year later. 

Kim was
contemplating retiring when the sale was agreed, but when his wife Brenda
passed away after a fight with breast cancer, he held on to his half of the
business, with James as a partner.  

“I was
not as organised as James in terms of setting a structure that would enable
Re/Max to grow and to retain and recruit better agents,” Kim says of their
early partnership. “So when James came into the business we had grown to a
certain level and levelled off. And then he added the new energy, the new
organisation and the new structure, which enabled us as a platform to jump
forward and grow the business almost exponentially.” 

James
waves the compliment away. He credits the new energy at Re/Max to a change of
dynamics.  

While the Lunds had used the brand to generate higher sales
by giving them access to more clients, James believes his role as an
independent partner required a new approach and structure. The business had to
be able to succeed on a standalone basis, outside the personal sales of the
owners, so Re/Max Cayman Islands needed to provide agents with adequate
services and tools, says James. 

To
illustrate the change in tactics, he gives the example of Kim being recognised
in 1998 and 1999 as the number one salesperson for Re/Max worldwide, which
consisted of 80,000 to 90,000 agents at the time. 

“Last
year [2010] we were on stage, Kim as a team and me as an individual, to receive
an award as a company, for being the largest production as a company, which is
more about the group of agents and having more people doing more business,”
James says. “This is how the philosophy changed.” 

Although
they have different personalities, the strong relationship between the two
owners is essential to the success of the firm. 

“Our
relationship has been a unique form of partnership. We have never had a
difference of opinion,” says James, who is in charge of running the office. “As
far as the company goes and how we do things and how we make decisions, it is
always mutually agreed.” 

“People
in their personal marriages would envy our business marriage, because we don’t
argue and we don’t fight,” Kim adds.  

This is evident in the day to day office relations. Despite
the competitive environment, employees have to get along.   

“The
nice thing is that as much as the [agents] are competing with each other, we
are still sharing ideas on how to all improve our business and that’s one of
the fundamentals about Re/Max itself, because the goal is to have the best
agents with the most experience doing the business,” says James. 

Communication,
clear office policies, and exceptionally good support are integral to the
success of Re/Max. 

“So it
tends to work very well that way,” says Kim. “We have built a powerful office
right now that sells hundreds of millions of dollars of real estate.” 

In a
time when customers are aware of the value of an agent, quality of service and
understanding of the market is imperative.  

The
focus on agents differentiates Re/Max from other companies, Kim believes. By
advertising the agent and the agent’s direct telephone number, Re/Max empowers
the agent as opposed to the company.  

Kim
says one of the strongest outside influences on the firm has been the rise of
technology.  

“James
has been at the cutting edge of that, making sure that if it is anything that
can help our agents and our business we will make the investment … That has had
a huge impact on this industry and the success that we have had,” Kim explains.
 

But
technology is not as easy and as cheap as everyone thinks, James adds. A lot of
time and learning is involved in exploring what does and does not work.  

“Finding
the things that are really beneficial to the business or its customers is time
consuming,” he says, adding many technologies are actually a waste of time. 

During
the past 20 years, “professionalism has also changed,” says Kim. He believes
firms in Cayman have become more professional and agents better trained.  

However,
the main change in the real estate industry is sales volume.  

“To
sell a million dollar condo 15 or 20 years was virtually unheard of, whereas
now it has become a lot more commonplace.” 

Success
has not come easy to Re/Max. The company has seen many hard years, from
Hurricane Ivan in 2004 to the financial crisis of 2008. 

“You
have to evolve as different crises come up and as the world changes,” Kim says. 

After
Hurricane Ivan, Re/Max Cayman Islands had to start all over again. The
advantage was that the market bounced back in 2005. Unfortunately, the market
has yet to recover from the economic crisis of 2008. 

“The
last two years here have been financially much more devastating than anything
else. Business fell off a cliff basically after September of 2008,” Kim says. 

Sales are slowly improving, James says, adding the local
market has always sustained the business when the resort market took a hit. 

“When I
came on we were heavily leveraged on the resort market. Part of that was that
we were perceived locally as an American or a foreign company as opposed to a
local company with a foreign brand,” he says. “And that is one of the biggest
misconceptions so we made a distinctive effort to move more into the local
market and got agents focused on the local market.” 

In any
case, “it is not all about success, success, success”, James continues. 

Community
support and involvement are an important part of the Re/Max philosophy. 

“People
in our lives have helped us and it comes from the community. So we are very
committed to the community of the Cayman Islands and also to protecting Cayman
and its place in the global economy, to see that prosper and benefit.”    

Re/Max

RE/MAX