by Pete Mazzaccaro
A generation ago, most real estate needs in Chestnut Hill were handled by older Hill-based firms like Eichler & Moffly and Prudential Fox & Roach. There’s been a cascade of changes over the last 10 to 15 years, however. Mt. Airy-based Elfant Wissahickon moved its headquarters to Chestnut Hill, Eichler Moffly merged with Prudential Fox and Roach, which was then purchased by Berkshire Hathaway.
Berkshire Hathaway and Elfant have spent a lot of the last decade as the only two large brokerages with Chestnut Hill offices, but that all changed this year. Kurfiss Sotheby, an international brokerage, moved in and opened an office in Chestnut Hill this past summer. They were joined in July by Compass.
Compass, a nationally ambitious real estate brokerage that began as a tech-centric apartment rental service in Manhattan seven years ago, has been expanding in Philadelphia, and opened a temporary office on Germantown Avenue in July. It plans to move into a new, larger space on Germantown Avenue soon.
Jeff Bedard, regional president of Compass’ Greater Philadelphia operation was familiar with Chestnut Hill. He and his wife have lived in Wyndmoor for 12 years and he’s a member of the Springfield Township School Board. His regional managing director for sales, Skye Michiels is a former Chestnut Hill resident who currently lives in Narberth. The two first met a year ago to plan Compass’ regional growth at the restaurant El Poquito on Germantown Ave.
Bedard said that when he and Michiels started talking about regions in the Greater Philadelphia region that were critical, Chestnut Hill was part of the equation. Not only for the housing stock in Chestnut Hill and its neighboring communities but also because of its stable of successful agents.
“We are a brokerage focused on the professional agent, and we tend to skew more towards luxury,” Bedard said. “Chestnut Hill was the center of luxury real estate. And some of the very best agents.”
Bedard, who joined Compass last year from a position at JP Morgan Chase, said he focuses on the business side of the operation. Michiels, a former teacher who took on real estate sales as a side gig 10 years ago, found himself going full time by 2013 and in 2016 operating his own brokerage under the Keller Williams banner.
Michiels’ role at Compass is to manage and support the regions approximately 400 Philadelphia area agents. Those agents work at offices in Center City, the Main Line, Cherry Hill, the Jersey shore, Delaware and Doylestown. Bedard said the firm doesn’t take on agents unless they have at least two years of full-time sales experience.
Real Estate brokerages are different from traditional workplaces with employees collecting paychecks for accomplishing a set of weekly tasks. Real estate agents are self-employed home sellers who contract with a brokerage. The brokerage license is needed to legally sell homes. Sellers don’t need a broker’s license if they work under a brokerage.
Compass’ selling points to agents, Michiels said, are many, but two of the most significant factors are technology use and support. On the national level, Compass has worked to brand itself as a tech company that sells real estate. Michiels reiterated this theme.
“We want to be the iPhone for realtors,” he said, describing the modern smart phone’s ability to do everything for the user, from GPS to email and even a phone call or two. Compass promises to dramatically streamline number of logins and software needs of its agents.
“So their clients are going to have this amazing experience, because now, instead of spending hours of time with all these antique systems, they’re going to have one platform to operate on that handles everything they do.”
Another thing Compass does well, Michiels said, is offer a suite of support services that agents can use. In addition to a full time marketing department that can create home brochures and advertising campaigns, the company offers a staging service it calls Compass Concierge, which will front home sellers the vital “curb appeal” expenses a home might need to sell – from paint jobs to flooring. It’s also launching a bridge loan program that will cover up to six months of mortgage payments at a new house while the old house is on the market.
Those convenience factors plus a change in culture have attracted a good number of local Realtors to join Compass in the last year. Among Compass’ new agents in the area are Wendy Schwartz and Rob Lamb. Schwartz, an agent for 25 years was at Elfant Wissahickon and Eichler Moffly before that. Lamb, a Realtor for 20 years, was at Berkshire Hathaway Fox and Roach for 16 years and the small Mt. Airy real estate firm J. Russell Winder before that.
Both Schwartz and Lamb said they were anxious to switch brokerages after having spent so many years with established agencies in the area.
Schwartz was particularly happy with Compass’ concierge program, which she said can add $20,000 to $100,000 more to a home’s sales price. Between that and the in-house marketing team, Schwartz said she’s been able to focus much more on her business.
“It’s amazing,” she said of Compass’ support programs. “My business has grown exponentially in just a couple months.”
Schwartz said Compass also has a great program that helps agents donate proceeds from their sales to charity.
“It’s a company with a social consciousness,” she said. “We have the ability with all our transactions to donate to a cause of our choice. It’s connected to Divinity [a charitable organization], which has over 1000 different nonprofits that we can select for each of our transactions. Compass donates a certain amount, and we can match that for whatever cause we want.”
“It’s been so fun and collaborative,” Lamb said, noting the firm does not hand out awards to its agents, a staple among many of the more established brokerages. “The goals we set for ourselves are the ones we want to break. We’re not trying to beat anybody else. It’s the leadership and culture of the company. They’ve said, ‘We’re going to give you an environment where you can thrive,’ and that’s important to me.
Both said that they don’t think the number of extra brokerages is problematic for Chestnut Hill. There are plenty of homes to sell in the region and the names on the store fronts are really only names. Many of the Realtors have their own established networks.
“Is the brokerage market being saturated? I don’t think so,” Lamb said. “They [the brokerages] are all vying for the same agents that have always been a part of the community. The key to success at Compass is that they can help us so much we’re able to go and help our clients, and the cycle continues.”
Pete Mazzaccaro can be reached at 215-248-8802 or firstname.lastname@example.org