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PHJOTO: U.S real estate franchises

Is the U.S. residential real estate market consolidating? Or is it secretly more fragmented than ever?

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A look at the top franchise networks in the country from the recently unveiled RealTrends 500 list points to the former.

Already, the top four brokerages in the country by both sales volume and transaction sides, CompassRealogyHomeServices of America, and eXp, have 20% of U.S. market share, according to Steve Murray, senior adviser at RealTrends. Combined, Murray said, these four firms increased their gross revenue commission by 43% compared to 2020.

The emergence of a powerful few is captured further in a breakdown of franchise affiliates on the top 500. Fourteen-year-old eXp and ten-year-old Compass do not have franchise affiliates, but Realogy and Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices do.

In fact, of the top 500 companies by transaction sides, 344 – or 69% – are franchise affiliates of either Realogy, Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices, RE/MAX or Keller Williams. The number suggest that the aforementioned four franchise networks plus Compass and eXp control the lion’s share of the U.S. residential real estate landscape. But it may be the brokerage’s agents reaping the rewards.

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Breaking down the franchise numbers

Seventy of the top 500 firms are independent affiliates of Realogy, a mix that includes the Coldwell BankerSotheby’sERABetter Homes & GardensCorcoran, and Century 21 brands. The Realogy brokerage, which also includes each of these brands, had a sales volume of $246 billion. The franchise group, meanwhile, racked up $337 billion in sales volume.

Berkshire Hathaway franchise networks have a relatively smaller reach. The affiliates, who are independently owned and pays fees to Warren Buffett’s mega-conglomerate, claim 20 spots in the top 500. Those 20 firms produced $54 billion in sales volume. The production does not include the HomeServices of America brokerage, which is wholly owned by Berkshire Hathaway, and compiled $199 billion in sales volume.

A breakdown of Keller Williams franchises

By far the most prolific franchise network is Keller Williams, the affiliate empire built by Gary Keller, and RE/MAX, the prescient business model built by David Liniger that is now looking for its next CEO.

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Of the top 500, 184 – or 37% – are Keller Williams franchisees. These 184 franchisees did the same $337 billion in transaction volume as Realogy’s 70 franchisees on the list. The top Keller Williams franchisees did complete a whopping 916,400 transaction sides – or over 10% of the almost 7 million total existing and new U.S. home sales in 2021.

The overall numbers point to how Realogy’s brands generally succeed in wealthier areas, while Keller Williams has a greater reach. The biggest Keller Williams franchise network, its Go Network in Arlington, Texas, averaged $361,000 per side. The largest Realogy franchise, Premier Sotheby’s International Realty, in Naples, Florida averaged $959,000 a side.

RE/MAX, meanwhile, has 69 of the top 500 companies, which compiled $118 billion in transaction volume.

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Can they continue to expand market share?

Unclear, though, is whether these elite franchise networks and brokerages generate sufficient revenue for their brand parent to maintain and expand market share.

This question is impossible to answer for Keller Williams, a private company that has declined to disclose its financials. RE/MAX, though, is a publicly traded company. The Denver-based outfit lost $21 million in 2021 after two years of positive net income. RE/MAX generated $329 million in revenue with $119 million coming from continuing franchise fees and $66 million in broker fees. In other words, the top 69 RE/MAX franchisee’s gross transaction volume was 360 times more than the company’s annual revenue.

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For brokerages like Compass and eXp, there also lies a gap between market impact and revenue. Compass did retain $1.1 billion in revenue after paying out commissions and other-related expenses in 2021, but the brokerage staggered to a $494 million net income loss, raising questions about how much longer it can gobble up market share. eXp has posted consistent profits the last two years, including $82 million for all of 2021. But its revenue after returning commissions and other expenses to agents is less than RE/MAX’s: $252 million in 2021.

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