Ginger Wilcox on helping agents navigate a chaotic environment

By Real Estate News

When Ginger Wilcox stepped into the role of brand president of Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate last June, many in the industry knew that the next 12 months would be challenging for the industry. But no one anticipated just how tumultuous things would get. HousingWire recently caught up with Wilcox to hear how her first year at BHGRE went and to get her take on the myriad of challenges currently facing the industry.

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Brooklee Han: This has been quite the year in the real estate industry. Can you tell me a bit about your experience leading the BHGRE brand through this past year?

Ginger Wilcox: Yes, it certainly has been quite the year and as I reflect on it, I would say a few key things stand out. First, is the value the Better Homes and Gardens brand holds with consumers. There is this deep, deep consumer love of the brand and it reaches nearly 50 million consumers a month, something that no other brand can say they have access to and, most importantly, as part of that have a significant amount of trust because of the century long relationship with consumers. The magazine and Better Homes and Gardens brand really reaches nearly every region and every demographic around the globe. Given what is happening right now in the industry, there is really no better time to be affiliated with a brand that has that deep trust with consumers and we are really excited to be able to leverage that.

I have also learned a lot about the power of scale. With the industry quickly changing and the market conditions that we are facing, the impact of both having this strong network of our affiliated agents and brokers, but also the power of the scale of our organization behind them is really evident. We have a very accomplished and innovative group of professionals who have witnessed and actually been a part of driving a lot of the changes in their markets and in their businesses, and through their many years of experience, have navigated a lot of uncertainty, which just helps them really be great practitioners and also good advocates for their clients. We are really leaning into that expertise to support our network, which has been incredibly valuable as the industry continues to evolve.

There is also a significant amount of power, as you can imagine, in being affiliated with that in the largest real estate company in the world. As companies are looking to maximize their resources and lower their costs, which has been a big initiative throughout the industry as transaction volumes have decline, so we are really seeing our affiliates double down on their adoption of the brand resources we offer —marketing, training, technology — and that has really helped them save time and money.

BH: As you said there is an incredible amount of brand recognition with the Better Homes and Gardens brand. How are you looking to leverage this to help the firm continue to grow amidst this challenging landscape?

Wilcox: We have a heavy focus on strengthening our position in part by using the access we have to nearly 15 million consumers every month. That gives us the ability to reach about 67% of U.S. homebuyers — so that is pretty unique and significant. We are making sure that the Better Home and Gardens Real Estate brand is front and center amongst those consumers. So, no longer just thinking about it as a component of the magazine but making sure that we are tying that connection between the Better Homes and Gardens brand and real estate.

There is significantly expanded editorial coverage which reinforces that relationship, and it means special features in the print magazine. In May there is the ‘Owning It’ issue, which has been quite popular, and it provides insights from the BHGRE network throughout the issue, and it has made it very clear that consumers are really hungry for real estate information. Based on the success of this, they have actually decided to do a second issue in the fall, which we are really excited about.

Through this relationship with the brand, we also have access to the Pinpoint tool, which provides a touch point with consumers and is also exclusive to the BHGRE network and it gives our affiliated agents and brokers the ability to be able to search and market to different segments of the Better Homes and Gardens database, which encompasses about 175 million people. Through that we are able to drill into different demographics, including life stages and geography, which is extremely powerful as it helps agents be able to market to a new swath of consumers, and they can also use it in a listing presentation to demonstrate the power of the Better Homes and Gardens brand and reach.

BH: Obviously the big storyline of this past year has been the commission lawsuits. How have you been working with your affiliates, brokers, agents, and franchisees to navigate all of the chaos and commotion?

Wilcox: There has absolutely been a lot of noise. As we think about the work we need to do from a brand perspective, making sure our franchisees, those affiliated brokers and agents are prepared and that they have the guidance they need for the changes that are being implemented is my top priority. We have provided our network with material that help them navigate a lot of the conversations that are happening with buyers and seller. We also are continuing to evolve our learning programs to make sure that we are helping them have the real time training that is needed to navigate the changes that are happening. And, as I said we are really leaning into the power of our network and be able to showcase the expertise of our people who are in the field having these conversations and success every day.

We are also heavily focused on the sell side, as we anticipate that is going to be very important in future. We are making sure that our affiliated agents have the tools and resources to win more listings — so that is coaching program, marketing materials, tools.

Right now, the industry is changing very, very quickly and our focus is to try and continue to be at the forefront of those changes so that we can help our agents navigate and adapt and in real time ensure that they have the right resources based on what is happening.

BH: Speaking of being at the forefront, Anywhere was the first firm to reach a settlement agreement in the commission lawsuits. How do you feel that has impacted how you and BHGRE have navigated some of the turmoil this year?

Wilcox: First of all, I think being the first just demonstrates our commitment to advocating of behalf of our brokers and agents and that is something that we will continue to focus on as things continue to change. But it absolutely gives us a leg up from the standpoint of making sure that we have the ability to provide all those resources that I mentioned that an unaffiliated broker or agent would have to be preparing on their own right now. With the settlement we’ve had kind of an end date and timeline in place to be able to ensure that we have a comprehensive toolkit for agents and brokers so they are ready to adapt when the time comes.

BH: The commission lawsuits are not the only hurdle the industry is currently facing. What do you feel are some of the other big challenges your affiliates are facing right now?

Wilcox: Obviously with high interest rates and low inventory, the biggest challenge that I think the industry is facing is the historically low transaction volume and it is not really clear when that will meaningfully change. So, we’ve been heavily focused on thinking about how we can help our brokers and agents continue to increase their market share at a time when the clients and transactions just aren’t happening. But we know that real estate always happens because there are always going to be life change that influence homebuying and selling no matter the market conditions, so we are making sure that our agents are prepared to win those transactions through the resources that we offer and ensuring that we are thinking about how to increase the number of transactions each agent has the ability to support.

We also anticipate that we’ll see agents who will leave the industry because the climate is challenging, and some agents do not have the tools and resources to really be prepared for how quickly things are evolving and I think that is an area where we are really uniquely positioned to be able to help.

BH: As you have been working with your affiliated brokers and agents, what has the overall sentiment about some of these changes and challenges been?

Wilcox: We have been really focused on helping our network step out from the noise and focus on delivering an exceptional experience, as well as on continuing to drive their business growth. As I said, there are always going to be transactions in this business and who gets access to them is in large part due to the training, resources and mindset the agents have available to them. The agents we works with are grateful for the resources, but we are really focusing on that mindset component because it really is important in a climate like this, it is easy to get brought down by the things that you read and hear, so finding where to focus is key as great agents are able to succeed because they put their head down and avoid the noise that is happening.

BH: What do you feel are some of the things agents should be focused on right now as they look to navigate all of the changes coming their way?

Wilcox: Really, it is about continuing to focus on their core business, which is reaching out to new homebuyers and seller and continuing to provide great value to them. I think communication is more important than ever. It is something that we are heavily focused on, with helping our agents be able to article their value to both buyers and seller. Then also, agents just need to not get frozen — it is easy to have sort of that paralysis when times are tough, but you have to just keep putting one foot in front of the other.