San Diego Real Estate Independents


by Roberta Murphy

The plural of anecdote is not data , (J.K. Galbreath), but sometimes anecdotal evidence evolves into verifiable data–especially when the landscape is littered with dead canaries.

In this case, I am referring to casualties in real estate brokerage–particularly in the San Diego real estate market. For the last couple of decades, we heard the warnings and saw lots of anecdotal evidence that small brokerages and Mom and Pop realty shops were being absorbed by big blue franchises such as Prudential, Coldwell Banker, ReMax and the like.

Few thinking of starting a real estate brokerage business in those days would consider doing so without an umbilical cord tied to one of the big franchises. In exchange for around 6 percent of an office’s commission flow (and substantial buy-in fees), the franchise provided national advertising, referrals–and strict guidelines for local operations. Everything from signs to stationery to office location were subject to franchise approval.

For 25 years, real estate franchises dominated the landscape and data suggested that it would be nigh to impossible to exist without the franchise umbilical cord–and that independent real estate companies would go the way of the blacksmith, the eight track player and full service gas stations.

But then the real estate market crashed–and crashed hard. Consolidation became the guiding buzzword (anecdotally and in the San Diego real estate market that I observe) as offices closed merged and downsized. In Coronado, I hear, there were once four offices representing a certain franchise. There is now one.

In fact, because of so many office closures, one might think that it would be difficult to find a real estate office in San Diego, but that is not the case–because a surprising phenomena has been occurring during the last couple of years:

The proliferation of the independent real estate brokerage.

When San Diego’s real estate market shattered, homes may have remained intact, but in defiance of conventional wisdom, small independent brokerages proliferated. Most broke away from large San Diego franchises like Prudential California Realty, Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage, various Century 21 offices, ReMax and the like.

I’m not sure hard numbers exist, but the anecdotal evidence does. New real estate companies with fun names are dotting the once orderly landscape. Kris and Steve Berg broke away from Prudential California Realty and San Diego Castles Realty and formed –and we are currently in escrow with Pineapple Hut Realty. Then,  of course, when Sotheby’s International Realty closed its doors in San Diego, we decided to transform Sotheby’s Murphy Group into San Diego Previews Real Estate.

And I swear there are hundreds dozens of other real estate brokers who have done the same thing.

And rather than sending 6 percent of our earnings up a one-way umbilical cord, we can now spend that money locally and better serve our clients with the money saved. Additionally, the internet has drastically changed the way people shop for homes. Savvy home sellers are demanding a strong online presence for their homes–and also know that Google may tell them more about their prospective Realtor® than any glossy flip chart or resume.

Five years ago, none of us expected that we would be selling homes five years out for less than what they sold for then. Nor did we expect our franchise brokerages to be closing doors and offices.

But someone wiser than I once commented about change and how to avoid ulcers by adapting to what life throws your way:

If you fall in the mud puddle, check your pockets for fish.

….and of course, to be grateful for the unexpected gifts that come our way.

You may also be interested in reading:

When the Tails Wags the Dog
Tips for San DIego Home Buyers

Weasels in the Chicken Coop: Loan Fraud in San Diego

6 responses to “San Diego Real Estate Independents

  1. Roberta,
    As usual you are right on. We continue to see many small brokerages opening. I think that call that survival!

  2. Roberta,
    As usual you are right on. We continue to see many small brokerages opening. I think that call that survival!

  3. Gena,
    I'm sure you will be in the same ranks soon with Riede Real Estate–all to Sacramento's great advantage.

  4. Aloha Keahi!

    I agree with you. The San Diego real estate market and the brokerage firms that serve it are all undergoing big change. And in this market, it feels good to be small, nimble and sure-footed:-)

    Good wishes to you in Honolulu!


  5. We are seeing the same things here and have been for a while. There is a large “for sale” sign in front of the biggest c21 office in town. The agents still work there, but the broker has already shut down many of his former offices. Another major brokerage filed bankruptcy and rumors abound about the franchiser looking for a new partner. Nobody is interested.

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