You may have never heard of Christy Budnick, but she is suddenly one of the most powerful people in residential real estate. Last week, Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices, a hulking network of franchisee brokerages, named Budnick its CEO. Budnick replaces Chris Stuart, who took a job as president of Place, a real estate technology platform for both brokers and agents.
Irvine, California-headquartered BHHS has 370 franchisees, which conservatively racked up 270,000 home deals in 2020, per tabulations of numbers reported to RealTrends.
BHHS is a separate entity from the HomeServices of America brokerage, though that brokerage’s CEO, Gino Blefari, also serves as chairman of the board for BHHS. Both franchise and brokerage are a small fraction of the Warren Buffett-owned Berkshire Hathaway Inc., a company with a market value of nearly $700 billion.
The daughter of a real estate agent, Budnick first went into finance, working with Bank of America. But she has led BHHS’s Florida Network Realty for the last 19 years.
How can Budnick possibly move from overseeing one franchise to 370? And how will she make her mark? HousingWire recently sat down with Budnick, shortly after her ascension to CEO, and here’s an edited version of that discussion:
HousingWire: Chris Stuart was CEO for 2 ½ years. What did Chris do that you might do differently?
Christy Budnick: I come from a very different background. My strength is truly as an operator running one of the top Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices franchises.
Chris’s background was in technology. But one of the reasons for Gino Blefari’s selection is that he witnessed my ability to lead a team and foster a collaborative culture. Technology is obviously a big part of our solution and offering to the network, but in my opinion, the true stickiness and success of an organization lies in its people.
HW: It’s interesting you draw that distinction. Other franchise networks, like Keller Williams, along with brokerages such as eXp and Compass, are trying to both offer the services of a traditional brokerage and claim cutting edge technology services for their agents. The agents that you correspond with each day – what technology makes a difference in their work lives?
CB: I would put at the forefront CRM (customer relationship management system) has become the brain trust of the agent. And so that is one of the first things I’m going to work closely with my team to tackle and make sure that the offering we have for our franchisees is the strongest you can get in the field.
HW: So, what can you do improve Berkshire Hathaway HomeService’s CRM? Buy a software company? Hire more engineers?
CB: It can actually work a number of different ways and we’re really looking at all the different options. We have a CRM in place right now, and it has its positives but there are also things that make it difficult to use from an agent’s perspective.
There is a lot of noise out there when it comes to technology. There are so many shiny objects that aren’t as helpful to an agent building their business or to a franchise that is looking to expand their business. It’s up to us to weed through all out and pull out the technology that will really make things happen.
HW: If there’s a face of BHHS, it’s Gino Blefari. When I interviewed Gino, he said that he spoke with Chris Stuart and other franchise leadership daily. What do you anticipate your relationship being with Gino?
CB: I’ve learned a tremendous amount from Gino over the past seven years. He has been a mentor to me and also to all the franchisees that make up our network.
I appreciate that I can pick up the phone at 8:00 a.m. Eastern time, knowing that it’s 5:00 a.m. where Gino is (Blefari lives in San Jose), and I can text or call him and get a response. And that’s been my relationship with him over many years, he’s always been that accessible.
I communicate with him multiple times a day, and that was before I even assumed my new position.
HW: How do you lead across dozens of franchise networks, many with their own branding, and thousands of agents? That seems like a logistically difficult daily task.
CB: Communication has always been a strength for me, and there will be a very strong and frequent communication, whether it’s through email, telephone conversations, and meetings within the network. My mother, Linda Scherer, was one of the founding members of our company, 33 years ago. And I’ve been part of the company for the last 19 years. And even though it’s a company made up of franchisees, it truly feels like an extended family. I see myself doing what I have been doing, but at a much higher level.
HW: Now, and perhaps more over the coming years, Berkshire Hathaway HomeService’s model could be challenged by well-financed companies like Zillow and Opendoor, firms that do instant homebuying and where the agent’s role is not always clear. Do you feel Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices is nimble enough to swat away such challenges?
CB: Ibuyers are not new – they have been coming for a while. For most people this isn’t just a transaction that can be conducted over the Internet. It’s a very emotional process that requires the guidance and care of a personal relationship with a realtor.
Some of the companies that are entering the fray, [their real estate agents] might not be as well-trained and coached. Our owner operators take part in coaching and training.
I believe that a lot of the companies coming out now may not place as much emphasis on training.
HW: If I interview you a year from now, what do you think you will be able to say, “This is what I’ve already accomplished as CEO”?
CB: Right now, the plan is to observe, listen, and learn from Gino’s network and my team.
[One goal is] to ensure our technology offerings are best in class, that it’s easy to use and interconnected with each of our platforms.
[Also], our real estate IQ system. I’m looking forward to seeing that grow and thrive under the leadership of Allan Dalton, who is the former CEO of Move.com.
HW: What is the real estate IQ system?
CB: You can almost think of it is a think tank of our entire franchise. It includes the ideas that have come from the field from our franchisee realtors as well as the broker owners. It includes various training and coaching components. Instead of just having a franchise network that is silo oriented, the goal is to bring the entire franchise together and have all the franchisees learn from one another.
HW: Do you plan to stay in Florida or move to Irvine?
CB: I’m going to stay based out of Florida, but I will be commuting to Irvine to meet with the team.