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From Very Good to Utterly Phenomenal One Brokerage’s Journey to Success By Rebecca Mashaw

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Jordan Baris, CRB, chairman of Jordan Baris Inc., has been at this real estate game for quite awhile. By the time he earned his CRB Designation in 1973 – the 383rd CRB Designee in the nation to do so – he had already logged 21 years. For Managers, Brokers and Owners

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Photograph by David Johnston, Madden Communications and Marketing

Can you run a brokerage for more than 50 years, build a sterling reputation, enjoy success and then – double your business, exceeding your wildest dreams? Jordan Baris Inc., of Northern New Jersey has done just that.

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From Very Good to Utterly Phenomenal

• They banked on the promise technology held to transform real estate transactions.

Jordan Baris, CRB

Baris began selling real estate in 1950 on Long Island where he became a top-producing agent within two years. He then moved to New Jersey and in 1952, opened Jordan Baris Inc. Realtors, a one-person office, with the intent of capturing the top market share in the state’s largest city, Newark. After achieving that first goal within three years, Baris continued to grow the brokerage into one of the most successful, family-run independent brokerages in the country. In the l960s, the firm expanded throughout Essex County and moved its headquarters to Irvington. Baris’s wife, Marjorie, joined the firm in 1977 and son, Ken, joined in 1985. In the 1980s, a branch office opened in South Orange, while the corporate headquarters moved to West Orange. By any measure, the firm was a success. But the times were changing. “As we moved into the 21st century,” says Ken Baris, CRB, CRS, GRI, “it became clear that survival of the independent brokerage meant we had to change. Frankly, it was harder to make a profit doing business as we had for most of those 50 years. We felt like we were on a treadmill, running and not moving forward.” Inspired in part by the clarity that comes from battling a life-threatening illness (see sidebar), the Baris family renewed their commitment to the brokerage and decided to play the game to win. In the last six years, the firm has grown to approximately 200 agents and tripled revenues. From 2000 to 2002, executives, agents and support staff increased by 148%. In the first year after the Barises changed their business plan, earnings grew 47% and then 44% the next year. That growth continues, with first quarter earnings in 2006 up by more than 15% over the first quarter earnings in 2005. They also doubled physical space in their West Orange and South Orange offices. It wasn’t just the fact that the real estate industry has enjoyed the best five years in its history that accounts for the growth. The Barises made three key decisions that mattered: • They committed to aggressively expanding the firm. • They admitted that they might need some outside help.

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Resolving to Change THE COMMITMENT to change was more than a wish or hope. “Hope is not a strategy. We essentially dissected our business,” Ken Baris says. “We looked at infrastructure, compensation, information, recruiting, team building, physical environment and technology.” One action the Baris family found very helpful was soliciting the advice of others, both inside and outside real estate. “Ted and Michael Pappas, both CRBs, of The Keyes Company in Miami, were especially generous in talking with us and sharing wisdom,” Ken Baris notes. “And my brother, Russell, a former senior executive from Pfizer, was an amazing sounding board. He brought the perspective of big business and helped us understand the tremendous role technology could play.” Relying on people outside the industry to help shape their vision culminated in a decision to hire Michael Hamilton as chief operating officer of the brokerage. Hamilton, who often partnered in tennis with Jordan and Ken Baris, previously worked in the entertainment and dot-com worlds. “Frankly, his idea of growth was much bigger than ours,” Ken Baris recalls. “He made us believe we could achieve and manage 40% to 50% growth in a year. He was bottom-line oriented and forced us to measure and track our growth every day, week and month.” Hamilton introduced the brokerage to the concept of branding – looking at the firm’s traditional business activities as distinct brands or product lines that needed to be clearly marketed and developed. Subsequently, Jordan Baris Inc. identified and defined four distinct brands: 1. Jordan Baris Inc. Realtors – specializing in marketing and sales of single family homes and quadraplex homes. 2. Jordan Baris Inc. Commercial Division – focusing on the sale and lease of office buildings, strip malls, land and multi-family investment properties. 3. Jordan Baris Inc. Rental Division – managing condominium, home and apartment leasing for landlords and tenants. 4. Jordan Baris Referrals LLC – comprising New Jersey real estate licensees who, while not actively selling, generate listing and buyer leads. Investing in Human Capital WHEN THE BROKERAGE was undergoing its analysis on how to function at a higher level, recruiting and compensating quality agents was an important issue. “At the time, there were really only two compensation models – tra-

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At the 2002 U.S. Open, after winning one of the most televised points in tennis, Andy Roddick, No. 1 American tennis player at the time, jumped into the stands and high fived Jordan and Ken Baris. (Ken is wearing a tan shirt and Jordan, to his right, is wearing a hat and glasses.) This picture appeared in The New York Times. Roddick’s point was one of the ESPN Top 10 Plays of 2002. Photograph from Getty Images.

ditional and 100% commission plans,” Ken Baris recalls. “We didn’t think either model rewarded the best agents appropriately. Traditional models penalize top-performing agents and 100% models result in agents being ‘fee’d’ to death. We wanted a structure that benefited all agents.” That structure is built on the brokerage providing support and services to agents. “We provide free in-house training, not only in technology, but also in listing, selling and general career management,” Ken Baris explains. Jordan Baris adds, “We pride ourselves on providing very good training. I’ve been amazed how much you can learn just through role-playing exercises.” The support the brokerage provides to agents has been a real draw. “We’ve enjoyed tremendous growth in the number of our associates in the last five years, despite the fact that we did not actively recruit among our competitors,” Ken Baris notes. “A lot of quality people in real estate sought us out because they heard we support agents and have high ethical standards.” Retention at Jordan Baris Inc. is high, in part because the company takes great pains in hiring. Each prospective associate is interviewed at least three times – by Michael Hamilton, by Ken Baris and finally, by Jordan Baris. “Rather than a specific work history, I look for a half-dozen factors,” Ken Baris says. “First, are they service oriented? Then there’s competitive spirit – are they entrepreneurial, like the thrill of the deal, want to help people, are good at negotiating to a win-win position and are able to market themselves? The final test is a ‘soft’ factor – do I think customers will like being with them, will trust them and will they represent our company well?” The brokerage recognizes performance, which aids retention. “Most companies have big reward and recognition programs for their rainmakers, and our Ambassadors Club fills this need,” Ken Baris says. “But we also recognize top performers and have a Five Year Club.”

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From Very Good to Utterly Phenomenal

O RGAN D ONATION : T HE U LTIMATE P ARTNERSHIP

Ken Baris, CRB, CRS, GRI

Overall, Jordan Baris Inc. focuses on three primary goals. “We talk about envisioning, empowering and energizing: helping agents envision the opportunities available; empowering them with practical tools and techniques not just rah-rah stuff; and energizing them by making our offices exciting and fun places to work.” Tapping into Technology A KEY COMPONENT of revamping the brokerage was investing in cutting-edge technology. “Technology is an area where we excel,” Ken Baris comments. When the company expanded, they completely renovated their office space to accommodate the best technology. Every decision is geared to the productivity of agents and brokers. The team constantly evaluates every aspect of the business with the goal of improving return and has been successful in tapping technology to achieve higher productivity. Jordan Baris Inc. also gives agents the tools they need to do their job, especially technology tools. At no charge, agents receive online marketing tools – direct mail flash presentations, business cards, virtual tours, brochures and more – through Imprev (www.imprev.com). The company also developed Top Presenter in the late 1990s, an awardwinning listing presentation now marketed by Top Producer. Then and now, agents receive it free. Additionally, the brokerage has worked with a la mode (alamode.com) for many years to provide AgentXSites for each agent, which Ken Baris describes as “far and away the best Web site tool available.” The brokerage’s Web site is also on the a la mode platform. The brokerage is quick to identify and use new technologies. It has used internal blogging for more than three years. Ken Baris saw blogging as a tool to streamline communications between agents and provide improved services to customers. Enhancing the business process is the primary purpose of the internal blogs, which customers can use to contact the company about properties they want to buy or sell. The brokerage shares an abundance of information, including real time transaction processing with builders via a private custom password-protected blog for every development.

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Jordan Baris and his son, Ken, share a thriving business, a passion for real estate, a love of tennis and … a kidney. In the late 1990s, Jordan was battling renal failure and losing. His kidney function gradually worsened over three years until 1998 when he required dialysis. He chose peritoneal dialysis, a procedure that can be performed at home, because he wanted to undergo dialysis in the evenings and not interrupt his customary hard-working business days. He was also placed on a waiting list for a kidney transplant. But the odds of receiving a donor kidney aren’t great. Despite the fact that transplantation is very successful, there’s a dire shortage of donated organs. According to the United Network of Organ Sharing (www.unos.org), more than 90,000 patients are typically on the waiting list for an organ on any given day. Of these, more than 66,000 need kidneys. About 26,000 organ transplants of all types are performed annually; many patients never receive the organ they need. A close-knit family, the Barises were determined that Jordan would not spend much time on dialysis, nor would he wait for a kidney. Ken Baris became a living donor, giving Dad one of his kidneys. Initially, Jordan refused his son’s offer, but Ken persisted. “I couldn’t have lived with myself,” Ken says, “if I didn’t do this for Dad and for our family.” The family gathered for a celebration prior to the surgeries and again after father and son had recovered. Ken’s surgery required four weeks out of the office and Jordan’s recovery time was three months. Since the transplant, the Barises have become staunch supporters of organ donation. “If you ask me how I feel on a scale of 1 to 10, I’d have to say 12!” Jordan Baris says.

Internal blogging is a more open forum than e-mail, enabling workgroups to discuss projects and employees to understand what others in the firm are accomplishing. Agents share information with each other about prospective buyers and their property requirements on the internal blog. As part of its increasing commitment to capture Internet leads, the firm established what Ken Baris calls “a phenomenal e-mail alert system” that includes a back engine so agents can see when clients view properties on the Web site and how long they view various properties. Jordan Baris explains, “To make the most of Internet leads, you have to pick people who truly value those leads and will follow up on them – and that means giving leads to people who are comfortable using e-mail and Web-based technology.” At Jordan Baris Inc., a hand-picked team, including an administrator, meets weekly to focus on generating and following through on Internet leads. “You can’t rely on an automated system to do everything for you,” Ken Baris adds. Jordan Baris acknowledges the generation gap surrounding technology issues. “Most of our new people want

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Jordan and Ken Baris at the NAR Conference in San Francisco last October. The Barises appreciate the networking and educational opportunities available at these events. Photograph by Brant Bender. Copyright REALTOR® Magazine Show Daily, published by NAR.

technology. Among our older staff, some have embraced it, but others were more resistant. When they see how others benefit from technology, they usually get on board.” Jordan Baris himself, after more than 50 years in real estate, quickly learned to like and use tech tools. “I taught myself how to do some programming in Basic in the early days and more recently in Access. But Ken has a real knack for it.” Charging Ahead THE COMMITMENT to growth doesn’t stop here – the firm plans to open two new offices in 2006. “We want branch offices, not twigs,” he says. “We take the time to find the right locations and build up the staff and facilities to create truly important branch offices.” The brokerage will build upon its existing reputation and relationship among new home builders. “We get involved preconstruction, because we can help builders understand what our buyers want before they finalize their plans,” Jordan Baris notes. “Selling new construction is much more complex than selling existing homes,” Ken Baris comments. “There is so much more detail, paperwork, decisions and hand-holding. We have built a great reputation among builders for our low fall-out rate. In one development, we sold 100 homes for the builder, but only three did not close. The builders love it, so we’re well positioned to grow that part of our business.” New homes, new offices, new technology – it all adds up to a burgeoning future for a business with a 50-plus year history. And for Jordan Baris, retirement isn’t in the plan.“I like to play tennis, but you can’t do that all day, every day,” he explains, adding, “I really love this business.” His son comments, “It’s a thrill for me to work in a business my father started and to work with him every day.” Rebecca Mashaw is a frequent contributor to Real Estate Business magazine. She may be reached at rmashaw@ comcast.net.

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June/July 2006

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