Sales of high end property are doing well for RE/MAX agents in the Caribbean.
Gustavo Caricote, senior regional development consultant for RE/MAX in the Caribbean and Central America, says RE/MAX Cayman Islands has been a “model office” for the region in the past 20 years, as he sketches the expansion drive of the real estate franchise network.
RE/MAX has come a long way as an international franchise system. The realtors have grown internationally from 20 agents in 1973 in Denver, Colorado, to 90,000 in 85 countries today.
Approximately 40 per cent of the agents are operating outside of the United States, says Gustavo Caricote.
“Our global presence is growing really fast and eventually we are going to have more agents outside of the US.”
While most of the regions are independently owned and operated by master franchises for the individual countries, Central America and the Caribbean are directly managed as one region by the headquarter company in the US.
“It is a different way of operating but it allows us to provide a lot of services to our franchisees and our agents,” explains Caricote.
RE/MAX has been in the Caribbean for 20 years, when the launch of RE/MAX Cayman made the Caribbean the third international region in the RE/MAX system following Canada and Mexico.
From there it continued a global expansion, which this year alone sees launches in new markets like Barbados, Bosnia-Herzegovina and the region of Micronesia, which also includes Guam and Palau.
RE/MAX continues its expansion in Latin America and in the last couple of years the network extended its push into South America and specifically Brazil, Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, Surinam and Uruguay.
In the Caribbean RE/MAX is operating in 22 different countries and only a number of countries such as St. Vincent, Guadeloupe and the BVI have yet to be included into the franchise system.
Although the region is extensive, it is very small compared to large single country regions that have a larger number of offices and agents. Overall RE/MAX has close to 60 offices and about 350 agents in the Caribbean and Central America.
“The Cayman Islands is our oldest office within the region. They have been in business for 20 years and they have been doing a great job both the broker owners Kim [Lund] and James [Bovell] but also the agents,” says Caricote.
“They have an amazing team of agents here. And we are very proud from our headquarters operation and also from the regional operation we are very proud of this business.”
He adds that the Cayman Islands office is regarded as “the model office” for the region, because of its agents, high quality service and professionalism and because over the years it has been consistently top producing. “It is one of the best offices in the system,” he says.
The high level of service provision of Cayman’s real estate industry in general is underlined by the fact that Cayman is one of the few places that has licensing and offers a multiple listing service.
“Cayman is a very sophisticated market and as a matter of fact we know that people from Cayman have helped the real estate industry in other places. For example, when they set up the MLS in Turks and Caicos, it was done with the help of people from Cayman,” Caricote notes.
The drive to keep growing and add new franchises every year will continue, says Caricote.
As a result the diversity of different political and legal systems and languages spoken in the region will increase. In addition many agents and broker owners are not originally from the countries they operate in.
“We have expats from Canada, Europe or the US in places like Costa Rica or St. Martin, Bonaire. And our agent basis is very diverse.”
The challenge is to deliver services to such a broad base of different people and cultures in a way that it is applicable universally, Caricote says, but almost 30 years of experience and the vast amount of knowledge accumulated in that time should serve RE/MAX well in its growth.
“We can always pick good business practices from sophisticated markets, like the US and Canada, and implement some of those in our emerging markets.”
Training and resources
One of the key resources that RE/MAX offers its agents and brokers is RE/MAX University, an online system that provides educational materials and new industry trends, to any affiliate with a computer and an Internet connection.
“So whether agents are at home or travelling, they are able to pick up new ideas, training, courses they can take online,” he notes.
During his visit to Cayman Caricote delivered a presentation to the local RE/MAX agents that consisted of a review of all the tools that are available to all affiliates around the world.
The offering of services and tools is so large, he says, that normally one individual agent cannot use all of them. “So they have to pick and choose the ones that fit their business best.”
The RE/MAX University programme is constantly updated and every month at least 60 hours of new content and video are added.
“For example if an agent is interested in learning about marketing and promotion they can just key that in and they are going to find a lot of information about that, including videos, powerpoint presentations they can download and customize for their own purposes,” Caricote explains. “They have samples of advertising or marketing that people do in different parts of the world.”
He says the educational offering is “very comprehensive, covering everything that a real estate agents needs to know to succeed”, including motivational courses with sessions hosted by top coaches in the real estate industry like Brian Buffini or Richard Robbins, Howard Brinton or Tom Ferry.
The system recognises whether the person logging in is an agent or a broker and adapts the content accordingly. For instance in some cases it could be more geared toward the owners, covering topics such as recruiting and the retention of agents, motivation of the agents, profitability of the offices, topics that are of interest only for brokers.
In addition RE/MAX organises events like its large annual convention, which this year in Las Vegas saw between 6,000 and 7,000 attendees from different countries around the world.
Caricote says the convention is “a great opportunity for our affiliates to network with people from other countries, not only in terms of learning, but also in terms of business opportunities for all of them, because a lot of cross-border real estate transactions are being conducted these days”.
Many Europeans and North Americans are buying property in the Caribbean and many buyers from the Caribbean are looking to purchase properties in the North America and Latin America, creating a lot of cross-border opportunities, he adds.
This means agents can use events to generate more business by leveraging the network of RE/MAX franchises. Other opportunities for networking are the regional RE/MAX events like the one for the Caribbean and Latin America region that is going to take place in Miami from 28-30 September.
The RE/MAX Encounter of the Americas will focus commercial real estate as one of the trends that many agents are becoming more and more interested in, says Caricote.
Other issues addressed at the event will be how to use technology to improve one’s business as well as outreach programmes that determine where buyers are coming from and their objectives.
“It is very appropriate for our audience but also interesting for people from the US and Europe who are also interested in global business to have the opportunity to meet with agents from all over the world, so that, if they have clients interested in investing, they can refer that business.”
The economic situation and the business climate is improving, believes Caricote, who acknowledges that the Caribbean and Central America region was heavily impacted by the US housing crisis, albeit after some delay.
“2008 was the worst year followed by a little recovery in 2009 and 2010 is looking much better across all markets,” he says, as sellers are more willing to adjust prices, when it is required by the market conditions, and buyers who have been sitting on the sidelines see more good opportunities.
South American countries, in contrast, were less impacted by the problems in Europe and the US. “They are different markets that don’t depend on investors from North America. They have their own strong local markets,” he argues.
Local growth in South America is supported by the strength of the local economies and has developed its own momentum, which is also driven by more people being elevated to the middle classes and being able to access and afford homes that they previously could not.
This was not case in markets like Cayman, but Caricote maintains markets are recovering across the region. In particular luxury property markets should be optimistic, he says, giving as an example the latest statistics from Aspen, Colorado, which is one of the most upscale areas in the US and this year alone saw over 40 transactions above $10 million.
“The people that buy those kinds of properties are the same people that invest in places like Cayman or the Bahamas. We see that the market is starting to reactivate at that high level and that is going to be really good news for Cayman.”