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Jack Gaughen Realtor ERA saw 17 percent sales growth in 2012

New president of Hampden Township-based firm talks added role, market growth

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Barbara Schmidt. Photo/Submitted
Barbara Schmidt. Photo/Submitted

Hampden Township-based Jack Gaughen Realtor ERA is celebrating its 50th anniversary.

Barbara Schmidt has been with the region's No. 3 residential real estate company for nearly 20 of those years.

As York sales manager for most of that time and, more recently, as district sales manager, she has seen JGR ERA grow and expand its reach from the Harrisburg area down into York, Adams and Franklin counties.

Much of that expanded footprint occurred because of acquisitions in the early part of the last decade, following the firm's 1999 move to join forces with NRT LLC, the nation's largest residential real estate brokerage.

New Jersey-based NRT LLC is a subsidiary of Realogy Holdings Corp., which went public last year.

In January, Schmidt was promoted to president, where she oversees JGR ERA's daily sales operations and business development of its 10 offices and roughly 300 employees.

The company saw a 17 percent bump in closed-sale volume compared with 2011. Its property management division also saw a double-digit increase.

"The market is definitely moving. It's coming back," Schmidt said.

The Business Journal sat down with her last week to discuss her new role, growth in company sales and her thoughts on the housing market.

Q: How is this role different from your previous one?

A: As a district manager, I was responsible for the York office as a manager and oversaw four other offices. So, I was responsible for half of our field. I was also involved in some projects for the company.

The difference is having the 10 offices now, instead of the five, and being completely responsible for operations, whereas before less so. I'm very field-oriented, coming from 25 years in the field. I spend as much time as I can in the offices, while still giving support to our corporate staff.

What is your growth strategy, especially as the housing market continues to recover? Is the focus more on organic office growth or through acquisition?

We look to grow in two ways. One is what we do call organic growth, which is agent by agent. The other way is through mergers and acquisitions, where folks are ready to join forces with another company.

We're ready, willing and able. We always have conversations going on (since we're) covering six counties. (Last decade,) seven offices were added in a two-year period. It just depends. Those were companies that were absorbed and did create new locations for us. Other times, they just come into existing locations.

We're seeing more (career changes). It isn't what it was once. People are waiting to be convinced that the market really is on strong footing.

But we're absolutely seeing an increase in (agent) interest. Over the last few years, we've seen an increase in agents who have full-time jobs. We've probably been more flexible than ever, given the economy, working with part-time, full-time agents.

How well did the company do in 2012 compared to 2011?

It was a nice swing. We looked at a 12 percent increase in units year over year and about a 4 percent increase in sales price. In total, we were right around 17 percent in total volume. That was healthy.

Trends are fairly similar in the (multiple listing services) between the areas. All of the MLSs saw an increase in units and a modest increase in sale price. We were glad to even see a modest increase in sale price.

What do those numbers say to you about where the market has been and where it's going?

We're still unraveling from the short-sale and foreclosure situation. So, that will help keep prices down a bit, most economists feel. That being said, at the same time, inventory seems to be, even nationally, decreasing, which is causing pressure on prices upward.

So we have an interesting situation going where those two forces are at work. The (National Association of Realtors) is reporting the lowest level since 2005 in active listings.

I think there is a good chance we will see an increased number of multiple offers. (And) we're pleased to see there seems to be an increased level of activity (in the higher price levels).

What might hamper market growth this year?

The whole financial piece. It's everything from sellers not being able to afford to sell their homes to buyers not being able to be qualified in this current economic environment where lenders are very careful, understandably.

Appraising properties continues to be a challenge because of the changing values. Short sales or foreclosures might sell at a lower price than a regular resale, so you have two different scales going. It's hard for appraisers because you have those at work simultaneously in the marketplace.

It's a fairly conservative area. People aren't going to make decisions to sell and buy until they are convinced things are OK. When they are feeling confident, the market moves forward. And we do think there will be increased confidence this year.

How much stock do you put in what others are doing?

You're always alert to trends and watching, listening and reading. It's good for any business to be aware of what their competition is doing. We are, I think, trendsetters in many ways. I think there are folks looking at us for what we bring to the table.

Our technology is amazing. That's where we can harness the strength of our different companies across the country.

We started a program called Homebase, which is a transaction management platform. We work with the largest relocation network, Cartus, and have clients coming and going from all parts of the U.S. and (traveling) internationally.

Through Homebase, we're able to store every document such that the buyer can go online with their password and have access to everything. It's a huge piece.

By the numbers

10: Number of offices.

300: Estimated number of employees.

2,300: Estimated number of transactions in 2012; up from 2,090 in 2011.

$410 million: Estimated closed-sale volume in 2012; up from about $350 million in 2011.

More about Barbara Schmidt

Barbara Schmidt lives in Spring Garden Township with her husband, Peter. They have two children, twins Alison and Benjamin, who are 26.

Schmidt, 56, is a 1978 graduate of Syracuse University.

Jason Scott

Jason Scott

Jason Scott covers state government, real estate and construction, media and marketing, and Dauphin County. Have a tip or question for him? Email him at jasons@cpbj.com. Follow him on Twitter, @JScottJournal. Circle Jason Scott on .

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