By Tom Connor
Five years ago, when competition from online real estate companies backed by venture capitalists and hedge funds further raised the stakes in an already disrupted industry, Bill Raveis did what he has always done.
The 71-year-old CEO of William Raveis Real Estate, Mortgage & Insurance, the largest family-owned real estate company in the Northeast, turned to technology to completely refresh the business he founded in 1974.
A systems analyst and early techie with Westinghouse before leaving at age 27 to form a company that has outlasted his former employer, Raveis was a pioneer in introducing innovation and technology to the then-staid industry. In 1981, for example, William Raveis Real Estate was the first agency in the nation to use Data Point, a system for computerized listings and comparative and competitive market analysis, that itself was the first technology linking computers, thereby enabling them to “talk” to one another.
From left to right: Ryan Raveis, Co-President of William Raveis Inc., William Raveis, Chairman & CEO, Chris Raveis, Co-President of William Raveis Inc.
Now, responding to online competition from behemoths like Zillow, Trulia and Realtor.com, Raveis and his sons, Chris and Ryan, are deeply engaged in a technological and physical restructuring that has impacted every aspect of the company—from software and services to website and logo redesign, training and mobilizing branch offices. In the past year, the three have also refreshed the Raveis brand under the banner “Welcome to Civilization,” including a high-production-value, minute-and-a-half-long video on civility and courtesy in an often rough and tumble industry.
Given the rapid acceleration of technological development, Raveis has long understood the need for partners. Moving quickly, William Raveis Real Estate partnered with Microsoft Office 365 for foundational systems and software. That basic platform includes OneDrive, Delve, Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Sway. On top of Office 365, the company built Raveis365 to address its agents’ many needs and resources: Email, Tasks, Impact Marketing, Local Housing Data, Zip Forms, Contacts, Calendar University and Toolkit CMA. As a result, Raveis365 enables agents to connect more effectively with clients and close deals faster, giving them a customized approach no other company has. Added to this platform is Tiles, a Microsoft provider, and MoxieWorks for electronic signings, calendars, newsletters, news feeds and social media and integration with Yammer.
At the same time, as real estate agents have become more mobile, Raveis has renovated over 50 of the company’s 128 offices, converting them to a blend of Apple stores, Kinkos and Starbucks, but with collaboration areas to encourage agents to collaborate.
“This hasn’t just been about changing the technology,” Raveis notes. “It’s changing the entire company, similar to what happens when you renovate, say, your kitchen. If you replace the countertop or cabinets, everything else has to be updated!”
Yet the transformation of the branches also reflects Bill Raveis’s abiding belief in people and the company’s mantra that agents are its primary customers. “At the end of the day, real estate is about the relationship between agents and their customers—period,” he states. “Those relationships are never going to go away. Our job, through technology and training, is simply to enhance them.”
None of this has come cheaply. “Basically what we’ve done is turn the company upside down in the past five years, which has entailed millions of dollars,” says Raveis. “Why? Because we’re a family business, and we’re not going to sell the company or go away. We’re reinvesting profits back into the company because we intend to be around in the future.”