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Business Observer Friday, May 1, 2015 6 years ago

Augmented Realty

Some real estate firms resisted technology advancements. One firm embraces change, with stellar results.
by: Michael Hinman Tampa Bay Reporter

Real estate executive Ben DeBrocke's up-all-night worry, the anxiety of missing out on potential customers, has a solution.

It comes in technology that actually works all night.

It's a software system called Lead Router that instantly connects someone browsing for homes on the Web with a live agent. That saves not only manpower for the firm DeBrocke works at, Century 21 Beggins Enterprise, but helps the franchise stand out.

“No matter what time of day or night, it comes straight through our system, and goes out to all our agents,” DeBrocke says. “It calls them, it emails them, it ensures that when that potential buyer is waking up in the morning, he'll be hearing from one of our people.”

Real estate and technology haven't always gone well together, but it should, DeBrocke says. He would know -- DeBrocke is chief technology officer of Beggins Enterprises, an Apollo Beach-based real estate company he joined in the late 1990s.

Century 21's parent, Realogy Holdings Corp., developed Lead Router a decade ago. It offered the system to franchises, including Coldwell Banker, Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate and Sotheby's International Realty. The system costs more than $10,000 a year, and requires on-site technical expertise to maintain it.

DeBrocke has since created an automated process for Lead Router to connect with Century 21 Beggins associates. To function without the automation would require between five and 10 people, DeBrocke says.

Lead Router has produced more than 200,000 leads since it was put in place in 2007. Those leads can be tracked and followed up through the system. “To the customer, it looks like the agent is contacting them, and our agent really doesn't have to do anything,” DeBrocke says.

DeBrocke's work hasn't gone unnoticed. The national Century 21 office honored Beggins Enterprises with its Company Technology Award. With a mantra of “empower, educate, encourage,” the company has embraced technology.

Real estate entrepreneur Jim Beggins founded Beggins Enterprises in 1992. He had actually introduced Century 21 to Florida in 1973, opening 320 offices and managing 4,500 people. He sold that interest in the early 1980s, and moved to Apollo Beach, marketing the community's coastal Symphony Isles neighborhood.

When the Beggins family was ready to expand those operations a decade later, a Century 21 franchise became available.

Today, Jim Beggins' sons, Craig and Jeff Beggins, serve an area that includes Hillsborough, Pinellas, Sarasota and Manatee counties, covering nearly 3,500 square miles. Beggins Enterprise posted record volume in 2014, with 2,200 closings.

The technological advantage is felt not just with the real estate practitioners, but also with clients, CEO Craig Beggins says.

“You have to do this,” he says. “Even in Sun City Center, where the population is 55 and older, people are embracing technology to make the process smoother. And we have to be sure we're not just keeping up, but leading the way.”

Get in Front
Every morning, one of the more than 300 real estate agents in the eight offices that make up Century 21 Beggins Enterprises has a chance to interact with the franchise's president and CEO, Craig Beggins. It's a live video stream straight to agent computers, tablets and even smartphones -- eliminating the logistical management barriers caused many times by physical distance.

“We call it our team huddle,” Beggins says. “At 8:30 a.m., I go online with a microphone and headset, the whole nine yards.”

Beggins uses conferencing software from developer Adobe that not only allows the second-generation leader to break down discussions into tailored modules, but records for playback later. Driving to Sarasota from the firm's Apollo Beach headquarters is a 45-minute drive, Beggins says, and that takes hours out of his day just to give face time with his agents.

“You can't do texts and emails,” he says. “You have to be in front of everyone.”

Follow Michael Hinman on Twitter @BizTampaBay

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