If Ebby could have flown down and hand-picked a charming, intelligent, engaging millennial to lead her company into the 22nd century, or what Thomas Friedman calls the “Age of Acceleration,” I have no doubt she would have picked Chris Kelly.
I had a chance to sit down and grill Chris last week, and even with my horse bucking-sore behind, I was glued to my seat listening, learning his background, vast experience, and take on the reality of selling real estate in a highly competitive, digital world where the full value real estate model is being chipped away by so many different entities. Who are they? Entities that sure did not exist when Ebby started the firm: the i-buyers, the 100 percent real estate commission crowd, and the disruptors who want to pack the entire real estate transaction into one easy online click.
Click this: don’t forget that when Ebby Halliday started selling real estate, those cinder block homes in northwest Dallas, she was a disruptor herself!
But Ebby Halliday, now folded into the core of Berkshire Hathaway’s HomeServices of America, is the largest real estate company in Texas by sales volume, the twelfth largest in the country, and controls a huge chunk of the local real estate market with Ebby Halliday, Dave Perry-Miller, and Williams Trew in Fort Worth. The company sold more than $8 billion in real estate last year. Ebby left the company she created to her closest friends and family to nurture, so it had to be a very special person stepping into the president’s office at the company’s Sigma Road headquarters in North Dallas.
Even more telling: Chris Kelly is not settling into anyone’s old office. He is moving into the space just behind the reception desk at corporate. He doesn’t plan to be sitting in his office all day: Chris is mobile, spends a great deal of time outside of his office zipping between Ebby’s branch offices.
Three take-away zingers told me that Chris, the first attorney and first outsider to lead this company, is not just the right man for the job, he is the perfect man —
“I serve the agents, so the agents can serve their clients,” said Chris, ” that’s my most important role.”
“Competition? It’s good for you — competition gives you the chance to sharpen your own tools…”
“We have to understand that in Real Estate, there is now no Sears or J.C. Penney’s anymore, no middle of the road. There is either discount service or Neiman Marcus, and the Ebby Halliday Companies are the Neiman Marcus of Real Estate in North Texas. Especially now that the company has the power of HomeServices of America backing it with the vast, cumulative experience of so many similar brands. We no longer have to re-invent the wheel.” Jump for the video…
Chris Kelly comes to Dallas from Kansas City, where Ebby Halliday, of course, also once lived. He worked at ReeceNichols, the “Ebby Halliday” equivalent in Kansas City real estate and a wholly owned HomeServices of America company, like Ebby.
Was that Kansas connection he shares with Ebby intentional?
“From the first day onward, if I had had any reservations about this move, they were wiped out,” says Chris. “All the pieces fit. This was definitely the right decision.”
Chris is simply amazed at the growth in Dallas, a lot of it coming, like him, from the midwest. He tells me that one-third of Iowa moves to Kansas City, and then one-third of Kansas City moves to Dallas.
The Kansas City native went to law school at Santa Clara University in California, then returned home to practice real estate law for seven and a half years. That, too, was a bit of a coincidence: he had worked at a Kansas City law firm during summer breaks from law school. That firm melded into Polsinelli Law.
But there is always a real estate connection. Chris’ sister, is a Kansas City Realtor with ReeceNichols. (ReeseNichols was two separate Kansas City brokerages which merged in 2002.) He was asked to accompany a group of ReeceNichols agents on a trip to Cabo. That’s when he learned the firm was looking to hire an in-house attorney.
He joined ReeceNichols Real Estate in 2007 and served as corporate legal counsel before being promoted to chief administrative officer in 2013. Kelly was actively engaged in all aspects of brokerage operations and as a licensed broker, Kelly provided guidance and direction to the company’s 2,600 licensed REALTORS®.
“I was really drawn more to the business side of real estate,” says Chris. “ReeceNichols is the kind of firm that lets you just flourish and grow, there is no holding back based on on job titles.”
In 2017, Kelly joined HomeServices as Senior Counsel where he supported the company’s acquisitions and technology initiatives. In essence, his entire real estate career was nourished at HSA.
“There are so many strengths to being owned by the same enterprise,” he says. “For one, there is no finger-pointing within the various services: we are all one family. And the sharing of knowledge is huge — our business model is not just real estate.”
Brokers today, says Chris, need to look to multiple streams of revenue as their splits vanish. That is, income from mortgage services, title, insurance, relocation, apartment leasing, all resources needed and used by consumers in the buying process.
I asked about Allie Beth Allman & Associates, another Berkshire Hathaway brand also selling luxury homes in the Dallas market. (HomeServices is a Berkshire Hathaway affiliate.) Are the two brands ever going to merge?
“We will continue to look at our market closely,” said Chris. “But HSA owns multiple brands in many markets — two in Atlanta, four in Omaha, and three in the Lexington region. So owning multiple brands in one market is not uncommon.”
There is, he told me, no immediate plan to merge the two brands, but there are many opportunities to see where the two brands can work together to thrive and succeed.
“Why would we get rid of a brand that is resonating so well with the consumer?” he asks.
And I asked about the iBuyers: Coldwell Banker launched cataLIST to compete with OpenDoor, Knock and Offerpad. Despite the sometimes 12% haircut on equity, for some sellers the convenience is worth it.
“Right now the iBuyer market is less than 5% of the total market, but we are watching that segment,” says Chris.
And he is closely tracking Dallas, where the population is expected to double by 2030.
“We need to position ourselves to grow with the city as well as the industry,” says Chris. “Move ahead of where businesses and consumers are going.”
Which could surely mean future expansions and acquisitions.
“The Jerry Reece theory of growth is to follow McDonalds & Starbucks, and position yourself where the sphere of influence overlaps,” he says. “There are many opportunities for this company to grow in North Texas: northward, the Fort Worth area, and in the second home communities on the peripheries.”
A transplant himself, Chris and his family — wife Melinda, fifteen year old Chloe, seven year old Hadleigh, four year old son Jack — are in temporary housing as they get to know Dallas and search for their forever home here. What, I ask, do the Kellys like most about the greater Dallas area?
“The people, 100%,” says Chris without hesitation. “Everyone we meet is amazing.”
Chris is also bringing changes to Ebby: look for a new web platform, new CRM tools, consolidation in tech and acquisitions, perhaps of companies to further bolster the firm’s tech strength.
“I’m a big believer in communication,” says Chris, “and treatment of agents. We may be a big company in size and geography, but we communicate a lot.”
Chris says his goal (one of many), is to have all agents hear from corporate on a regular basis. You will be hearing from Chris Kelly a lot, so get ready: