When Ben and Karen Kelly started their real estate business in 1975, 90 percent of Chattanooga's home sales came through independent Realtors while agents aligned with franchised companies garnered only 10 percent of the market.
Forty years later, franchised real estate agencies now sell nearly 90 percent of the Realtor-assisted home sales in Chattanooga and independent agents sell only about 10 percent of all homes.
"The market has flipped from what it was," Kelly told more than 150 of his agents and other guests Tuesday in a celebration of his agency's newest franchise agreement. "But we still have outstanding agents, the best brokers in the South and our local name, Realty Center, remains strong."
For the fourth time in as many decades, Kelly is switching that name a bit with a new franchise partner. Realty Center, one of Chattanooga's biggest agencies which generated about $327 million in sales last year, on Tuesday switched its franchise from Prudential to Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices.
Kelly said Berkshire Hathaway, one of the many businesses in the portfolio of famed investor Warren Buffett, "is the most admired company in the world.
"We're delighted to be among the top 50 agencies they are starting out with" after taking over the former Prudential franchise agreements, Kelly said.
More than 700 of the blue Prudential for-sale signs around the region are being replaced this week by cabernet-colored Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices signs.
"We're excited and our agents are excited," said Byron Kelly, general manager for Realty Center and the son of the company founders. "The future looks incredibly bright from our perspective."
Agents are undergoing training in the new computer platform and other Berkshire Hathaway support systems this week. The company's Global Network Platform provides agents a suite of online tools, applications and services, and Berkshire Hathaway also provides new training, consultation and referral services, Kelly said.
Nationwide, Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices has grown to 34,548 agents at 1,075 offices in 47 states. Keith Smith, vice president of franchise sales for Berkshire Hathaway, said the company wants to expand into more U.S. markets in 2015 and will move into foreign markets next year.
"Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices represents a fantastic new beginning with a boundless future combined with the tremendous tradition and talent of Realty Center," Smith told Realty Center agents gathered for a reception at the Hunter Museum of Art Tuesday night. "Times are good around here and they are getting better every day."
Contact Dave Flessner at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 757-6340.