(L to R) Jack Miller, CTO, CENTURY 21 Canada, President & CTO, T3 Sixty; Morgan Carey, Founder & CEO, Real Estate Webmasters; Brian Rushton, EVP, CENTURY 21 Canada
Editor’s Note: This is the cover story in the January issue of RISMedia’s Real Estate magazine. Subscribe today.
How do you follow up on the success of a bold, ambitious rebrand? With the largest custom technology build in modern real estate history, of course. CENTURY 21 Canada is stepping it up in a big, big way. Why is this storied company making such massive investments? It’s simple: so their agents can compete and win.
The Backstory Nearing the launch of their new technology platform, CENTURY 21 Canada (C21) finds itself in a familiar place once again: on the leading edge. After all, it was a little over a decade ago when C21 first became the market leader in real estate technology after investing heavily in their first online platform.
Working closely with a small vendor, C21 had spent nearly half a decade creating and perfecting its vision before launching it in mid-2007. While five years of development sounds like an eternity today, that was the norm for web development back then, regardless of sector. The pace of technological progress had yet to hit its stride. Not only were online platform builds far more expensive than they are today, there was also a commonly held view that a platform would endure for a significant period of time.
Yet, as C21 discovered, this would not be the case. The platform was not agile enough to accommodate new innovations. And neither was the vendor-client partnership, for that matter. C21 quickly learned the expensive downside of being the sole client of a small firm: They were also the sole source of R&D funding. With the C21 contract in hand, the vendor had no real incentive to innovate, which only further added to the sensation of C21 falling behind.
In 2015, C21 brought in renowned real estate consultancy T3 Sixty to complete a major review of the system. Around the same time, C21’s original technology vendor was acquired. Following a comprehensive review, the only logical recommendation was for C21 to make a change—and fast.
Impressed by T3 Sixty’s engagement, C21 not only decided to follow the firm’s recommendation, they also made a strategic decision to appoint T3 Sixty CTO and President Jack Miller to act as C21 CTO to manage the project.
“We were looking for an outside perspective on how to evolve the company into the future. T3 Sixty has an excellent reputation in the industry, and after meeting with CEO Stefan Swanepoel and Jack Miller, we knew this new perspective would be a good fit,” says Martin Charlwood, vice chairman and CEO, CENTURY 21 Canada.
As president and CTO, T3 Sixty’s Miller had spent nearly two decades in the real estate industry. More notably, he had led technology teams at several influential brokerages and franchises. It just made sense for C21 to engage T3 Sixty to lead the RFP process and subsequent project implementation.
“T3 Sixty understands innovation, trends and the impact change is having on the real estate industry. With the firm’s background in both real estate and technology, they provided excellent expertise on helping us continue to be leaders in this space in Canada,” says Charlwood.
The T3 Sixty team saw a big opportunity ahead for C21. “What impressed me about C21 was their understanding that the technological landscape had changed, and that they needed to, as well,” says Miller.
The Process With the T3 Sixty team now on board, C21 quickly honed in on what they needed in a new platform. The top priority was putting the needs of agents front and center.
“CENTURY 21 Canada has always prided itself on prioritizing technology. We also like to provide our agents with all the tools they need from the moment they enter the business. As technology changes, we’ve been able to offer more marketing tools and on-demand training, which ultimately gives us a more engaged culture,” says Brian Rushton, executive vice president of CENTURY 21 Canada.
The need to support agents with modern technology is only growing. For the industry, new portals like Zillow and VC-backed brokerages like Compass pop up frequently, creating further competition and pushing technological boundaries further. Consumers are also more tech-savvy than ever before. Homebuyers and sellers have high expectations for the look, feel and functionality of the online experience, plus a growing appetite for data and information.
From 30,000 feet, C21 knew they needed the new platform to be agile, with a higher level of performance, stronger lead management tools and exceptional marketing capabilities. Down at ground level, that resulted in an exhaustive 150-page RFP detailing high-level requirements of C21’s big-picture needs at the time.
“Scoping a project of this magnitude is a major project in and of itself. At 150 pages, this is by far one of the largest RFPs our group has ever worked on for a brokerage or franchise company,” explains Miller.
It was crucial that C21 identify a vendor that would not only deliver against the RFP, but that would also be flexible around new requirements, such as features that may not have been contemplated in the original scope, but would later be viewed as game changers for agents. And having learned the lesson from their previous vendor relationship, C21 needed a vendor that was willing to enter into a true partnership, invest heavily in R&D and be a master innovator.
“A true enterprise partner needs the depth of expertise, the know-how and the resources to get it done,” says Miller. “There were very few custom vendors who could manage a large enterprise-client relationship and deliver a very large, complex project.”
The Platform Today, some 18 months later, C21 is set to launch their new platform in the first quarter of 2019. The innovative front-end design and comprehensive CRM will position C21 as the market leader in technology once again.
Perfectly timed with the C21 rebrand that took the industry by storm last year, the site is chock full of features that will redefine how agent and brokerage technology can enable and enhance day-to-day workflows.
“Sales representatives need technology that integrates across all platforms and helps them connect with consumers quickly and effectively,” says Miller. “The next C21 platform does all that, but also provides a sales rep with the ability to customize the offering to best suit their business needs.”
The platform also includes a highly customizable marketing center that real estate professionals can access in order to manage their marketing collateral. Additionally, subdomain websites will provide agents with their very own online brand, transitioning from a simple profile page on the old platform to a full website connected to the c21.ca platform. Over 10,000 agents will be on the platform across Canada.
It took 30,000 development hours to deliver against the RFP and all the additional new features identified as game changers. To put that in perspective, it would have taken a single full-time developer over 20 years to build.
Meet the Vendor Which real estate technology vendor could possibly handle a 30,000-hour custom project in less than two years? C21 completed an exhaustive search, interviewing only the best in the enterprise space, also undertaking thorough due diligence. In the end, they identified only a single vendor that could do the job: Real Estate Webmasters Inc. (REW).
“REW has unique capabilities within the industry,” says Miller. “They’ve built some incredible-looking sites. They’re investing in their web technology to make it the best in the industry. They’ve demonstrated a long-term commitment to maintaining design excellence for what they provide for the web. Plus, they’re one of the few places where you can get whatever you like. If you have the budget for it, you can build any way you want to go with them, which is really terrific.”
With the launch of the largest-ever custom website project on the horizon, Real Estate Webmasters’ success story continues to grow.
Founded in 2004 as a custom website firm in British Columbia, REW is focused on the high end of the real estate industry. In fact, according to Morgan Carey, REW’s founder and CEO, the company’s mantra from the beginning has been to concentrate on the high-producing, long-term, here-to-stay companies. This has allowed REW to consistently create more innovative products than other companies in the same arena.
Working with top-performing agents, teams and brokers, including celebrity clients like Barbara Corcoran and Fredrik Eklund, the award-winning company catapulted into success and now boasts 150-plus employees in five locations across North America. Named one of “Canada’s Fastest Growing Companies,” REW has been repeatedly listed in the Profit 500, Canada’s most respectable and influential ranking of entrepreneurial achievement.
While most of REW’s customer base is in the U.S., adding a major Canadian brokerage firm is a huge success story that will ultimately pave the way for the company to bring high-end technology to Canadian agents and brokerages.
“When we announced the partnership with CENTURY 21 Canada, many C21 agents had already approached us saying that they wanted to work with us,” says Carey, who notes that the partnership will go a long way toward boosting the company’s brand recognition, while at the same time giving even more credibility to REW and adding to its great reputation.
Lessons and Takeaways for Brokerages and Developers “A franchise-level project, the launch of the largest-ever custom real estate platform is set to shake up the industry as we know it, causing franchises across the board to realize that it’s time to step up their game,” says Carey. For companies considering a similar move, he advises they take the following lessons into consideration:
Importance of facilitation on both sides. “No matter the size, projects can go out of scope if there isn’t facilitation on the side of the vendor, as well as the client,” says Carey. While the process of creating the largest-ever custom real estate platform was a success through and through for both CENTURY 21 Canada and REW, “having strong client partners who are also industry and technology veterans is critical. Jack Miller, chief technology officer at CENTURY 21 Canada, played a key role in this respect, providing a great show of leadership by taking the time to prepare ahead of meetings and being able to give direction to the team throughout the process,” adds Carey.
Importance of true partnership and expertise. “Great partnerships begin with a mutual level of respect and the willingness to step back and let the experts take care of their respective responsibilities. While it can be a challenge for real estate brokerages when they don’t necessarily understand what constitutes the latest and greatest technology, CENTURY 21 Canada allowed us to take the lead as far as design and technology consultants. In addition, we facilitated a healthy exchange of ideas around web UI (user interface), language and accessibility, helping CENTURY 21 Canada to take the most innovative and cutting-edge approach to their solution,” notes Carey. “Successful partnerships aren’t about preventing problems, but rather, solving problems together,” he adds.
Importance of technology and innovation in real estate. “While the project was a huge undertaking for CENTURY 21 Canada and Real Estate Webmasters—both of which are tech- and innovation-driven—it also redefines how agent and brokerage technology can enable and enhance day-to-day workflows,” concludes Carey.