Altos Research Mike Simonsen Top of Mind Podcast Ginger Wilcox Better Homes & Gardens Real Estate

Growing an Iconic Real Estate Brand with Ginger Wilcox, Better Homes & Gardens Real Estate

By Mike Simonsen on May 8, 2024


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Mike Simonsen

Mike Simonsen is the founder and president of real estate analytics firm Altos Research, which has provided national and local real estate data to financial institutions, real estate professionals, and investors across the country for more than 15 years. An expert trendspotter, Mike uses Altos data to identify market shifts months before they hit the headlines.

In this episode of the Top of Mind podcast, recorded live at HousingWire’s The Gathering conference, Mike Simonsen sits down with Ginger Wilcox, President of Better Homes & Gardens Real Estate, to talk about her plans to grow the iconic international brokerage in a challenging market. Ginger shares insights into how they’re preparing their agents for what the future holds, why their size and scale helps them weather storms in the market, and the recommendations they’re giving home buyers to help them navigate and succeed. She also weighs in on AI and how technology is changing the consumer experience in real estate.

About Ginger Wilcox

Ginger_Wilcox (1)

Ginger Wilcox is the President of Better Homes and Gardens® Real Estate and is responsible for the strategic growth and operations for the BHGRE global network of more than 12,000 affiliated brokers and independent sales associates and approximately 420 offices across the United States, Canada, Jamaica, the Bahamas, Australia, and Turkey.
Ginger has held prominent leadership roles spanning real estate technology, brokerage, and transaction services. She has a proven track record of developing and growing unique brands in the industry, having served as Head of Industry Marketing and Relations for Trulia, an online real estate marketplace, where she focused on go-to-market strategies, marketing innovation and digital engagement.
Before stepping into her current role, Ginger served as CEO of RealSure, the joint venture between Anywhere and Home Partners of America that developed innovative solutions to reduce friction in residential real estate transactions. Before RealSure, Ginger was Chief Experience Officer at Homepoint, a leading mortgage lender that, under Ginger’s strategic direction and brand building efforts, grew into the third largest wholesale mortgage lender and the tenth largest non-bank mortgage lender in the United States with over 400,000 customers.
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About Altos Research

The Top of Mind Podcast is produced by Altos Research.

Each week, Altos tracks every home for sale in the country - all the pricing, and all the changes in pricing - and synthesizes those analytics to make them available before becoming visible through traditional channels.

Schedule a demo to see Altos in action. You can also get a copy of our free eBook: How To Use Market Data to Build Your Real Estate Business.

Episode Transcript

Mike Simonsen (00:17):

Tell us about Ginger. Tell us, give a little backstory to the listeners about who you are and your current role at Better Homes and Gardens.

Ginger Wilcox (00:26):

So nice to be here today. Mike. I'm Ginger Wilcox, I'm president of Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate and I'm about eight months in. I had the privilege of being able to step into Sherry Chris's former role as she was with a brand for 15 years. So I'm very excited to be here. I've been in the real estate industry for a very long time, navigated a lot of different roles from Trulia, home Point and many others.

Mike Simonsen (00:50):

So you're now as president of Better Homes Gardens. It is a big national brand, part of the Anywhere family. Correct. And so I'm interested today in learning about the market and what you see from the front lines and running a brand like Better Homes and Gardens. So tell me a little bit about Better Homes and Gardens as a real estate brokerage and the structure and why it's cool and that kind of thing.

Ginger Wilcox (01:22):

So Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate has about 420 offices and we are a global brand. We were founded 15 years ago. Last year we celebrated our 15 year anniversary. And we have a very unique connection because we're affiliated with better Homes and Gardens and that is something that's quite unique. Many people don't realize that Better Homes and Gardens is not just a print magazine or a cookbook. It has a very strong digital presence. About three years ago, the Better Homes and Gardens was acquired by a company called Meredith. They are the largest digital publisher in the world. And so the readership for Better Homes and Gardens is nearly 50 million readers a month. And we have access to that across both digital and print properties. And it really gives us a unique connection with consumers because consumers globally know our brand. They like us, they trust us, and that's very important in today's today's

Mike Simonsen (02:14):

Climate. So tell me about this brand. So Better Homes and Gardens is a brand I know, but I don't act like maybe I'm not the target audience, but it's an old brand, right? It's been around forever as an old magazine. So what's it mean now? How does that, so 50 million readers reach of consumers, what else does it mean? What else should I know about that?

Ginger Wilcox (02:42):

Well, better Homes and Gardens is really iconic. It's an iconic brand. It's globally recognized and it really truly has been in people's homes, there's been 40 million cookbooks sold. And so when you think about that, oftentimes people will

Mike Simonsen (02:53):

Say that's how you know it, they recognize

Ginger Wilcox (02:54):

The cookbook. But it has really evolved and I like to say that true icons and certainly the Better Homes and Gardens brand has evolved over the last hundred years. They actually celebrated a hundred years in people's homes about a year and a half ago. So when we think about that access from a digital perspective, it is a highly digitally focused brand now, and it's all about lifestyle and inspiration. It's where people go to get inspiration for their homes. And interestingly enough, when you think about who the decision makers are when you're doing a real estate transaction, it is oftentimes, oftentimes the women that are making a lot of those decisions. And the reach with the female demographic across the United States is enormous and it really is well known by most Americans. And that gives us a really unique opportunity. This month the magazine just dropped and it is the owning it issue, which is really thinking about how do we connect that lifestyle and inspiration with what we do every day, which is real

Mike Simonsen (03:58):

Estate. Okay. Alright, so I get it right. Didn't sound, I said old brand. Maybe I should have said established brand,

Ginger Wilcox (04:04):

Established what's old is new these

Mike Simonsen (04:06):

Days. There you go. Okay. Yeah, there's benefit in that. Okay. So how many agents?

Ginger Wilcox (04:12):

We have about 12,000 affiliated

Mike Simonsen (04:13):

Agents, 12,000 agents and around the world. And so it's now April, 2024. We just 23 was a crazy year. And you came in 23 to be the president. So tell me what the market's looking like. What are you seeing on the front lines right now this spring? Tell me what you're seeing.

Ginger Wilcox (04:42):

So obviously we're in a, I like to call it a complex market and there's obviously a lot of challenges that are facing our industry right now. We continue to have interest rates, we have housing inventory and obviously some of the regulatory challenges that have been coming up for Better Homes and Gardens. We are really focused on continuing to help our agents evolve and that's a big focus of mine as well. And thinking about how do we make sure that we're preparing our agents for what the future holds. And quite frankly, there's a lot that we don't know right now. There's a lot that's really in flux and I think that there's been a lot of headlines that create alarm in our industry and it's really too soon to tell what some of these changes are going to be coming down the pipe. But the more that we can prepare our agents and ensure that and our brokers to ensure that they have the tools and resources and information available as soon as we can get it has become a really big deal for us.

Mike Simonsen (05:40):

Okay. So that gives me two questions. One is intros specific things that you're seeing for agents or you're like, here's where the agents need to go that you can see right now. And I'm also interested, and I'm sure that there's legal restrictions about what you can talk about for sure, for sure. But tell me what you see for navigating the next phase. There's obviously some next phase of legal and compensation and stuff going on. So tell me about what you see the next phase has happened and how the world, the US home buyer market is going to change. Tell me what your vision is.

Ginger Wilcox (06:25):

So first of all, I'll say that anywhere was really at the forefront of being the first to settle on these seller commission lawsuits and

Mike Simonsen (06:34):

Right, okay. Settled to get it going.

Ginger Wilcox (06:38):

And we don't have our final settlement yet. We're expecting that to happen at some point in this year and we're still marching towards that. So that's key. And I think that where our focus has been on doing what we can to make sure that we're protecting the interests of our affiliated agents and brokers, and that by being the first to take that step was a key step in that. And we'll continue to be looking for ways we can advocate for our agents

Mike Simonsen (07:03):

As we about the future. So protecting those means, there was one big headline lawsuit, but there's a gazillion other things and state level stuff going on. Does that mean that we prevent copycat stuff like death by a thousand cuts kind of thing? Is that

Ginger Wilcox (07:22):

So the way that I would say it is that we're always looking on how we can ensure the best interest of our affiliate agents and brokers and whatever the issue may end up being. That's where our focus is. Obviously in this instance, we were able to reach a preliminary settlement. We were the first there to be able to do that. And one of the benefits of working with a company like anywhere is having the power of our scale to be able to think about how do we ensure that our brokers and agents have somebody fighting on their behalf. Got

Mike Simonsen (07:53):

It. I can understand that this kind of lawsuit thing actually shifts power to the bigger brands kind of feels like that the folks that can do that, legal protection and things like that. Well,

Ginger Wilcox (08:09):

I would say that I've been saying to our network for a while, now's the time for the professionals and for a while transactions were super easy. There were a lot of them, and it didn't require the same level of focus and interest. And whether it's a professional agent or a professional broker, the level of expertise, training and knowledge is continuing to grow. And I think that that gives us an enormous benefit because we have the ability to be able to provide a lot of the tools and resources and training to the people in our network that a small broker sometimes that's operating on their own doesn't have the ability to do. And we give back our brokers the ability of time because they don't have to go through the effort of comparing the talking points, all the different things. We're doing that on their

Mike Simonsen (08:56):

Behalf. Sure, that makes a lot of sense. Do you have a vision about or what you are recommending to buyer's agents in 2024? Do you have a different message for folks who have been and how they're interacting with consumers? And then do you have a view of what's changing already for home buyers?

Ginger Wilcox (09:19):

Well, I think that we've seen for a long time that consumers are looking for more transparency and they're looking for trust. And so for people that are working with home buyers, they need to continue to ensure that they're providing that level of transparency in creating that trust with consumer. So as we think about that, ensuring that our agents have the ability to put together their buyer presentations that are really showing their value proposition of how the individual agent works with that consumer at the end of the day, and we know that agents each offer different services and being able to articulate those services is really critical to anyone working with virus today.

Mike Simonsen (10:00):

So articulating the services, articulating a vision, and have you yet observed any change in the buyer behavior? Have you,

Ginger Wilcox (10:16):

I can't really speak too much to that yet. I think we're still really early in terms of what that looks like. And we obviously pay a lot of attention to the headlines far more in our industry than sometimes that translates directly to the consumer

Mike Simonsen (10:28):

As well, right? Right. We're in it so we know the news,

Ginger Wilcox (10:31):

We know the news and we see that. So I would say that it's still really early, but certainly it's going to, our industry is going to have to evolve because times are

Mike Simonsen (10:42):

Changing. One of the things that really struck me at that moment of the big settlement or the big the deal was the thing that struck me was how gleeful, how a hundred percent happy every consumer was. They were ecstatic that, and I thought it was just so fascinating. So many people think that it seems like consumers think it's a tremendous good deal for them.

Ginger Wilcox (11:17):

It's really interesting because when I think about what you see at the macro level is very different than you actually see when an agent is interacting with their specific consumer. And in so many cases you see that the satisfaction that they have with their agent is quite high. And we certainly see this in our network. We have an incredible customer satisfaction ratings and it's more of the macro that feeling. But then when you say, how does that relate to your agent, it's very different. And we have to remember

Mike Simonsen (11:48):

That that is so true. There's a phenomenon that Derek Thompson from the Atlantic calls something like, everything sucks except me, right? It's like the economy sucks and it's tanking. I'm doing great. Or we see it in school ratings. The school system sucks it, the schools are terrible. Great. Yeah, my schools, my kids go to great school. And so we see here the realtors, they suck. My deal was great. I'm perfectly happy with my realtor. Yeah, that's a really fascinating thing. So we haven't yet seen change in there if you were designing a real estate business, so agents coming into your, and tell me about this, the mix of agents in your network, are they more experienced or are they younger? Some brands go for younger agents for growth. How does it work in Better Homes, gardens? I would

Ginger Wilcox (12:49):

Say that we're really balanced and we have a combination of both. And I would say the same thing in terms of the population of our broker owners as well. And that actually creates a really unique connection with our brokers that and our agents and how they interact and connect with each other because we really leverage a lot of the expertise that's in the northern network to be able to help educate and inform the rest of the network. We recently had an all agent town hall. We brought in agents from around the country that are already in markets that are going deep into buyer representation. And we had them talk about what they're doing and how they handle a lot of these challenging conversations. And so agents can learn directly from other agents that have been doing some of these things that they may not have been doing in their local markets.

Mike Simonsen (13:36):

Okay. And are you guys growing? Of

Ginger Wilcox (13:40):


Mike Simonsen (13:40):

We're growing. Where are you growing? Where's growth happening now?

Ginger Wilcox (13:44):

Well, we're really focused on growth in a lot of areas is a newer brand. We have a lot of opportunity for growth, which is great. I actually just recently brought in a new head of my servicing and operations and she's going to be very focused on helping our existing affiliates be able to expand their footprint and kind of take advantage of the opportunities that present

Mike Simonsen (14:02):

Themselves. So are the affiliates, those are franchisees, local markets and some of them are big like metro brokers in Atlanta is like 2,400 agents or something like that, right? Yes.

Ginger Wilcox (14:15):

We just signed a renewal with Metro Brokers. They were one of our first brokers and they joined us in 2009. We announced it yesterday.

Mike Simonsen (14:22):

Great. Congratulations. Keeping that going. We're really excited

Ginger Wilcox (14:24):

To keep that

Mike Simonsen (14:25):

Growing. And so you've got those kinds of deals, but then is there a specific type of broker out there in the local markets that you see a mechanism that you see them growing by or what's working for the industry? So

Ginger Wilcox (14:45):

I would say there's two things that are really working to help them grow. One is we do a lot of work with them to be able to acquire other companies. And so as the work we do on the mergers and acquisition side is quite extensive and being

Mike Simonsen (14:56):

Able to support them. So you help those brokers buy others to grow through acquisition?

Ginger Wilcox (15:01):

Absolutely. Okay. We do that and then we also support them on the recruiting efforts in order to be able to drive new agents in their local markets. We do that through both training value proposition and helping them understand the value of the brand. And it's really interesting. Right now I'm seeing some really significant traction with some of our brokers who are able to leverage the consumer connection and we're in an environment where obviously listings really matter. And having that access to the consumer database that we have is really impactful for that and they're able to leverage that for recruiting.

Mike Simonsen (15:40):

So speaking of that and ramping up listings and shifting some of those technology side, obviously you have a background technology background with Trulia and other places along the way. So tell me about your vision for technology and where that goes for the agent and for the consumer. Are there benefits coming into the consumer, the home buyer seller, what do you see? Well,

Ginger Wilcox (16:08):

Obviously there's been a huge focus on making the transaction easier for the consumer and we're continuing to invest in a lot of that piece of it to make it easier for our agents to be able to serve the consumer in a great way. So I think we'll continue to see advancements there. Obviously AI is a big topic right now and how that'll be integrated in, and that's a big focus for us. We're really lucky because we have the benefit of having a broader anywhere organization behind us. And so we have an enormous amount of investment into our product and technology that is thought about on the cross brand level and that gives us an incredible ability to scale and also to be able to evolve with what is happening in the technology

Mike Simonsen (16:48):

Industry. So some of the AI things, you can see those coming down. Are there places where you're like, you know what, that's bullshit, that technology is not useful or overhyped or something like that that we should know about?

Ginger Wilcox (17:07):

Well, I think that in every technology cycle there's always overhype and what comes down to is how any technology is implemented to actually solve a real problem. And we're certainly seeing a lot of use of AI as we think about how agents are using it to market properties. But so there's always a hype cycle at the end of the day, but when we think about where our focus is, it's really about how do we ensure that we're empowering our agents and brokers with the tools that they need right now, whether it's managing their business or it's to reach consumers and how do we continue to make the technology easier? I obviously spent some time in mortgage and I really am hoping that we see some significant enhancements on that side,

Mike Simonsen (17:53):

Like mortgage automation. Yeah,

Ginger Wilcox (17:56):

It continues to be a pain point and it impacts everybody in the transaction and it's much slower than we would've thought to actually change.

Mike Simonsen (18:05):

Yes. Right. Okay. So mortgage has been actually slower to change and have, and this is a little on the spot we're sitting here at the conference. So do you have data on things like transaction speed or things like, I don't know, cash buyers or whatever things that might be happening that you could say this is underway?

Ginger Wilcox (18:30):

I dunno if I don't have the data at the tip of my fingertips right now today, but we certainly know that cash buyers have been a big thing over the last couple of years and it becomes easier, especially when you're looking at rising interest rates and there are a lot of them out there. But I don't know if I have any specific data that I can point to today

Mike Simonsen (18:50):

That's shifting things like we know that homes are spent fewer days on market than they used to, and some of that's market related, but is some of that technology related? Do you observe? Can it close faster?

Ginger Wilcox (19:05):

Absolutely. I think that certainly deals can close faster. Technology does make that easier. We continue to focus on streamlining the transaction and there's a lot of hurdles that have been in the way for a long time and technology can make that easier, faster communication happens much quicker today. But what that looks like going forward, it'll be really interesting to see if we can see sort of that monumental leaps because I don't feel like we've had the big shift that's going to fundamentally change in data market.

Mike Simonsen (19:35):

So incremental change, but not fundamental changes on things like that.

Ginger Wilcox (19:40):

We have to remember that consumers, while we're all looking to make this process as easy as possible, that consumers don't really want to move in seven days. There's the factor of lifestyle that impacts the,

Mike Simonsen (19:54):

Yeah, it's a big deal. It's a big deal. It's still a big deal. Technology doesn't fix that.

Ginger Wilcox (19:57):

And if you've ever tried to pack a house, it's not something that you can do in a day or two. So there's the function of how much easier can we make it, but then there's the practicality of what actually works for a home buyer and a seller and how does that connect to the actual days on market. Okay,

Mike Simonsen (20:14):

Yeah, that makes a lot sense. See, how about international? What do we need to know internationally? Some of the things I'm thinking about are in the US everybody's got a 30 year fixed mortgage. That's not true in a lot of the world. And so now if I'm on an adjustable mortgage in wherever Australia, now my mortgage payments are higher for the existing homeowners. So are you seeing things like you see different inventory trends, can you see, are markets crashing anywhere? Anything that we should know?

Ginger Wilcox (20:51):

I wouldn't say that that's the case today. And it's really interesting because I think that as we think about international, they really do look to what we do here in the us but it's very different market and it's very dependent on the country that you're looking at. So real estate is truly local.

Mike Simonsen (21:07):

Yeah. So are you looking to build new brands in Santorini or Well,

Ginger Wilcox (21:15):

Of course I'm looking to build them in all of the places I want to

Mike Simonsen (21:17):

Go. You want to go visit?

Ginger Wilcox (21:18):

Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. No, we absolutely are looking to grow international footprint and that is when I think about what my charter is, my charter really is growth and how do we grow the brand and that's obviously here domestically, but also looking at where we can grow it internationally and better. Homes and Gardens is a global brand and has reach and many international markets and we want to take advantage of for us, we look at what that footprint of the magazine is and all of the digital publications and we align our growth strategy very focused on that too. Got it.

Mike Simonsen (21:52):

Do you have long-term vision of the housing market? So you've had technology exposure, you've had mortgage and mortgage technology exposure, and now you're running this big brokerage brand. One of the things I like to ask my guests are what's the next decade look like? Do you have vision of what you think? There are all kinds of demographic trends. Is the boomers, are they finally going to sell their houses? And it's really a two part question. It's like what's your vision of that and do you have specific insight from your role or any of your roles that have formed that I should pay attention to?

Ginger Wilcox (22:32):

Well, I think that we obviously have to look at the demographics because there's kind of two shifts. We've got this aging population that is sitting on a lot of equity in their homes and what does that look like and how do they actually tap that to be able to fuel retirement is a key thing. And a lot of that population hasn't necessarily been moving. And then millennials have obviously been driving a lot of the market and that will impact housing over the next decade or so. What it actually looks like is I think still to be determined and a lot of that is going to be related to what happens in the economy.

Mike Simonsen (23:09):

Yeah, so you mentioned millennials and we have this dynamic of millennials driving a lot of the market, but I think in 2023 boomers were still the biggest home buyers. There were still net positive impact by the most.

Ginger Wilcox (23:28):

And in many cases that's related to when we're talking about cash buyers earlier.

Mike Simonsen (23:31):

Yes. Okay. For sure. They're the ones who have cash, they

Ginger Wilcox (23:34):

Have cash, and so that makes them less resistant to some of the impacts of the interest

Mike Simonsen (23:39):

Rates. Yeah, okay. And do you have marketing insight or you're obviously a skilled marketer, so what are you teaching people agents about what to think about next?

Ginger Wilcox (23:56):

Well, we're absolutely helping them think about what to do next and how to market to different demographics, which becomes key. It's actually one of the benefits of Better Homes and Gardens. We have some interesting data for our partnership with Better Homes and Gardens. We have a tool for our agents that's called Pinpoint, and they're able to go in and access certain key information about the demographics in their local area

Mike Simonsen (24:19):

And that you guys know because of the decades of having the media brand with a lot of consumers, a lot of locals, so that you have specific demographic insight. Okay, yes.

Ginger Wilcox (24:30):

Which is really interesting because as an agent you can go in and say, I'm interested in increasing my sphere of influence in this specific area. Help me find somebody that has these characteristics in this area. And we actually have a database of consumers that we're able to give them access to and then we actually provide the tools for them to be able to market directly to them.

Mike Simonsen (24:50):

Fascinating. Okay. That's cool. And there are lots of signals I imagine in that data for sure. And maybe it's an opportunity where it's like we can see it's cash buyer time, so it's time to go market to boomers in that space.

Ginger Wilcox (25:18):

This is actually a big focus of mine, one of my key initiatives is how do we better leverage our partnership with Meredith because we do have access to a lot of unique insights data to not only what people are looking for in terms of their home, there's a big component of that through the magazine, but through the trends of the demographics of the readership. And so how we leverage that is a key part of our focus, both from a marketing perspective, but insights as you know, are king and that is a key focus for the brand.

Mike Simonsen (25:52):

Okay. Well that's terrific. I really appreciate your insight. I wish you so much luck in the new role and growing Better Homes and Gardens and thanks for taking the time today. And so Ginger Wilcox everybody,

Ginger Wilcox (26:03):

Thank you so much, Mike.

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