NORTHFIELD — The dominant trend in the real estate industry the past few years has been consolidation, with large brokerages acquiring smaller agencies and getting even bigger.
Vanguard Property Group in this town was acquired by Prudential Fox & Roach, which itself then was acquired by Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices. Long & Foster Real Estate has been snapping up local agencies, the latest being Premier Properties Real Estate, of Longport, this month.
The biggest independent brokerage in Atlantic County and a sales leader for most of its 60 years, Balsley Losco Real Estate has remained elusive and intends to stay independent.
“I have had offers mailed to me, sent to me, from major companies who have purchased other companies. I’ve had substantial offers as recently as last week,” owner Carlo Losco said. “All through my career we’ve been the No. 1 target. They want us, or they want us out of the way.”
Losco, 57, of Linwood, has been with the company for 37 years and realizes “most in my position would be collecting a substantial pension by now. … But I’m not interested in anything but running this company for another 20 years.”
If anything, the trend toward national companies among competitors has increased his confidence in Balsley Losco’s future, because it enhances the advantages he sees in remaining local and independent.
For starters, Balsley Losco Real Estate doesn’t have to pay fees to a parent company.
“Some agencies pay 6 to 8 percent off the top of their commissions, and that money goes out of the community,” he said. “One-hundred percent of our money and effort gets invested in Atlantic County.”
More money staying local means more can go into sponsorships, marketing, advertising and such, he said.
“No question, that’s a big part of our success. That’s our plan — we have that advantage and we use it to our advantage,” Losco said.
Remaining fully and relentlessly local also has developed important connections with the 40,000 or so clients of the brokerage over the years, and their relatives and friends.
“They support us through the downturn. We’ve had a faithful, steady flow of clientele coming back to us,” he said.
And it has given the agency an experienced and high-performing staff of about 85 licensees, who average about 16 years with the firm, he said.
Another advantage to independence is the ability to rapidly change or add products and services.
The company is big enough that it developed its own real estate app, available in the iTunes and other stores, and was one of the first in the region to do so.
Yet when the market changes — sometimes as quickly as a storm hitting — Balsley Losco can adjust its efforts and offerings immediately.
“I can react on a dime, as an independent, where in most big corporations, by the time something filters down to the affiliates, we find we’re usually a year ahead in Atlantic County,” he said. “We want to always be first on the block with what’s applicable here.”
The company started in 1954 by actually building a lot of those blocks, as the developer G. David Balsley Inc., with offices on Shore Road in Linwood.
“Our company basically built a large percentage of the homes in Linwood in the ’50s and ’60s,” Losco said.
The home-building side overshadowed the realty brokerage until the mid-’70s, when mortgage-interest rates soared above 20 percent and the housing market collapsed.
“I came along as a sales person in 1977. … I proceeded to help liquidate the home inventory,” he said.
Losco became a top seller in Atlantic County and general sales manager in 1979.
In a couple of years, he became a partner with one of the founder’s sons, the late Don Balsley, who ran the insurance side of the business while Losco handled the realty brokerage. In 1983, the name was changed to Balsley Losco.
“This has been the top selling office in Atlantic County for almost its entire existence, even up to today,” Losco said.
From 2000 to 2006, it was among the top 500 selling agencies in the nation.
In those days, Balsley Losco Real Estate was selling 1,500 to 1,800 properties a year, he said.
Then the property bubble burst and the severe recession followed, and by 2009 annual sales had decreased by “a little more than half,” he said.
“It wasn’t until 2011 that we saw a small increase from that number. Then in 2012, we saw an increase of 30 percent, and another 30 percent in 2013,” he said.
For last year, the company sold or rented just short of 1,000 units.
“The market has definitely stabilized across the board. We’ve seen an increase in home prices,” he said.
The area still struggles with unemployment and diminished wages, “but inventory has consolidated enough, and with lower interest rates, we see reasonable stability in the marketplace.”
Multiple Listing Service figures show the trend.
In December, 153 properties sold in Atlantic County, up from 144 the year before. The time properties spent on the market before selling fell substantially, from 126 in 2012 to 105 last year.
As the market continues to recover, the company will focus on building its Balsley Losco Home Services division, he said.
“It’s very similar to a concierge service or an Angie’s List. Customers can call us and we can dispatch any home services, such as electricians, lawn maintenance, renovation, building, power-washing, anything,” Losco said.
Home-watch services include making sure a property is reasonably secured and warning absent owners of inclement weather and such.
The company is expanding its base of contractors, vetting them and making sure they’re insured. The service is automatically available to anyone who purchases or rents through Balsley Losco, and for others there’s a small annual or pay-as-you-go fee, he said.
“That’s going to be a huge push for us the next couple of years,” he said.
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