Just a year ago, the northward march along the coast of the nation’s largest independent residential real estate company brought it to South Jersey.

In March 2013, Long & Foster Real Estate acquired the longtime Avalon Real Estate Agency, and since then has added three more offices in the region.

“We saw the New Jersey shore as a really good place for us to grow,” said Terry Spahr, manager of the Long & Foster region covering New Jersey, Delaware and Eastern Shore Maryland.

“Most of the shore communities are second-home communities, and a lot of buyers there are coming from communities where we already have a significant presence,” he said.

Long & Foster already is strong in the Delaware beachfront market, so it was “a natural extension to progress to the New Jersey shore,” he said.

The Chantilly, Va.,-based company also acquired agencies in Longport and Wildwood Crest and brought a Margate office into its operations through affiliation, so many residents along the shore are seeing the Long & Foster name for the first time.

In the industry, it is well-known as a privately held powerhouse in the MidAtlantic/Northeast region, with more than 10,000 agents and $24.8 billion in sales in 2012.

Long & Foster Real Estate has sister companies that cover the other aspects of homeownership, including Prosperity Home Mortgage, Long & Foster Insurance and Long & Foster Settlement Services.

These added another $23 billion in business for the parent, the Long & Foster Companies, which is still owned by the Foster family. Spahr said founder Wes Foster is still active in the business at age 80.

The combination of private ownership and large size gives Long & Foster substantial advantages that appeal to independent agency owners, who typically work for the company after the acquisition.

“We’re very stable financially, and we have a similar culture to independent agencies — very customer and service oriented, and entrepreneurial,” Spahr said. “We give our agents a lot of freedom in how they grow the business.”

William Soens, who had owned the Avalon agency for 26 years and remains its president and broker of record, said Long & Foster has higher expectations for agents, so the acquisition “was scary for some but exciting for those who want to be with a forward-looking, higher-level company.”

Soens said everyone in the 50-person real estate office, including 21 agents, elected to stay and join Long & Foster.

“They have the big company that’s good in a lot of areas, but their whole basis is agent-oriented, not like a typical company trying to extract every dollar out of the operation,” he said. “They realize their agents are the way to excel.”

In November, Long & Foster acquired Cabrera Realty in Wildwood Crest, a 15-agent office founded in 2006 by Don and Jeanine Cabrera. She continues to lead the agency, while he has joined the company’s resort rentals division.

Then in January, the company acquired Premier Properties, a 25-year-old office with 11 agents in Longport. Former owners Jerome and Angel DiPentino are continuing with Long & Foster, he as the office’s broker. Mike Mavromates is branch manager in Longport as well as in Avalon.

Mark Arbeit and Mitch Tennehill, founders of Mark Arbeit & Co. in Margate, continue to lead their eight licensed agents through Long & Foster’s Elite Entrepreneur Platform, which allows top producers to build their own business within the Long & Foster brand and organization.

Arbeit called the company’s agent support “stellar” and said it added new dimensions, for example, to his already robust use of digital marketing.

“They’re the exclusive representative for Christie’s International Real Estate, and the whole Internet presence and social media they brought to me just enhanced what I do,” Arbeit said. “It offers so much more exposure to my listings.”

Soens said the marketing reach of Long & Foster is unrivaled, and includes a two-page advertisement each Friday in The Wall Street Journal in which agents can place listings, and the Extraordinary Properties magazine published by one of its divisions.

“To an agent, that is just power. I can go into a listing presentation and talk about our marketing power with Christie’s and all that exposure,” he said. “It’s nothing but good.”

Soens said Long & Foster wanted its first acquisition to be the Avalon agency, with a reputation established over nearly five decades.

“My partner, Paul Leiser, had met Terry Spahr, Wes Foster’s son in law, who manages the Philadelphia district,” Soens said. “He came to the shore and knew expansion was at some point in the cross hairs of the company, and obviously Avalon/Stone Harbor is a premier market.”

Spahr said his district office is just his laptop and his car, and he spends each day in a different Long & Foster agency.

“It’s good, it keeps you in the game and understanding what’s important out in the field,” he said.

Being a circuit manager traveling through his tri-state territory from his home in Ardmore, Pa., also enables him to scout and research future acquisitions for Long & Foster, which has doubled its New Jersey offices to 12 in the past three years.

“We’re actively looking into more markets along the shore, and certainly inland as well,” Spahr said.

Contact Kevin Post:

609-272-7250

More than 30 years’ experience reporting and editing for newspapers and magazines in Illinois, Colorado, Texas and New Jersey and 1985 winner of the Texas Daily Newspaper Association’s John Murphy Award for copy editing.