CHRIS RAVEIS – Filling a ‘void’

Beginning an aggressive expansion into Greater Boston and other parts of New England, Shelton-based William Raveis Real Estate & Home Services has opened two offices on Boston’s South Shore and is in the process of starting up a third.

Leaders of the firm, which is billed as New England’s largest privately owned, family-run real estate company, said they plan to fill a gap that currently exists in the Massachusetts residential real estate market.

“The Massachusetts market has a real void in it right now,” said Chris Raveis, the company’s vice president of business development. “There’s not a lot of competition in the market right now.”

The new offices are in the towns of Norwell and Hingham, and a third Massachusetts office will be opening in the next few weeks in the affluent Brookline and Newton area.

The firm, which has been in business for nearly 30 years, plans to expand into the Bay State’s North Shore and MetroWest suburbs this year, according to Raveis. “We plan to come into the Massachusetts market fairly aggressively,” he said. “Right now every office that we’re opening in Massachusetts has been a start-up,” although there the firm also is considering the acquisition of existing real estate offices, he said.

In addition to the Bay State, the company is eyeing opportunities to jump into the Rhode Island market within the first half of this year. According to Raveis, the company has explored several options, including acquisitions, joint partnerships or affiliations with existing companies, and starting up new offices.

“We have opportunities that could put us there [Rhode Island] with multiple locations at once,” said Raveis.

With 43 offices in Connecticut, the Raveis company has been a competitive presence in the region. Last year alone, the company managed a sales volume of more than $32 billion.

Raveis’ entrance into the Bay State market comes roughly four months after Lexington, Mass.-based The DeWolfe Cos. was acquired by real estate powerhouse NRT Inc., a subsidiary of New York City’s Cendant Corp. The local publicly traded company was merged with Coldwell Banker Hunneman to form Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage. The acquisition created a Goliath of sorts that has snatched up a major market share in many Bay State communities.

That merger may account for the “void” Raveis sees in the Bay State market. Except for the fact that DeWolfe was a publicly held company, Raveis is similar in many ways to DeWolfe prior to the acquisition. According to company officials, William Raveis offers a different “culture” for real estate agents and consumers – the family environment of a smaller independent that doesn’t have to answer to stock holders or corporate interests but at the same time the management systems and services that bigger players in the market provide.

“That [DeWolfe’s] former culture is most like ours,” acknowledged Raveis. However, Raveis emphasized that the firm’s expansion was planned long before the DeWolfe merger with Coldwell Banker was even announced.

‘A New Entrance’
Some longtime Realtors expect that William Raveis will recruit many former DeWolfe employees who either didn’t want to work at the newly merged firm, or didn’t survive the office consolidations. Raveis is planning to hire at least 30 agents for each office in Hingham and Norwell.

Raveis said the company isn’t targeting only old DeWolfe employees. “We’re looking for the best agents,” said Raveis.

The company has already tapped a longtime Realtor with solid real estate connections, Betsy Currier, to develop their South Shore offices. A resident of Hanover, Mass., Currier has more than 15 years of experience in real estate and is a past president of what was then known as the Plymouth County Board of Realtors.

The real estate industry’s increasing consolidation has led to similar patterns of company expansions in other parts of the country, according to John Fridlington, executive vice president of the Massachusetts Association of Realtors.

“I don’t know if there is a void [in the Bay State market],” said Fridlington. “I think there is an opening for a new entrance when you have consolidation.”

The entrance of William Raveis into Massachusetts, however, is sign of the local real estate market’s strength, according to real estate observers.

“It’s a very clear message that the Bay State real estate market is considered to be a very vibrant one, a very healthy market. The Raveis company is a very established and competitive company and they’ve clearly made a decision that it made good business sense to be in this marketplace,” said Fridlington.

William Raveis was one of the first firms to embrace the one-stop shopping concept – a strategy also embraced by DeWolfe. Raveis offers services to buyers and sellers to help make their move as smooth and stress-free as possible. For example, the company provides a personal move coordinator to help clients coordinate all the details of their move. The firm also offers savings on home services such as carpet cleaning, painting and plumbing.

“The Raveis company was a leader in trying to focus on home services,” said Fridlington.

Mary E. Dawson, one of the broker/owners of Century 21 Annex Realty in Quincy, Mass., said William Raveis will probably be most directly in competition with Coldwell Banker.

A Realtor for more than two decades, Dawson said that the Raveis company made a wise choice in selecting Currier to manage the South Shore offices. Currier formerly worked at Coldwell Banker.

“Betsy is a brilliant woman when it comes to real estate and her knowledge of the marketplace she’s in and the people who are in that marketplace,” said Dawson, adding that Currier will likely be able to draw top-notch agents to the firm.

In addition to Coldwell Banker, William Raveis will also be in competition with some of the smaller and larger independently owned real estate companies on the South Shore, including Norwell-based Jack Conway & Co.

With 36 offices concentrated in Greater Boston, Southeastern Massachusetts, the South Shore and Cape Cod, Jack Conway is the largest independently owned real estate company in the Bay State.

“Anytime consumers have more choices, I think they win,” Fridlington said.