New Ebby Halliday CEO plans to build on the brand with more agents and tech

Chris Kelly is getting a crash course on navigating around North Texas.

Ebby Halliday Realtors’ new CEO, a Kansas City transplant, has spent more than a month hitting all of the company’s 33 Dallas-Fort Worth offices.

“In the next two weeks, I will have been to every one of our offices,” said Kelly. “My role — the way I view it — is I serve the agents so the agents can serve the clients.

“The only way to know what they need is to be out there with them.”

Kelly is just the third person to head the 73-year-old iconic North Texas real estate firm.

He took the reins of the Dallas area’s best-known home sales business after billionaire Warren Buffett and his Omaha-based Berkshire Hathaway Corp. bought Ebby Halliday this summer.

Kelly, who moved to Dallas in October, had previously served as chief administrative officer at Berkshire’s Kansas City firm, ReeceNichols Real Estate.

At Ebby Halliday, he will oversee operations of a company that handles more than $8 billion in home sales a year and has almost 2,000 agents.

“I’ve been meeting with the agents to hear where they see the company and where they feel the company needs to be,” Kelly said. “We must position ourselves to continue to be the No. 1 company in the metroplex. ”

While Ebby Halliday has new owners, keeping its position at the top of the North Texas housing heap means building on the firm’s familiar name and history, he said.

“There is so much pride in the legacy in this company and what it means to this marketplace,” Kelly said. “There is an awesome responsibility that comes by working for a company whose brand name was someone who was real and who meant a lot to this community.”

Kelly said the new owners at Berkshire Hathaway are investing in Ebby Halliday’s name recognition and reputation.

Ebby Halliday CEO Chris Kelly is only the third top officer  the 73-year-old company has had.(Ryan Michalesko/Staff Photographer)
Ebby Halliday CEO Chris Kelly is only the third top officer  the 73-year-old company has had. (Ryan Michalesko/Staff Photographer)

“We are one of the only national real estate companies that do not come in and require that a company erase their identity and heritage and start flying a franchise flag,” he said.

New players

Company founder Ebby Halliday died in 2015 at 104, leaving behind one of the best-known regional real estate firms in the country.

Since her death, the company has worked to expand its operations and fend off a growing number of new players in the residential sales arena touting new technologies and cheaper transaction costs.

Steve Murray of Denver-based residential sales industry consultant RealTrends said traditional firms like Ebby Halliday have to adapt to a changing business environment in which startup companies are touting lower costs.

“The market share of people who are willing to pay more fully for more full service
has shrunk and will likely continue to do so,” said. “You have to ether be Walmart or be Nordstrom, so to speak.”

Kelly agrees that old-line firms like Ebby Halliday have to do a better job of letting their customers know what they’re getting for their money.

“It is such a major transaction,” he said. “It is not like buying a pair of pants off Amazon. It is such a confusing process for a lot of people, and it is emotionally overwhelming.”

For decades, the industry relied on its exclusive control of home sales and listing data to maintain market share.

“We have to move from being gatekeepers of information, which is what we were in the past,” Kelly said. “Information is everywhere now.

“Now we have to be consultants and advisers,” he said. “It is impossible to get full service at a bargain-basement price.”

With U.S. residential sales starting to shrink, industry analysts are warning of a pending contraction in the sales sector.

“Typically when you see a market go up, you get a lot of people into the space, and when the market goes down people drop out,” Kelly said. “The ones that come up with a unique model that resonates with even a small percentage of consumers will make it.”

Daren Blomquist, senior vice president with Attom Data Solutions, agrees that some of the newest residential sales models won’t make it.

“There are going to be many of these tech startups that fail if the market corrects,” Blomquist said. “But there are enough that have a sustainable business model that we will continue to see that pressure on the traditional real estate agents.

“Many of them will fail, but some of them will survive — particularly in a down market.”

Tech upgrades

One of Kelly’s first tasks at Ebby Halliday will be to launch a major upgrade of the company’s technology.

“In 2019, we will see a rollout of a new suite of technology and tools that is consumer-facing and agent-facing,” he said. “Going into the future, we will constantly be reiterating our technology and tools to meet the demands of our agents and the clients.

“It is a very expensive space to play in, but you have to be there.”

Kelly said he wants to expand the ranks of agents at all three of the company’s brands — Ebby Halliday Realtors, Dave Perry-Miller Real Estate and Williams Trew Real Estate in Fort Worth.

“The more agents I have out there with my three brands that have yard signs and listings coming in is good for our entire company,” he said.

In Kansas City, Kelly directed Berkshire Hathaway’s ReeceNichols Real Estate, which has 2,600 agents.

Unlike many other residential sales firm CEOs, Kelly, 43, came into the job from the legal and administrative side of the business, not sales.

“I was a real estate attorney for seven years in Kansas City, and I went in-house with ReeceNichols in 2007,” he said. “I started as general counsel but was quickly given the freedom to get into the business side.”

Kelly says he relies on input from Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices’ other residential sales firms across the country.

So far, Ebby Halliday is the Berkshire Hathaway’s largest play in Texas. The company bought Dallas’ Allie Beth Allman & Associates in 2015.

HomeServices has smaller franchise operations in Texas but Ebby Halliday and its affiliates and Allie Beth Allman are the only company-owned Realtors.

“Right now our footprint in Texas is the D-FW Metroplex,” Kelly said. “There are other markets in Texas that are very appealing to get into, and we are always looking for new partners.

“We would love to be in the top 60 U.S. markets — we have 20 or so more to go — and several of those would be in Texas for sure.”

Article by Dallas News

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Steve Brown, Real Estate Editor

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