Warren Buffett’s real estate company moves into SETX

Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices is expanding into Southeast Texas with a new Lumberton branch, banking on steady growth from local oil and gas expansions.

As of last week, Hometown Realty in Lumberton is operating as Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Town and Country Realty, complete with new burgundy listings signs. It will help lead the corporate real estate chain’s charge into East Texas.

“He was the right guy, at the right time, in the right place,” Frank Perdichizzi, director of franchise sales, said of Hometown Realty’s Herschel Manley. “I’ve probably met with every broker in Southeast Texas since 2015, but I had to find someone that would be our quarterback for the plans we have here.”

Perdichizzi has been in charge of mergers and acquisitions for Berkshire Hathway’s real estate branch since he sold his own Jasper brokerage in 2014. For the past four years, he said, he has been looking to expand the companies outside of Houston and into East Texas.

He is bullish on the area as long as employment and industry investments remain steady.

Manley is confident in Lumberton, specifically.

The latest Texas Realtors report showed first-quarter sales in the Beaumont-Port Arthur Metropolitan Statistical Area were down 2% compared to last year. Some of those declines could be attributed to rising prices and a relatively tight inventory for most of the last two years, data from the Texas A&M University Real Estate Center show.

But Manley said Lumberton is more robust and will continue to be competitive with more affordable markets in Beaumont, Orange and Port Arthur. While some homebuilders in Beaumont might complete 12 homes in a good year, he said, his brokerage works with at least 10 builders that could each finish around 20 by the end of the year.

“In this kind of market, the thing a person needs most is an agent that picks up their phone,” Manley said. “You just can’t post your listings and hope everything comes together. You have to know your communities and if you see a house in that affordable price range, you have to jump on it right then.”

The median home price in Lumberton is $167,500, according to the latest estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Across Southeast Texas region, around 43% of homes are valued between $100,00 and $199,000.

Berkshire Hathaway’s real estate arm should have some indication of the economic growth expected from oil and gas. The HomeServices company answers to the overall real estate division, which in turn answers to Berkshire Hathaway Energy.

Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices already has around 50,000 agents in 1,500 offices since launching six years ago, including a global network in countries like Germany, England and Italy. It had a revenue of $2.14 billion in 2017 and held a little over $7 billion in assets the same year.

Hometown Reality is now the 17th Berkshire Hathaway branch in Texas.

Manley was a firefighter in Beaumont for 20 years before retiring to Lumberton. He said he stumbled into real estate out of necessity, but it was something that seemed to stick with him.

His daughter, Caroline, had been fighting leukemia and was in and out of the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. The medical bill remained after she went into remission, and then Caroline was diagnosed with a transplant-related illness. She died in 2007, the same year Manley tried to make his start in real estate at the Re/Max firm in Lumberton.

“It was tough and wasn’t much of a start, but I stayed with it at the time,” Manley said.

He left in 2008 to join the Re/Max office in Beaumont, where he learned how valuable the Lumberton market could be. The housing crisis was in full swing, but the Lumberton market was helping keep Realtors afloat.

He then left to create his own Keller Williams firm with a partner, before striking out on his own again with Hometown Realty.

Manley said the plan was always to franchise Hometown Realty, but there were also some offers to buy the brokerage from local competitors. Signing on with Berkshire Hathaway seemed like the best thing for his agents, which was his first priority, he said.

Manley said his agents now have access to better marketing strategies, digital platforms and online security resources.

“We have this opportunity to have networks and technology that you just can’t compete with on your own,” Manley said.

jacob.dick@beaumontenterprise.com

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