Anthony Hitt is the CEO of Engel & Völkers North America, part of an international real estate company that’s been based in Hamburg, Germany, since it was founded in 1977. Hitt was in the Twin Cities recently to celebrate the opening of the company’s 78th office in North America after launching a U.S. expansion in 2007. That office, at 1601 Hennepin Av. in Minneapolis, is being led by co-owners/brokers Geoffrey Bray and Lindsay Bacigalupo. During his visit to the Twin Cities, Hitt talked about the international real estate market and opening of the company’s first office in Minnesota.
Q: Did Engel & Volkers target the Twin Cities, or did Bray and Bacigalupo initiate the conversation?
A: It’s always a combination of factors, but this was definitely a market we were targeting.
Q: You’ve said that the abundance of Fortune 500 companies and the relocation business that comes with it helped seal the deal for this market. Anything else that was unique about the Twin Cities?
A: We are where our clients are in the world’s best location.
Q: What are your growth goals for North America?
A: There are about 200 markets that are primary markets that we need to be in, in the United States. We have a plan to be there by 2020. Some of those markets are like Minneapolis/St. Paul. Others are key resort areas, such as Vail or Aspen.
Q: So you’re not just scouting for the biggest markets?
A: It’s not just about the big markets. It’s about being in the markets where our clientele wants to be. Our smallest market is Okemo-Woodstock, Vermont. It’s a small little resort area. We have two strong advisers in that market. People from Manhattan and other parts of the Northeast shop there. We’re a less-is-more brand; it’s not about bigger, it’s about being better. The biggest, presently, is Los Angeles or Miami.
Q: What are your newest markets?
A: We just opened in Texas. We’ve opened 31 offices in North America this year.
Q: Do you take listings for only a certain price range, or buyers and sellers with a certain income?
A: No, our listings are not price-related. We are the only one who has a specialist in castles, mansions and châteaus, but we cater to anyone who is discerning. This is not a luxury brand, but it’s about premium in all price points.
Q: On the global stage, are millennials becoming a bigger force in the market?
A: Millennials are probably some of the most demanding clientele in the marketplace. They appreciate brand and the ideals behind it, and they have a high level of expectations.
Q: What’s your business model?
A: We do have some company-owned operations worldwide, but about 90 percent-plus are franchise operations.
Q: Since the Great Recession, there’s been a tremendous amount of consolidation among real estate brokerages in the U.S. Is that happening internationally, as well?
A: Right now seems to be a good time worldwide. We are seeing more brands, but they haven’t been centralized in any way. But any brand that’s not trying to build an international footprint is probably doing their clients a disservice.
Q: Is that because in an increasingly globalized market, real estate consumers have more brand loyalty than in the past?
A: It’s no longer about the broker or the brand, it’s about the collaboration. It’s the consumer first and everything will follow. We do believe in an international brand experience.
Q: Speaking of brand, your offices all seem to have the same look and vibe: a white storefront with big windows and black signage lettering with crimson red accents above the main doors.
A: All of our shops around the world are modeled on the classic European design of our first flagship shop, and it’s a reminder of where we’ve come from and the legacy we have inherited. That’s one thing that’s a differentiator for us.
We have 700 locations like this around the world and I’ll get a text from someone in Belgium who is standing in front of an Engel & Völkers shop and they’ll say it looks just like the one they’ve seen in Newport Beach.
I guarantee you there will be strangers who will walk into that shop [on Hennepin Avenue in Minneapolis] and say how they know that brand from somewhere else. … It’s a very distinct design and look. It’s like an Apple store.