GR real estate company sees major growth


It’s been a big three years for Five Star Real Estate.

The Grand Rapids-based real estate brokerage, headquartered at 4601 Lake Michigan Drive NW, has come a long way since its founding in 1996, with a large chunk of that distance being covered after the recession. In the last three years, Five Star has reported 65 percent growth, doubling its staff and opening five new locations in Grand Rapids, Big Rapids, Kalamazoo, Muskegon and Caledonia.

Furthermore, the company is expecting to see 25 percent growth for the upcoming year, with plans to host recruiting events in Grand Rapids, Big Rapids and Muskegon.

So what’s Five Star’s secret? Paul Carlson, director of marketing, said its success isn’t owed to any one moment but to an array of initiatives the company has taken since the Great Recession to allow agents to be independent contractors who brand themselves.

“Five Star is positioned uniquely due to the agent cost structure, and an impressive array of educational opportunities keep our agents in a position to offer expert counsel and advice,” he said. “We provide the tools and systems required for success without a lot of excess levels of bureaucracy or expenses that are so common.”

That core vision is what led Carlson’s father, Greg Carlson, to co-found the company with a goal of treating consumers better by treating agents better. His desire was to create a company that allowed agents to keep their hard-earned dollars instead of losing them through caps and commission-sharing programs, he said.

“When Five Star Real Estate was formed in 1996, we envisioned a company that empowered agents to create their personal real estate business as a profitable and sustainable career,” Greg Carlson said.

“Our education and mentoring services are second to none, and our growth in the past year is proof of this.”

A focus on education was one of the first initiatives that led to Five Star’s exponential growth, Paul Carlson said. The company brought in Don Phelan as educational director to create courses and focus on training agents, which he said was one of the best moves the company ever made.

“So many times when an agent gets in the business, they don’t know what to do, so we’ve tried to build an educational platform that secures them a career, not just a job. We’re ‘agent first,’” he said.

“We started pushing this educational platform two and a half years ago. … We went from about 150 to 250 agents in the last three years.”

The second initiative was to become a technologically mobile company, he said. In January of this year, the company took about 220 agents paperless all at once, putting all their files and information on a digital cloud, which agents use as a platform for making deals. This also allows agents the mobility to work from wherever they want.

“It’s as simple as logging into your iPhone — a couple of clicks and you’re already working on an offer. Agents love it. Some weren’t as excited about it in the beginning, but we have way more cheerleaders now,” he said.

“Another thing we’ve done is we tried to create a mobile agent experience because the majority of agents are not working from a desk in a building. … We tried to space our offices specifically around the city, so any agent can stop in the office and work, and use it like their personal office. It’s ‘touchdown spaces’ or ‘drop-in offices.’”

Five Star’s focus for the next couple of years will be to continue delivering to its current agents while adding more, Carlson said. The company is looking to see growth in Kalamazoo, Muskegon and Big Rapids offices, as well as Grand Rapids, he said, adding that his team hopes to reach about 300 agents by next December.

After that, it’s infinity and beyond.

“We’re flirting with the idea of what it could be like to offer agents anywhere in Michigan an incredible broker support but not to even have brick and mortar around them,” he said. “Can we deliver an incredible real estate experience for people in Alpena or Lansing without needing to have an office there? Is that a possible business model? That’s what we’re flirting with next.”

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