"The Ten" - Hoby Hanna, CEO, Howard Hanna Real Estate
Illustration by Lanette Behiry/Real Estate News

The Ten: All eyes on Hanna after bold listings shift — but now what? 

After becoming CEO of the nation’s largest independent brokerage, Hoby Hanna limited access to some listings. Expanding that approach is the table for 2024.

December 9, 2023
4 minutes

Editor's Note: In a historic year shaped by trials — of all kinds — a handful of people and themes have emerged as defining forces. Real Estate News has selected the top newsmakers of 2023 who have left a mark on the industry or shown perseverance in the face of epic challenges and opportunities. They are The Ten.

The Ten: Hoby Hanna

This year, most of the headlines about industry disruption have centered around the flurry of buyer-broker commissions lawsuits — but Howard Hanna Real Estate has been a disrupter in its own right, testing a new approach to listings which raised some eyebrows.

And it has done it with a new CEO: Howard "Hoby" Hanna IV, who stepped into the role of CEO of the family-owned company in May.

In June, Hoby Hanna announced that in the Cleveland metro area, the company was switching from an Internet Data exchange (IDX), a widely used way of connecting a brokerage's listings to its Multiple Listing Service, to a Virtual Office Website (VOW), which serves the same function but isn't as easily accessible.

The move effectively keeps any Howard Hanna Real Estate listings in the Cleveland area off of competitors' websites, though the company has worked with major search portals such as Zillow to feed listings to their sites.

Hanna said in a YouTube video that the move was made to help the company's agents "take back control," of the marketplace.

Hanna told Real Estate News that about 20 years ago, he noticed a change in how companies view MLS listings. What started as a business-to-business practice of "here's my listing, and I'll cooperate with you and you bring me your buyer" has, with the use of IDX, become more like "you give me your listings and see who can scrape more leads or take more leads of unencumbered customers" — customers who don't know which agent is actually knowledgeable about the property.

All signs point to success

It's now been six months since Hanna made the change in Cleveland — so how is it working out? 

In an email, Hanna said the switch has created a better customer experience through the confirmed registration system that VOW offers. And for the company, the result has been more in-house transactions and leads, and an increase in market share.

Using Cleveland as a test market has gone so well that brokerage is looking to make a similar switch in other markets as the company maps out its strategy for 2024, Hanna said.

And it has a large list of areas to choose from. Howard Hanna has around 400 offices across 13 states that generated $37.7 billion in sales volume in 2022, according to the 2024 Swanepoel Trends Report. (Note: The Trends Report is published by T3 Sixty, whose founder, Stefan Swanepoel, also founded Real Estate News.)

IDX system 'a disservice to the client'

The switch was welcome news for Howard Hanna's Adam Kaufman, a top-producing Ohio real estate agent for the past 18 years and a longtime advocate of such a change. Kaufman didn't like the fact that Howard Hanna was making a big investment to market each listing, but competing agents, who didn't have any knowledge or insight about that particular home, were reaping the benefits.

"The biggest problem was that people would call in and they would think that they were getting the listing agent or that they were getting a Howard Hanna agent. Instead, they were getting someone who knew nothing about the property," Kaufman said. "It was a disservice to the client."

Kaufman agrees with Hoby Hanna's assessment that the switch from IDX to VOW has boosted leads and in-house transactions. He sees this as the first step in what he believes will be a shift in how listings are handled.

"I think that you're going to definitely see a change in how things are done and the way information is provided," Kaufman said. 

"We've spent considerable amounts of time and money… providing great services to sellers. Why do we want to give all of that away for free and not be able to control the services that are provided?"

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