Gary Keller walks into Berkshire Hathaway’s backyard and takes its top team

Real Estate

Berkshire Hathaway’s residential brokerage just lost one of its biggest stars to its chief rival Keller Williams. In its own stomping grounds of Omaha, Nebraska, no less.

Jeff Cohn and his 35-person team, Omaha’s Elite Real Estate Group, plan to join Keller Williams in January, the company said. Cohn’s team is No. 1 at Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices, with 617.5 transactions last year, according to research firm RealTrends. Those deals were valued at more than $100 million.

Before readers write off this top agent in Nebraska, consider this: With a population of 466,000, Omaha’s median sales price last year was $179,000 last year, up 5.3 percent year-over-year, according to Zillow. And the market is heating up. The median price among 2,300 homes currently listed for sale is $237,900.

According to Keller Williams — the massive franchise that is fighting to retain its stronghold in an increasingly-competitive field — Cohn plans to launch 100 “expansion teams,” or teams that will report back to him from other cities. “Keller Williams captures what my vision of a team looks like,” Cohn said in a statement. “Other big brokerages just can’t seem to make expansion work with their model.”

Austin-based Keller Williams says it is the largest brokerage franchise with 185,000 agents worldwide. During the third quarter, it reported $101.7 billion in sales in the U.S. and Canada, up 8.8 percent year-over year. But amid competition, Keller’s agent count dropped 4.5 percent year-over-year.

To counter industry headwinds, Keller Williams is betting heavily on technology. The firm is also partnering with Offerpad to expand its instant home-buying program.

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