The Austin-headquartered real estate franchise is aggressively pursuing its tech strategy, but agent count and transaction volume have declined

BYPATRICK KEARNS Inman Staff Writer 

Keller Williams gave the world its first peek at its artificial intelligence customer relationship management tool Command and forthcoming KW consumer app in the first quarter of 2019, but that’s really just the start.

In its first-quarter 2019 earnings report released Thursday afternoon, the private residential real estate franchisor revealed that it has implemented an aggressive merger and acquisition strategy to both boost production of the platform and bring in top talent.

“We’re currently building our own technology, and speeding up the development process by actively identifying and acquiring products and services that align with our agent-centric vision,” Darryl Frost, a spokesperson for Keller Williams told Inman.

“Our criteria: If it’s faster and cheaper to buy than build a specific product or service, mold it to fit agent needs, and make it available for use as quickly as possible, then we pursue an acquisition,” Frost added. “This strategy also allows us to engage top talent from select companies to help us continually evolve the agent and consumer experience.”

That strategy may sound familiar to real estate observers as Robert Reffkin, CEO of the rival brokerage Compass, recently made similar comments at the Inman Disconnect in the Desert 2019 conference in April.

Earlier this year, newly restored Keller Williams CEO Gary Keller boldly declared that every other company that’s building real estate consumer platforms – namely, RealogyCompass and RE/MAX – will be playing for second place.

“Together with our agents, we are developing and continuing to innovate on our products at unprecedented speed,” Keller said in a statement released today with the company’s Q1 2019 earnings. “This is only possible as a result of the work we quietly did for more than two years building our platform, while everyone was wondering what we were up to.”

As of March 31, Command, the company’s new CRM, had 41,505 active users.

In the first quarter, agents added more than 17 million client contacts into the platform, according to the company.

The company also reached a new high with 85,422 active users on Kelle, its artificial intelligence-powered virtual assistant app (its so-called “Siri for real estate”), which launched last year.

Josh Team, president of Keller Williams, noted in a statement to Inman that the company isn’t stopping at its CRM and consumer-facing platform.

Instead, it’s working towards creating a seamless transaction experience for consumers, which is why it’s been building data alliances with companies like Google and Nextdoor.

“It is also why we’ve been aggressive about our tech acquisitions, purchased a mortgage company, launched an iBuyer program [Keller Offers] and are building our insurance marketplace, plus many others, so that everything works together creating one unified experience for the consumer,” Team said.

A Keller Williams spokesperson declined to unveil which companies and how many it acquired in the first quarter of 2019. Because Keller Williams is a private company, it is not legally required to share as much detailed information, such as companies acquired, as publicly-traded rivals such as Realogy or RE/MAX.

At the same time the company is focusing on tech development, it’s attempting to weather a shift in the market.

Overall, Keller Williams associates closed 214,499 transactions, a year-over-year decrease for 1.7 percent, for $63.5 billion in sales volume, a year-over-year decrease of 1.9 percent.

Across the industry, the number of existing homes sold in the U.S. declined 6.6 percent in the first quarter and sales volume declined 4.3 percent, according to the National Association of Realtors (NAR).

“The housing market has shifted and we continue to be focused on ensuring our agents are in the best position to continue to take market share,” said Keller. “Keller Williams was born in a market shift. All we see is opportunity.”

Keller Williams is also still feeling the impact of a move to clear its records of agents no longer active with the company, known as, “ghost agents.” Inman exclusively reported that Keller Williams had undergone an aggressive effort to update each market center roster and the result of that purge has led to a second straight month of its U.S. and Canada agent count declining.

On March 31, Keller Williams had a combined 157,377 agents in the U.S. and Canada, down from 159,447 agents at the end of the fourth quarter 2018, and 170,130 agents at the end of the third quarter of 2018.

In total, Keller Williams slashed nearly 13,000 agents as a result of updated its rosters.

Outside of the U.S. and Canada, Keller Williams continues to grow at an impressive clip. The company reached 8,385 agents outside of the U.S. and Canada, a 33.7 percent increase year-over-year. International transaction volume increased 27.3 percent year-over-year, while sales volume increased 11.5 percent year-over-year.