Berkshire Hathaway’s Mary Lee Blaylock on aspirational pricing and moving her life to California

Executive just took over as CEO of BHHS

Apr.April 22, 2016 12:00 PM

Mary Lee Blaylock is the president and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices (BHHS) California Properties. She oversees the firm’s overall strategy and operations and supervises BHHS California Properties’ affiliated businesses, which include HomeServices Lending, Pickford Escrow and California Title and Home Services Insurance Agency.

The company has roughly 850 agents and 10 offices in L.A., including in Beverly Hills, Brentwood and Pacific Palisades.

Blaylock recently took over the role from David Cabot, relocating from Minnesota to San Diego. The Real Deal sat down with her to talk about the L.A. market. Read on for a closer look.

What did you want to be when you grew up?
I graduated from college with a teaching degree but I couldn’t find a teaching job. I wanted to teach music. I still sing, mostly to be children.

How did you get into real estate?
I’m from Minnesota. I started in 1992 as licensed realtor. I’ve loved every minute of it. Once it gets in your skin, real estate is something you want to continue to live with. I sold real estate for four years and then started to get into the management end of things. In 2008, I started a relocation business for our parent company, HomeServices of America.

So, you were helping corporate executives find a place to live when they were relocated. What was that like?
It’s stressful and you’re part psychologist for sure.

How does it feel to be CEO now?
I’ve been so familiar with this organization. I knew it from a people perspective and now I know it from the paper perspective.

How is the Minnesota market different from what we see in L.A.?
The average sales price is much lower. Minneapolis was actually a very robust market for various fortune 500 companies. There was actually a ton of relocation within that market. The economy lent itself very well for corporations to be housed there.

How did you feel about moving to California?
I did what I preached and I moved across the country with my husband and three children. Everything in our very familiar life became very unfamiliar. My kids are 16, 14 and 10. They’re wonderful children who knew that when we said we were doing something like this we actually meant it. My husband is a brilliant engineer, and he’s now a stay at home dad.

What’s the opportunity here for Berkshire Hathaway?
It’s crucial to always be growing. If we’re not growing, we’re going backwards. Nationwide, about 10 percent of all transactions are in California. There’s an incredible amount of opportunity and it’s a competitive environment, which I like.

What’s your view on the state of the L.A. market?
Our agents are seeing a nice movement in the market overall. There are currently more buyers than there are sellers, which kind of stymies the market. We have to figure out how to educate sellers that this is a good market.

Are you seeing aspirational pricing?
If there’s an unrealistic expectation of a spike, it’s not going to work. We can talk about price all day long but the market will bear the price that the market will bear. Until we put the home on the market, we’ve done our best guesstimate. If we’re not cautious, frustration will ensue and that’s not good for anyone.

What do you make of all the new firms opening up here?
When there’s a new player in the market, it always shakes the world a little bit. But we’re a company that’s been around through the ups and downs of the market and has withstood all of that. That’s what separates us.

What’s your prediction for the market in 2016?
I think it’s going to be very similar. New construction is going to be a breath of fresh air. Volume of sales will go up a little, mostly because of new development.

What do you like best about California so far?
The accessibility of the ocean is fabulous. Being able to be in the city in one hour and then the desert in one hour is fabulous. And, by the way, the weather is awfully nice.

What do you miss most about Minnesota?
If anything, simply because it was the land of a thousand lakes, I would like to have our lake property brought here.

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