Ben Kinney, Chris Suarez launch new brand-agnostic platform

Nald GuevarraNews

Image by: Place Inc. and LinkedIn

Image by: Place Inc. and LinkedIn

From Inman News

Ben Kinney and Chris Suarez, who both lead growing real estate companies in the Pacific Northwest, Wednesday announced the launch of a new platform meant to help teams deal with an array of business tasks while also allowing them to keep their existing branding.

The new platform is called Place Inc., and in a statement is described as “a full service real estate and technology platform that partners with the top 1 percent of agents and teams.” The idea, the statement continues, is to help agents become more profitable, boost their value proposition to customers and “grow their unique local brand, all without having to leave the brokerage where they are currently affiliated.”

In a conversation with Inman, Kinney said that Place’s goal is to help agents grow their business.

Ben Kinney

Ben Kinney

“The majority of these individuals struggle with the business side,” Kinney explained. “They lose staff or can’t grow or double their business.”

Place is meant to solve that problem.

Practically speaking, what that means is Place will handle an array of administrative and business tasks that might otherwise eat into the time of real estate professionals who would rather focus on helping clients.

To wit, Place will do a team’s accounting, payroll, human resources, marketing, brand development, talent acquisition and legal affairs. And its technology platform includes tools for lead generation, transaction management and agent training. Place members will also get access to mortgage, title and escrow services — products that Ben Kinney Companies has been recently building out.

Place also includes a tiered system for agents using the platform. So, agents who sell up to 24 units per year earn the title of “associate” and get a variety of benefits such as financial and retirement planning assistance.

Agents who sell between 25 and 49 units per year, or who earn $250,000 in gross commission income, become “partners” and get an additional suite of benefits — the most notable being healthcare.

Kinney told Inman that the healthcare benefit works similarly to the way it would for salaried employees at non-real estate companies, with the company contributing to a monthly plan.

The tiered system has three additional levels — “senior partner,” “managing partner” and “equity partner” — all of which are attained by doing more volume, and which come with additional benefits such as revenue sharing and equity in the company.

Place charges a percentage of a team or agent’s profit, though Kinney declined to provide and exact number, saying the cost was “a little variable.” Place also becomes “equal partners in the business decisions” of its members, meaning that it plays an active role in the management strategies.

“We require them to work off of budgets,” Kinney explained.

Given all these characteristics, Place looks an awful lot like a brokerage itself: Agents and teams join up, share their profit and control, and get an array of benefits in return.

But Kinney said that Place is actually brokerage “agnostic,” meaning that agents who are part of RE/MAX or Keller Williams or any other brand can stay a part of those brokerages, while turning over some of the nuts and bolts of the business to Place. Kinney argued this means teams that have built name-recognition in their community don’t have to jettison that identity the way they might if they switched to a new brokerage.

Instead, their reputation remains intact but their business operations become smoother.

“I think they get the best of both worlds,” Kinney argued. “We’re providing an alternative to agents going and starting their own brokerages.”

He further compared the model to Uber and Airbnb.

“Just as Uber doesn’t own the car and Airbnb doesn’t own the home, at Place Inc. our partners don’t have to own or be associated with any specific brokerage brand to take advantage of our unique platform and added benefits being provided to both the real estate professional and the consumer,” Kinney said in a statement.

Chris Suarez

Chris Suarez

Place is a joint venture by Kinney — whose eponymous Washington-based real estate company has seen significant growth over the years — and Suarz, CEO of Xperience Real Estate in Portland, Oregon. Both men carry the title of co-founder at the new venture.

Like Kinney, Suarez also believes there are reputation-related benefits for agents who can keep their branding but operate with a more robust technology and business platform.

“We believe that there’s value here,” Suarez told Inman. “They’re able to, within the local community, still be recognized by their name, and plug into a platform behind them.”

Though Place is only just publicly launching Wednesday, Kinney and Suarez have already signed up 41 teams in the U.S. and Canada. A statement describes the teams as “top-producing” and says that in 2019, they “produced a combined $41 million in revenue, over $1.5 billion in closed sales volume, and over 4,500 homeowners helped.”

Teams that are already now using Place include the Amy Downs Team, the Bucher Group, the Deldi Ortegon Group, Agents With A Smile, Homes on the Sound and others. A number of the teams were already using platforms offered by Kinney’s and Suarez’s respective companies.

Place is currently operating in 22 states and provinces, with plans to expand further in the future.

Kinney and Suarez began working on Place in 2019 and incorporated it as a business in January. And ultimately, Kinney believes it fills a niche that was going underserved.

“As demonstrated by the constant turnover in the industry, the real estate professional and top real estate teams have been searching for increased value and support running their local businesses,” he said in a statement. “Chris and I have spent the last year developing the ‘Place Inc Agent Opportunity Model’ to unlock a variety of unique benefits based on their personal production during the previous year.”