Place in the Industry
Before there was Airbnb, there was Kimberly Smith and AvenueWest. Smith founded the company in 1999 as a real estate brokerage specializing in furnished property management for monthly fees. “We worked with private investors to get their properties furnished to fit a very specific class-A-type property,” she said, noting that there are a lot of corporate renters who need long-term lodging and want to stay in “quality, fully-serviced, private residences.”
“AvenueWest’s products don’t have the ‘what-if’s’ of the VRBO and Airbnb world because we’re fully managed,” Smith observed. That full service led to huge growth quickly, with AvenueWest hitting the Inc. 5000 list three years in a row. To accommodate that growth, Smith opted to franchise her business and teach other people how to open their own AvenueWest Corporate Housing brokerages. “Our very first franchise belongs to a real estate agent who is now running a multimillion-dollar business thanks to corporate housing,” she said. AvenueWest now has branches in nine different metro areas, and Smith mentors, monitors, and trains all those branches. “We have that close-knit situation with the brand, but we also are always sharing best practices so we can stay innovative and stay up on trends,” she said.
Key to Success in the Industry
“The individual investor must empower themselves to get access to residual, sustainable income. Owning real estate rentals does that, but the corporate model has not historically dealt with the individual investor.
“Remember that corporate housing is making a great home for people. Maybe the home is for a professional athlete that just got traded to a new city, but sometimes it’s someone whose house just got burned down and we’re trying to support them through that process.”
“If we do our job right, we help families get settled in their new communities and environments. We enable them to test-drive neighborhoods in ways that they would never be able to do otherwise. As an investor, it’s your job to help people with their real estate pain, whatever that pain may be.”
“My proudest moments are the little things. Here’s an example: I met a woman who was trying to care for her mother while handling ownership of an underwater house. She had lost her job and needed to move to a new city for work. We set up her house as a fully-furnished rental, found her a renter, and she was able to move.
“The family that moved into her house was a family with children who had lost everything in a fire. They were able to move into the house, process their insurance claims and eventually get the right new home that they needed, and she was able to move, get her job, and not go through foreclosure. Providing those kinds of opportunities is amazing.”
A Word for Women in Real Estate
“I do some mentoring with other women business owners, and we tend to get caught up in our own heads. As women, we need to document our successes in a written format in a way that we can remind ourselves of those achievements and trigger the strengths that are really ours, including getting out there, shaking people’s hands, and introducing yourself so that you have the opportunity to answer the question, ‘Why me?’”
“I think Steve Jobs said that it’s really easy to look in the rearview mirror and connect all the dots. Sometimes, as women, we just look forward and we can’t figure out how to connect the dots. It’s important to be willing to get out there and use what we know, what we do best, which is networking and authentically connecting with other people. Sometimes we underestimate our own ability to network effectively and get the job done.”
What’s Ahead in 2017
“At this point, I have an incredible team and an incredible set of resources. Furthermore, we have a great understanding of who we are and what we really have to offer. Now those resources will allow us to make the next franchisee grow even faster in our niche in the corporate housing market.”