Michael Miedler, President & CEO, Century 21
In ancient Greece, oracles were revered for their power to foretell the future and provide hidden knowledge. Today, anyone interested in real estate would benefit from that type of power. How will homebuying evolve? What are ways to address the housing shortage? What will be the impact of technology? How do we empower entrepreneurs?
You don’t need an oracle to answer those questions. You just need someone with deep experience, vison, global reach and a finger on the pulse of homebuyers.
That’s a tall order.
But Mike Mielder—CEO for Century 21—fits the bill. Across his twenty-plus year career he’s worked in sales, strategy, brand development, operations, and growth. He now leads an organization with 131,000 real estate agents across 82 countries. He’s not a millennial, but he’s young enough to easily bridge generational divides.
I spoke with Miedler to gain his thoughts on everything from shifting demographics and people development to the experience economy and collaborating with Eva Longoria. The focus was real estate, but his insight applies to anyone with entrepreneurial aspirations and desire to impact the world.
Chaka Booker: You’ve been in real estate for over twenty years. What are some keys to your success?
Mike Miedler: Some of it is the basics, whether your ascending in an organization or an entrepreneur—be focused and humble. But also, be inquisitive. Go into every day trying to develop new skills and learn from others. And find something that inspires you. That’s why I love real estate. We’re local. We’re engrained in the community. We’re in the work of delivering that dream of home ownership. I stay inspired because we do so much good for the community, for the economy and for people’s lives.
Booker: I recently heard you talk about the role of emotion in business.
Miedler: Its importance is underestimated. A colleague shared with me once that there’s five big moments in life. Birth. Death. Marriage. New job. Buying a home. A house is generally a person’s largest economic purchase. But here’s the thing—it’s infrequent and it’s often driven by emotion. It’s where people are going to lay their roots or raise a family. You can’t ever forget emotion in this business. And that means you have to care for the customer. Know their anxiety and remember it is a complex transaction they don’t frequently do. It’s deeply tied to the idea of family. When you think about the work that way, it changes how you approach it.
Booker: What do you see on the horizon in your industry?
Miedler: Technology and data that will make the consumer smarter. They’ll come to the process more educated about the marketplace, houses, comps. There’s also a lot of talk about iBuyers. There are more investors in the space, you see a lot of big players and competition is extremely fierce. There is a lot of noise, but despite the noise, people are using real estate professionals more than ever. There are 180 steps, plus or minus, from when you make an offer to the day you get the keys. When buyers realize this is a really cumbersome process, then they realize they need a professional who can deliver a high-quality experience. The professionals who continue to win in this space are the ones who care for the customer, have strong communication skills and understand customer experience. Technology will make us more efficient. But if you’re strategic, you’ll think beyond transactions and think about experiences.
Booker: How about millennials? Are they affecting real estate?
Miedler: They’re the next wave of home buyers. More than any generation, they want an experience over transaction. They’re more apt to do things online, look up ratings and reviews, whether it’s a real estate agent or where to go for dinner. But because they are experience-driven they are using real estate agents more than any other generation, at a rate of about 91%. By 2025, there will be 16 million new households in the U.S., mainly millennials raising families. While buying a home has gotten pushed further in their life cycle—they have the same affinity to be a homeowner as their parents. The bigger problem is that the U.S. is running out of inventory for affordable homes. Whether it’s millennials or the generation behind them. The question is how can we get people into an affordable first home?
Booker: What are your thoughts on that bigger question?
Miedler: We need to find smart ways to increase first-time home buying inventory. Developers aren’t building for first-time buyers, whether it’s because of laws or the cost of lumber or labor. I believe we need to start thinking about how to convert unused office space or retail space into housing. We need to educate communities about multifamily opportunities. There is a lot of “not in my backyard” mentality because nobody wants lower cost properties in their neighborhood. But the truth is we need lower cost properties because that’s what first-time home buying is all about.
Booker: Millennials aren’t the only demographic that’s shifting. I spoke with Eva Longoria recently about the Empowering Latinas initiative, a collaboration with Century 21.
Miedler: Yes, an important partnership. At 66.3%, Latinos have a higher labor force participation rate than the U.S. overall average, which is 60.9%. About 47% of Latinos own homes. That equates to 63% of total homeownership gains in the last decade. We have to think about how much they mean to our GDP in the coming years. Real estate as a whole is roughly 20% of our GDP. Anything that’s good for housing is good for the U.S. economy. And that’s just the business side. We’re in a position to do a whole lot of good for communities. We can deliver home ownership dreams and at the same time help build careers when people in the communities learn how to operate as real estate professionals.
Booker: What advice would you give young professionals, whether in real estate or otherwise?
Miedler: Align yourself with a leader or a company that has the vision for what you’re trying to accomplish and get a foot in the door. That’s why I love what Eva and her foundation are doing. To be successful, it helps to be confident. In this partnership we have mentors who teach you the ropes, push you along and lock arms with you. When you associate yourself with the right leadership, the right company and with a good training program that’s half the battle in business. We’re providing 21 scholarships for Latinas in L.A. to get their real estate license. We’re also supporting Eva’s high school mentorship program which helps students get ready for college, connects young Latinas with professionals, there’s a confidence-building curriculum. It aligns so well with how we think about developing people as a strategy.
Booker: What’s the thinking behind Century 21’s people development strategy?
Miedler: We just rolled out a coaching program with Dr. Julie Gurner who is an expert coach and Phil Simms, the former New York Giants MVP Superbowl quarterback. The very best athletes and businesspeople have coaches pushing them, holding them accountable, showing them how to get better. Having somebody push you out of your comfort zone is always a positive. Most of that is the mindset for what success looks like. Look at the New England Patriots. Love them or hate them, and I’m not a Patriots fan, but year in year out, they find a way to win because they have one of the best coaches. He has the same things to work with as the other coaches—same number of players, same scouting reports, same equipment. But because of how he develops the team and their mindset, they continue to be winners. That’s what a strong coach or mentor can do. It’s why I believe wholeheartedly in the Empowering Latinas partnership. With the right support, whether the young women are in high school or becoming first-time entrepreneurs, giving them the mindset and the playbook can absolutely increase their ability to succeed.
Booker: You place a lot of value on giving back. How do you choose where to focus when giving back?
Miedler: Going back to the start of our conversation—think about communities. We just had California fires again and Century 21 employees are out their providing a place for people to get electricity, get Wi-Fi, charge their phones. Not because it’s good for business, but because they are part of the community. We should look at communities that need support. For 40 plus years Century 21 has had a philanthropic relationship with Easterseals, which provides disability services to families in need. We’ve given over $121 million to them. Whatever you do for a living, give to communities that have less than yours. Look locally. Think about communities. That’s not just good from a business perspective, but good for your soul.
The conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.