Financial Freedom and Century 21 Uptown merge

The two Uptown firms are now teamed up under the Century 21 banner

 

Two small Uptown real estate teams recently joined forces under one corporate banner.

Financial Freedom Realty (FFR), at Lagoon & Fremont avenues, merged with the Uptown branch of global real estate giant Century 21 about a block south. The brokerages are still wrapping up details of the merger but are already working together.

Merger talks between FFR president and co-owner Rocky Osborn and Century 21 Uptown Realty owner Dixon Diebold started in October, when Osborn and two partners purchased Financial Freedom from founder Clark Gassen.

The brokerages are Southwest-focused boutique operations that, together, have 34 agents.

Diebold and Osborn said they have similar mindsets and goals and were trying to accomplish the same thing in the same area, so combining resources made sense. Osborn said growing FFR independently given the slow market and the brokerage’s limited recognition was out of the question from the day he took the reigns.

“Can an independent real estate company such as FFR put together the resources and tools and systems that Century 21 can? And can you do that cost effectively and efficiently for your dollar? Not a chance,” Osborn said.

Improved resources for agents including personal coaching, enhanced technology and better transaction management — things Century 21 Uptown Realty has focused on since opening less than two years ago — will continue to be a major part of the brokerage’s growth plan, Diebold said. And Century 21 is backing the branch.

“Century 21 is putting their money where their mouth is and giving us 100 percent support to be able to grow this market and increase our market presence here,” Diebold said.

He said building agent professionalism is the top priority, but having fun and offering something a bit different than the competition, something FFR also tried to do, is also key.

“We want to have an urban, fun culture. … I’m not saying this is a place to come in and goof off and be unprofessional,” Diebold said. “What we’re trying to do is have a fun time being the most professional, highly trained agents in our marketplace.”

Diebold and Osborn said the merger would not disrupt customer service, whether clients were working with FFR or Century 21. FFR lawn signs will disappear, replaced with Century 21 signs, but customers shouldn’t notice any problems, Osborn said. He said letters about the merger were sent to customers.

FFR planned to have all of its employees moved to the Century 21 building by mid-May and all signage changes and other details were to be done by June 12.

For Gassen, who gained national attention building FFR from the ground up several years ago, the demise of the brokerage he designed to be noncorporate was hard to see. But the stagnant housing market, which caused the once fast-growing brokerage to lose more than half its agents within a couple years, left little alternative, he said.

“I’m a little saddened that the concept I created with so many people is not going to be around, but I understood that they needed to react to the market,”
Gassen said.

FFR agent Brian Scates, who has been with the brokerage for two years, said sales are still happening despite the market slump, and the recognition he and other agents will get under the Century 21 name should only help.

He said the brand has a lot of equity in its name and its familiarity helps put customers at ease.

“With today’s market I think homeowners, buyers and sellers; they need someone they can trust and someone they can really depend on,” he said.

FFR was limited by its size and controversy surrounding Gassen’s conversion of hundreds of Southwest apartments to condominiums.

Osborn made it clear after taking over the company that he wanted to polish the brokerage’s reputation and distance it from its condo-conversion history. That effort didn’t play a role in the merger decision, Osborn said, but the change couldn’t hurt.

“Does it help cover some tracks from years ago? Probably,” he said.

Diebold said Minneapolis is one of Century 21’s “dark spots,” meaning it has fewer agents than in other cities. The merger with FFR is a step toward changing that and providing Minneapolitans with a new major player in real estate.

“They can expect to be able to have access to the largest company in real estate working for them to buy and sell their homes and work for their real estate needs, be it commercial or residential,” he said. “Right now, they don’t have that option.”

Reach Jake Weyer at 436-4367 or jweyer@mnpubs.com.