The Richmond division of Long & Foster is not only the largest residential real estate firm in the area but also one of the oldest, marking its 50th year in business here.

“Fifty years goes a long way,” said Brian Haug, senior vice president of the Southern Virginia region for the Chantilly-based real estate firm. “We have a long record. We have trust in the marketplace.”

Despite its size and longevity, the regional firm has kept a family atmosphere, he said. “When it comes to recruitment, it’s about showcasing our family. ... People want to be part of a family. They want to feel a sense of belonging.”

“I work in a very positive environment with people I care about who also care about me. We’re family,” an employee wrote in a confidential survey conducted by Energage for the Top Workplaces program.

Real estate agents can hang their licenses most anywhere they want, Haug said. “It’s important to put our agents first.”

Long & Foster operates 16 offices in the Richmond area with multiple brokers, managers and staff. Agents can pop into any office for guidance at any time, Haug said. “They know they can talk to any of our lenders.”

The company, with 857 associates in the Richmond area, has its largest management team to date in place, he said. They work independently, yet they also coordinate as a team to provide value for all, Haug said. “It’s a collaborative effort. ... We try to be better today so we can be better tomorrow.”

The culture, he said, is all about relationships. “People create bonds and friendships and that creates value.”

“The job is so hard, so the collaborative environment of my office is beyond important to me,” an agent wrote in the confidential survey comments.

“My job is extremely rewarding in many ways,” wrote another. “It enables me to help people in so many stages of their lives. I’m very proud of the job and work that I do and I’m very proud to be a part of the Long & Foster team.”

The world today is designed to keep people in their silos, Haug said. “At some point, you need to put down the cellphone and have conversations.”

The business boils down to connecting agents with other agents and managers, and helping them with potential clients. “It’s our job to work to bring people together, to collaborate and see people eye to eye,” Haug said.

“Agents are very much like butterflies. They are out and about meeting with clients, showing houses or going to inspections and closings.”

They need education and training, said Haug, adding that his job is provide those tools and to inspire people. “It’s an upside down pyramid. You’re working for everyone else, putting yourself down a notch.”

Haug travels to Long & Foster offices from Richmond to Charlottesville and Waynesboro to Williamsburg, Hampton Roads and the Eastern Shore. Mainly, he listens. It’s important to make sure everyone has a say, he said.

“It’s hard to be a real estate agent. We all go through good and bad times together. ... Agents might be up late taking a call, sometimes dealing with death and job loss. The agent is a friend, a soothing voice.”

Buying a house is an emotional experience, not like buying a car, Haug said.

Agents are dealing for the most part with people who make the biggest investments in their lives, Haug said. People, even total strangers, tend to confide in them.

Technology has changed the way real estate is marketed and sold, giving people immediate online access to properties for sale and new listings.

“Technology will not replace the people,” Haug said. “But the people who use the technology will replace those who don’t.”

For some, technology comes easily; for others, not so much. Still, in the end, buying a house requires that one-on-one.

“You need to touch and feel it and be guided by the nuances of the house,” Haug said.

Unlike cars, where the same model year is basically the same, all houses are unique, even if they were built with the same floor plan by the same builder, he said. The difference could be the neighborhood, the topography or the way a house has settled.

“Every house is different,” Haug said. “You want a trusted adviser to help with the biggest financial purchase that people make in their lives. Why would anyone take a chance without that assurance? I would never do it without a real estate agent.”

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