Duff Rubin: Canadian Cool, Miami Heat

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“I bleed blue and white,” says the enterprising, Canada-born Duff Rubin in his gleaming Georgetown office on 30th Street. Rubin isn’t talking about the colors of his sports team; those are the colors of real estate company Coldwell Banker, where Rubin heads up the Mid-Atlantic region.

Overseeing 2,100 agents in 30 offices and more than $5.5 billion in sales, Rubin often travels to Baltimore, Annapolis, the Eastern Shore and northern Virginia. The regional office is in Ellicott City, Maryland.

Named president of Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage, Mid-Atlantic, in April, Rubin — who graduated from McGill University in Montreal with a degree in economics and played collegiate hockey — began his real estate work in Florida with Jack Lupo Realty. He experienced selling in Florida, Texas and Georgia, each “very different,” he says.

In the Miami-Palm Beach market, he dealt with associates of Gloria Estefan and Shaq. Rubin later acquired the $75-million commercial real estate company and sold it to Realogy Holdings Corporation, owner of NRT, which operates the brands Coldwell Banker, Coldwell Banker Commercial, Sotheby’s International Realty and the Corcoran Group, among others.

The real estate giant known as Coldwell Banker began in San Francisco a few months after the great 1906 earthquake and fire. With Colbert Coldwell and Benjamin Banker leading the way, the company became “the oldest and most established residential real estate franchise system in North America.” According to company literature: “In many ways, it was the original real estate start up. Coldwell Banker changed the way people bought and sold homes across America.” Indeed, the real estate company’s story matches the growth of the nation during the 20th century.

But Rubin, working in the 21st century, wants to improve the office culture, using interactivity and high-end design to foster more creativity. Also under revision are agents’ ways of doing a few things — especially since Coldwell Banker is “not number one in D.C.,” he says.

To get to number one, Rubin follows the four principles of what Coldwell Banker calls “wealth building” for its agents, including financial and retirement planning, a rewards program and professional growth opportunities.

Rubin knows he’s in the business of recruiting and retaining talent. “It’s about the agents, not so much the brand,” he says. “Loyalty is not that important anymore. People are jumping.” For him, better agents mean better customer service. “We say we want them to lead exceptional lives,” he says.

As for the change from his Miami life to the nation’s capital, Rubin says the cities are similar in that both have lots of transplants. Here, apartment rentals cater to millennials, but in Miami there are more condos.

Told, “You need to live in D.C.,” he now lives in Kalorama and enjoys jogging along the National Mall, eager to learn more about his new city and region. “We are doing well in Maryland,” he says, “but I would love to see us doing better in D.C. and northern Virginia.”

There are two concerns for residential real estate firms: the average age of agents is around 57 and millennials don’t seem keen on home ownership. First-time homeownership is at a 40-year low, Rubin says. As if on cue, any comment on the proposed tax reform bill? “Not helpful,” says Rubin.

Finally, what about those new colors on some company signs? Rubin says the tuxedo-like combination of black and white indicates “Coldwell Banker Global Luxury.” You’ll be seeing more of them in Georgetown.

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