Four Star Leads Vital Market in the Industry
The presence of Four Star Homes in Central Florida manufactured home market can’t be overstated.
Four Star has eight retail locations in a 12-county area. It has more than 25 people on staff and employs about 200 sales agents. The agency lists approximately eight of 10 homes that sell in Central Florida each year.
“People just know Four Star. If you’re going to buy or sell a mobile home, that’s where you go if you’re in Central Florida,” owner Karen Rearden said.
And from a historical perspective, too, the Rearden family business has a name that precedes itself.
Four Star Homes Inc. was started by Karen Rearden in 1982. At the time, she was employed with a mobile home brokerage that most people today identify as a leader in home insurance; Foremost Insurance, of Grand Rapids, Mich.
“The division was Foremost Home Brokers,” Karen Rearden said. “I ran the Port Orange office in the early 1980s, and then I got a call. I was told Foremost was getting out of the brokerage business, and that I could have the phones, the office, the files…
“I’m thinking what do I have to lose? I doubled my income in the first quarter,” she said.
Karen Rearden changed Foremost to Four Star and used the same colors in the new company’s branding. The goal was the make the transition effortless, keep Four Star on the forefront for home sellers and buyers the way Foremost had been.
“People really didn’t notice much difference,” Karen Rearden said. “It was amazing how smooth it was.”
Single Mom Raising Two Boys
When Karen Rearden turned the former brokerage into a family business, she had two young boys to raise. As often is the case, Matt and John grew up in the business. The first office and the ones to follow would make somewhat of a second home. Certainly, the business dealings and shop talk rubbed off in ways that may be immeasurable.
“They used to have a big three-ring binder and Polaroids taped to a page. If you were an agent you’d come in and look at a hot sheet and flip through the binder,” Matt Rearden recalls. “Has a lot changed?”
Today, John Rearden is a pastor, and Matt Rearden is their mother’s business partner at Four Star. He is an attorney and worked for large corporations and organizations, including a stint with NASCAR.
“I was in two publicly traded companies and traveled the world and did some fun stuff, but some things changed here,” he said of Four Star and Central Florida. “In the last five years the brokerage business has really taken off, so I came back to help out.”
Karen focuses on sales and operations. Matt works on finances, business planning, and marketing.
Together they built a proprietary database called Four Start Direct, a web portal that staff and brokers can access for listings, leads, and other information.
“All of our agents can see all of our listings, and they can do it from any device. There’s a lot of development and upgrade time,” Matt Rearden said. “But people ask us how we’ve been able to scale, and I say it’s all about training and the system. Four Star Direct makes it easy to do that.”
Manufactured Home Sales in Central Florida
Four Star serves customers within about 70 miles of each location.
“We’ve gotten more structure since Matt came on board, and we’ve expanded our marketing efforts,” Karen Rearden said.
There were many years when business activity was good, but it was difficult to find sales agents and office staff. The tone today is different, she said.
“We have people walking in the door who want to work for us now,” Karen Rearden said. “A lot of our agents came to us because they bought a home and liked what we do. Maybe it’s a second career, children are out of the house, and they quickly adopt our company. We do have a family feel,” she said. “We mean our buyers, but sellers and agents too.”
Matt Rearden said everyone knows Four Star sells manufactured and mobile homes.
“But people are our business, and that’s the way it has always been,” he said.
Building relationships across generations creates familiarity and loyalty that cannot be conjured up in a conference room. Success like Four Star’s is the product of prolonged care, determination, and diligence.
“I feel if you take care of the people, the people will take care of the business. I know they’re kids, and the birthdays, and whatever difficulties might be taking place,” Karen Rearden said. “We’re there for all of it, and that’s one of my favorite parts about doing what we do.”
The Four Star Business Model
Most of the markets Four Star operates in are places they’ve been for 20 years or more. The business as a whole is better than 50% repeat business.
“If they purchased the home through us, chances are they’re going to list with us when they sell,” Karen Rearden said.
Four Star lists homes that sell for anywhere between $2,200 and $232,000. Agents can provide information and access to home finance options, but most buyers are cashing in a retirement account or other investments and have no need for financing. About 70% of Four Star home sales are in cash, and transactions tend to close in two weeks.
The Four Star agents build relationships with Central Florida manufactured home community owners, operators, and residents. This helps when an agent is picking up a Four Star listing in a given community. They have details on the amenities, lifestyle, and culture of a community. And sometimes they’re asked to run a smaller sales operation from the community.
“One of the biggest challenges is to educate the customer on the value of their home,” Karen Rearden said. “I have a saying: ‘Price right, half sold’. You have to be armed with good data and price the home correctly to sell quickly.”