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Realty companies merge

Frank and Glenda Holbrook, right, and Mark and Angie Dawson are merging two local real estate firms. Employees of the two companies gathered for a reception at the offices of Best Realty Inc. at 1925 Central Ave. on Thursday.

Although the paperwork won't be signed for a couple of weeks, Best Realty Inc./GMAC and Century 21 Hometown Brokers Inc. are merging and will become the largest real estate office in Billings in terms of licensed agents.

Best Realty's franchise with GMAC ends today, and that opened the door for a merger with a local firm.

“It's really just a combining of forces here,” said Best Realty co-owner and broker Frank Holbrook. “We've got a depth of experience in this office, and we're able to combine that with youth and energy at Hometown.”

Best Realty started in 1988, but the company has been in business in Billings for four decades under previous names. The company will keep its offices at 1925 Central for now, and Century 21 will stay at 1605 Shiloh Road until larger office space can be found. Eventually, the new company will be called Century 21 Hometown Brokers.

“If we just quickly changed names, 50 years of business building would evaporate,” Holbrook said.

Holbrook and Century 21 broker/owner Mark Dawson will manage the merged company. Best Realty co-owner Jim Pickens will step down from management to concentrate on land development and new construction.

For the past three years, home sales across the U.S. have fallen sharply from a real estate peak after the subprime housing market collapsed. And federal tax credits for first-time home buyers, which helped spur home sales nationwide, expired in April.

Billings has been relatively immune from the troubles. Billings Association of Realtors statistics, which include modular and mobile homes, show an increase in the average sales price for a single-family home of $199,650 year to date or $6,025 higher than last year.

However, Billings Realtor Howard Sumner said the average sales price for traditional homes has declined 5 percent to $212,153 through October, compared to 2009. He doesn't count patio homes, town homes or mobile homes in his statistics. The number of completed home sales has fallen to 1,429 or 13 percent less than last year, according to his figures.

“Nobody is doing the volume of business we were doing back there, but the correction period gives us a chance to sit back and see what we're good at and what we're not so good at and work on that,” Holbrook said.

However, this is an outstanding time as far as interest rates are concerned to buy or refinance a home.

Mortgage interest for 30-year, fixed-rate loans dropped to 4.17 percent this week, the lowest since 1971 and a 15-year mortgage was 3.57 percent.

Mary Grant, executive officer for the Billings Association of Realtors, said the association represents 146 real estate offices with 701 agents.

Prudential Floberg Realtors, which celebrated its 50th anniversary last year, has been the largest real estate operation in Billings for years and has 51 agents. Century 21 has 47 licensed agents and Best Realty has 32 for a total of 79 after the merger. The merged company will be adding sales staff, Holbrook said.

“There still is plenty of business out there for an agent committed to customer service,” he said.

Contact Jan Falstad at jfalstad@billingsgazette.com of 657-1306.

Contact Jan Falstad at jfalstad@billingsgazette.com of 406-657-1306.

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