Top of the list: An interview with Ben Caballero

Top of the list: An interview with Ben Caballero
Ben Caballero

Each year RealTrends releases its list of the highest performing real estate agents in the country, and, like clockwork, Ben Caballero of Dallas-based HomesUSA tops the list.

In 2020, Cabellero reported 6,409 transaction sides — or 18 home sales a day — for a deal volume of $2.2 billion.

So, who in the world is Ben Caballero? And are these numbers for real?

Caballero grew up in Florida, served in the Air Force, and has spent the last several decades in Dallas, staying in Big D because a few people were friendly enough to help when Caballero’s car broke down.

He is CEO of HomesUSA, which helps homebuilders place homes on Texas’s sundry Multiple Listings Services. Previously, Caballero was a homebuilder and operated an apartment rental service. Before then he spent decades in homebuilding and apartment rental services.

As for the numbers…they are kind of real.

Caballero is like any real estate listing agent, on the hunt for clients. But instead of individual homesellers his clients are homebuilding companies including Toll Brothers, Trophy Signature Homes, and Historymaker Homes.

Caballero does not have to guide these corporate clients through the legal and administrative work — and emotional heft — of selling a home. His job is to ensure homes are being seen.

The staggering home sale numbers perhaps distract from the fact that Caballero arguably does have a major insight — Homebuilders are traditionally too estranged from real estate. And the result is that the real estate agents of homebuyers can overlook newly built homes because those homes have not been properly entered into the MLS, and promoted the way existing homes are.

HomesUSA has changed this, at least for much of Texas, and Caballero believes he has shifted homebuilder behavior nationally (HomesUSA also aspires to its own national expansion).

HousingWire recently spoke with Caballero over video from the CEO’s Dallas office on HomesUSA’s revenue, business model, and Caballero’s own journey. Here are the highlights of that discussion.

HousingWire: What does HomesUSA do?

Ben Caballero: Our service supports builders, sales, their marketing and then management as it relates to marketing their homes to realtors. We are not a business to consumer company. We are business to business.

What builders don’t need is a realtor to list their homes in a traditional way. But what they do need is for the realtors that have buyers to have the complete and accurate information about their homes. So that those agents will bring their buyer to the builder.

We have a specialized service to ensure that the builder’s homes are presented to the realtors through MLS in the most efficient and accurate way. And then we provide a platform that allows the builders to see that we are accountable and transparent so that if they have any questions about anything, they can log into our system and see it.

HousingWire: So, talk more about the value that you provide. For example, one of the building companies you work with is Toll Brothers, a pretty sophisticated, publicly traded company. Why can’t Toll Brothers just put the homes on the MLS themselves?

Ben Caballero: They could, and a lot of homebuilders do. Meritage Homes, Taylor Morrison are some of the larger public builders that do.

But when you’re doing hundreds of buildings a year, you have to put them in right as they’re completed, and you have to be sensitive to the completion date. And when a home is completed, you have to get the photography done.

There’s a management process we do where we touch each listing approximately 23 times, from changing the status and stage in construction process to changing the photographs. And then builders are pretty likely to change prices throughout the life of listings, and they’ll list it and if the market is softer, they will lower the price. So, with our listings, the realtors know they have a level of confidence that the information is accurate.

Also, we process the requests of the builders in an average of 13 minutes, and we have a way to capture the data from the builder, where the builder doesn’t even have to do anything because we pull in their XML feed. So, it probably removes 75-80% of the manual entry for a builder.

HousingWire: Now, at the point of contract where an agent or consumer sees a home entered by HomesUSA, what happens next? Do you, or one of your colleagues, for example, conduct a tour of the home or do other responsibilities of a traditional listing agent?

Ben Caballero: No, builders have their own on-site people in each community. And they are the ones who do that.

And, usually, realtors go through ShowingTime and schedule the appointment.

But what you’re referring to would be a business to consumer business. And we don’t do any of that. I never talk to a buyer. I never go to a closing. That’s not my part of it.

HousingWire: A typical business-to-consumer listing agent gets paid through a sales commission that they split with the buyer’s agent. How do you get paid?

Ben Caballero: HomesUSA gets paid per the listing. And it’s a fixed fee that varies based on a builder’s volume and service level.

HousingWire: How much revenue does HomesUSA generate each year?

Ben Caballero: Not enough! We are just under $3 million in our revenue for this year right now.

HousingWire: When did HomesUSA get started exactly? You said before 2007 that you were providing services for homebuilders manually.

Ben Caballero: Well, it was around 1995 that I started playing with the idea. And, you know, at that time builders were not even working with realtors.

One day I had lunch with the sales manager from Lennar homes, and was like, ‘Why don’t you let me put your homes on the MLS?’ It will give you in an with realtors. And, if it doesn’t work out for you, then just don’t pay me. And because I was a friend and they trusted me, we did it and from there it was gangbusters. And now today, it is very, very unusual for industry builders to not put their homes on the MLS, right? I can’t think of any major builder who doesn’t.

And, so, we had a tiger by the tail because we’re getting information first from these builders through faxes and phone calls. And back then the Internet just wasn’t mature enough and builders didn’t have enough computers on their sales offices.

That began to change around 2007, and we were able to take on clients more efficiently.

HousingWire: What were you doing before 1995?

Ben Caballero: I had a business that helped buyers get out of their homes when the market was very depressed. And then before that I was a home builder myself.

HousingWire: And you’ve been in the Dallas area the whole time?

Ben Caballero: Yes, I first started one of the first apartment rental services as far as I know in the country.

HousingWire: What has changed the most in your decades in the profession?

Ben Caballero: The quality of homes has greatly improved. The energy efficiency, the roofing materials, the appliances, the cabinetry, everything is better. High ceilings is something that used to be very rare. Homes now are just more beautiful. The building codes had something to do with that. Municipalities have added a lot to the cost of a home but some of it has been helpful and good for the consumer.

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