Simon Thomas was born into a family of entrepreneurs, but when he made his first attempt at starting his own business — as a franchisee of fruit gift baskets — it was successful for just two years. Then he ran into the 2008 global financial recession.
“I learned a ton, but had to shut the business down,” says Thomas, whose family owns Crystal Gardens Banquet Center in Southgate and Howell, among other area venues. “I didn’t give up on owning my own business. I learned a lot working for my family growing up, and I took all that knowledge and kept moving forward.”
After earning his real estate brokerage license, Thomas sold single-family homes and condominiums at various real estate operations and became a top producer in the region when he hit $20 million in sales in his third year. Five years later, in 2018, he launched DOBI Real Estate in Birmingham’s Rail District.
“What I saw from other real estate brokerage operations was that agents didn’t necessarily need to work from an office each day; rather, as new technology allowed agents to become more mobile and work from different places, they needed an office setting that complemented that flexibility,” says Thomas, CEO and broker at DOBI Real Estate.
The trend not only brought greater efficiencies to listing and selling homes, it also provided for considerable savings. In a traditional real estate office where each agent has an office, a brokerage like DOBI, with 85 sales professionals, would need around 20,000 square feet of space. Simon’s setup, however, spans 4,000 square feet.
“We made the office more flexible, almost like a coffee shop and a small café all in one,” he explained during a recent tour. There are a handful of offices, but most of the space, which includes a roll-up glass garage door that opens to a patio, provides for multiple activities. “We can have a group sales meeting or present monthly awards to the team,” Thomas says. “The space is very flexible.”
As the founder seeks to grow his enterprise — Thomas says DOBI is on pace to sell 600 homes this year — he plans to double the size of his operation to provide for more agents. He’s also eyeing a future expansion into the Rochester and Northville markets. The goal is to have five or six offices in the region in the coming years.
To help propel growth, last year Thomas launched Twenty-Two Title, which taps technical innovations to streamline the closing and escrow process. “Our clients are looking to save time and money, and get the maximum value for their home,” he says.
As for recent market trends, Thomas says since COVID-19, more buyers are seeking larger residences that include multiple rooms. “Families want home offices for the parents and the kids, and separate TV rooms,” he says. “Homes with more than three bedrooms are selling faster, and condominiums take longer to sell, overall, than single-family homes.”