They later moved to Costa Mesa — they are currently on Bristol Street near South Coast Plaza — and expanded into Mission Viejo and other markets.
And though the housing market is still considered soft, First Team Real Estate opened eight new offices outside of Orange County last year and ranked ninth in sales volume nationwide, according to RISMedia's Broker Report.
The company now has more than 60 locations overseeing operations in residential and commercial real estate, as well as title, escrow and mortgage services.
There are some high-profile clients as well. First Team
recently closed escrow on two homes owned by TV personality Jesse James — a $1.065 million condo in Long Beach and a $4.5 million house shared with ex-wife Sandra Bullock in Sunset Beach.
Over the years, the way to build value to a client has changed, and with the advent of the Internet, clients are demanding more knowledgeable Realtors.
"If your business model was based on getting a listing, sitting in an open house and telling everyone how great you are — those days are over and they're not coming back," Grant said.
Though Realtors at first worried about the Web, today they see it as a tool more than a threat, Merage said.
"Real estate is a hyper-local business," Merage said. "The Internet enables the Realtor, who has access to tools and knows how to use them to drive value to the consumer in way that has never happened before in a way that the consumer actually can't."
As an example, Merage pointed toward proprietary software that can map the market trajectories by city and neighborhood.
The new software and technology innovations are part of Merage's growing business, which he hopes to eventually expand throughout the state to Nevada and beyond.
And when the housing market is in a downward cycle, it's the perfect time for expansion because it provides the company opportunity to stand out from the competition, Merage said.
"We're going to grow the organization as long as we can add innovation to add value to the consumer and agent base," Merage said. "I like to say you build a foundation from which you can launch a rocket from and that's what we're going to be doing."