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Making it in Big Sky: Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Montana Properties

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Don Pilotte has worked at the Big Sky office of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Montana Properties, the largest real estate company in Montana, since the early ‘90s. PHOTO COURTESY OF DON PILOTTE

By Gabrielle Gasser EBS STAFF

BIG SKY – From a cattle grazing operation to three high profile mountain clubs, Don Pilotte of Berkshire Hathaway has seen Big Sky grow through many phases. 

When he originally moved out to Bozeman, Pilotte would come up to Big Sky and see cattle grazing in the meadow area. He watched Big Sky Resort open in 1973, and subsequently was involved in the creation of Moonlight Basin as one of the property’s original listing brokers.

Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Montana Properties is Montana’s premiere full service real estate company, and it is the highest-ranked real estate company in the state of Montana for annual sales.

Berkshire Hathaway, operated by Mike Basile and Dan Ermatinger, is now the largest real estate company in Montana with offices in 17 different towns. The company has gone through several name iterations but Pilotte explained that the basic company has been the same since about the early 1970s. Since rebranding with Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices, the company has opened offices in Livingston, Helena, Butte and Bigfork and now has nearly 275 agents across the state.

The Big Sky office opened in the early ‘90s and Pilotte started working in Big Sky at that point. Originally, he explained, he was a one-man show at the office, which has now grown to an eight-person agent team with a much larger management team.  

Explore Big Sky sat down with Pilotte, a broker with the Big Sky firm, to talk about the history and growth of Berkshire Hathaway over the years.

Explore Big Sky: How do the Montana offices fit into the larger network of offices?

Don Pilotte: “We all are part of a franchise which provides a compendium of services like brochures, a lot of industry research and support, and they provide a lot of additional advertising exposure. We have international exposure for properties that we list due to the Berkshire franchise. Within the company, we have a farm ranch division, a commercial division, a luxury division, and then general real estate.” 

“We have a group that started partially out of COVID-19, composed of Berkshire offices in the western resorts. We tried to have regular telephone calls between Sun Valley, Park City, Jackson Hole, Big Sky, and Tahoe, Crested Butte, Vale, etc. We try to get on the phone once a month and have a Zoom meeting and talk about what is going on in the various markets. If we see something, developing in one market, perhaps, hypothetically something going on in Colorado or Utah, it might be the beginning of a trend.” 

EBS: How has Berkshire Hathaway grown with Big Sky?

DP: “We have two offices in Bozeman and we have an office in Big Sky, and the numbers of associates have raised over the years. The Bozeman and Big Sky area was a much smaller place 20 years ago. One of the things that has really changed a lot, and this is partially COVID-related, is that at one point, basically everybody worked just exclusively in the office … We’re now seeing a lot of people who are working remotely … Technology has probably been the biggest change that’s allowed more flexibility in the offices and allowed companies to do a much better job communicating with their buyers and sellers or people just generally interested in real estate.”

EBS: How has Berkshire Hathaway adapted during the pandemic?

DP: “We have essentially canceled staff meetings, we’re Zooming. One of the things the franchise allows us to do is they develop sales templates, sales materials, that you can customize. If you are marketing a luxury house, you can go to that home, shoot pictures, send those into Berkshire’s resource center, a brochure is designed, it’s sent to a printer, and in one to two days a finished brochure is at your door, waiting to be given out as collateral to either buyers or sellers.”

EBS: Why is Berkshire Hathaway consistently ranked as the No. 1 brokerage in Montana?

DP: “It’s due to the size of the company. We’re in 16 different towns, all across the state. We have a variety of services, we can easily make brochures, we can put together collateral material out of standard formats that are developed on the corporate level. We have a tremendous support staff. I cannot impress upon people how important that support staff is, we have a full-time graphic artist within the company. We have probably the greatest number of support staff of any company in the state. We’ve got one specialist who basically just does ad placement, we’ve got another specialist who is working on internet, making sure that the websites are functioning. We have individuals who are experts in proofreading and putting together brochures. … If we need a map done, that may be a map that shows a subdivision, shows which parcels are for sale, which parcels are currently available, which parcels were maybe pending sales, full-time graphic artists can put that together in a very quick response time.”

EBS: What’s the best business advice you have ever received?  

DP: “The best business advice that I’ve ever received was from a longtime business partner. We were looking at some raw, vacant land, and the advice was ‘let the land tell you what to do.’ That’s sage advice. You’re looking at doing something, study that piece of ground, let it tell you what to do, and it’ll all work out for the best.”

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