In an age where agents have more sophisticated technology than ever and leads from a growing number of sources, brokerages can stay relevant by recruiting the right agents, providing them with support they need and increasing the visibility of their websites.

Those were some of the takeaways from the “Broker War Room,” a panel discussion today at Real Estate Connect New York City moderated by Inman Publisher Brad Inman.

Nick Segal.

Nick Segal

Nick Segal, president of Los Angeles-based Partners Trust, said the 175-agent brokerage thoroughly vets the agents it brings on. Segal said the firm recently turned away an experienced former broker when, over the course of a 2 1/2-hour interview, it became clear that he wouldn’t mesh well with the firm.

When deciding whether to bring a new agent on board, Segal said he likes to ask himself one key question: Is the agent inspired to be with us?

Enthusiasm is important, Segal said, because Partners Trust heavily invests in its agents, and if they’re not pumped about the brand or the way the business works, the firm will waste valuable time and energy.

Greg Fox, broker-owner of Wichita, Kansas-based Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate Alliance, said he prefers to bring on newer agents whom he can mold. That increases the likelihood that they’ll fit into his firm’s culture, which has helped with retention, he said. The 50-agent firm has had only one agent leave in the last five years, Fox said.

Greg Fox

Greg Fox

A broker’s value proposition to its agents can also be a function of geography. Because his company is located far from the innovation and knowledge-sharing that’s more common on the coasts, Fox said he’s able to provide perspective on technology and processes to his agents that they can’t easily find on their own.

Both Segal and Fox said that lead generation was less of a focus for them than on coaching agents on how to get the most out of their sphere of influence, where a vast majority of their business originates.

Lead gen and SEO

Glenn Houck, co-founder of real estate lead generation consulting firm LeadQual, said brokers can demonstrate their value to agents by leveraging their position as the ultimate source of listings. That, along with their deep local knowledge, can boost their standings in search engine results.

Most consumers find the real estate site they’re going to look for homes on through Google or another search engine, so it’s important for brokerages to figure out how to appear high in search results, Houck said.

Glenn Houck

Glenn Houck

Because there’s a time element to Google’s search engine optimization algorithm, brokerages can boost their rankings by publishing listings on their own site first before sending them to portals like Zillow and Trulia. A day or two lead time is usually enough to secure top position, Houck said.

For an additional SEO boost, brokerages can also leverage the one thing that portals don’t have: an army of agents with deep local knowledge. When agents blog and post photos and videos on their brokerage’s website, search engines will rank it higher.

Houck said brokerages should also be aware that consumers are increasingly using “long-tail” searches when hunting for homes online. Tailoring Web content and SEO strategy to capture homebuyers looking for homes in specific neighborhoods with specific attributes will also pull in more leads.

Brokers can also offer exclusive information about their listings on their website to drive traffic to both their sites.

Partners Trust, for example, does not syndicate all of the photos it has for many of its listings to the MLS and the portals. Consumers have an incentive to go to the broker’s site for information then.

Inman said that strategy was how he and his wife ended up on Partners Trust’s website during their recent Los Angeles house hunt.

Partners Trust manages the photo-culling process at the brokerage level, which takes the task off of its agents’ hands, Segal said.

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