Before I was in real estate, during those heady years of steady paychecks, paid vacation, retirement benefits and weekends off, I was familiar with the term, "Top Producer." This label, trumpeted with pride, was usually followed by the words "Million Dollar Club." I didn’t know what a Million Dollar Club was, but I knew a million bucks sounded like a lot of money, so it was a natural leap to assume that members of this club were not overly consumed with the price of Wonder Bread.

Before I was in real estate, during those heady years of steady paychecks, paid vacation, retirement benefits and weekends off, I was familiar with the term, "Top Producer." This label, trumpeted with pride, was usually followed by the words "Million Dollar Club." I didn’t know what a Million Dollar Club was, but I knew a million bucks sounded like a lot of money, so it was a natural leap to assume that members of this club were not overly consumed with the price of Wonder Bread.

We don’t have Million Dollar Clubs anymore; that would just be silly. Anyone with a mortgage and at least one DNA match living at home knows that a million dollars is actually one-thousand thousand dollars. In my home state of California, that will get you a nice five-bedroom tract home, or about six tanks of gas (assuming you don’t top off). But, we still have our top producers.

I attended one of my company’s top producer breakfast meetings recently. Several years ago, these were monthly events, and they were intended to recognize and inspire the more accomplished agents. As the market grew more challenging, the events were less frequent, until we were left to make our own bacon and eggs altogether. So, yesterday was a throwback, a revival of sorts.

The crowd was smaller. Someone undoubtedly thought that it was time to rally the troops, and someone was right. The mood was more somber. Most of the faces were familiar, but the passes for admittance were handed out a little more freely this time. We all shared several commonalities: We were all breathing unassisted, we each showed evidence of moderate financial solvency, and none of us had yet to accept filler work at the local Starbucks. Beyond that, we weren’t collectively awe inspiring. We were just eating.

Two things in particular struck me. One was the company message. We have seen down markets before, complete with their short sales and foreclosures and challenging times, but this one is different. The industry will never be the same. Become technologically progressive if you expect to survive. Buy a Web-enabled PDA. We were even treated to a cautionary "just say no." Unthinkable at our breakfasts of yesteryear, our broker was telling us to not take listings, at least not if they don’t make sense from a pricing standpoint.

If I had been brave enough to breach social decorum, I would have been standing on my chair, wildly waving my complimentary muffin above my head and delivering the raucous applause this message deserved (hard to do while holding a muffin). While this "State of the Brokerage" was admittedly incomplete, it was a bold step in the right direction. Hopefully, it is not too late for today’s top producers.

Which brings me to the main curiosity of this event. These high achievers were largely still the stereotype of yesterday’s top-producing agent. They were forty- and fifty-somethings; they were the faces on the bus benches and the print mailers and the shopping carts. Of course, there are some obvious reasons for this. In a business where experience matters, they had experience. In a business where a second, spousal income or some serious seed money in the form of a pension or trust fund is essential to staying afloat during both the start-up years and during the ebbs and flows of the agent earned income, they enjoyed a financial safety net. In a business where a breadth of skill sets and a little maturity is essential, they possessed these things.
 
I see us at a crossroads. On the one hand, the pendulum of our cyclical market will swing yet again. On the other, as we ride it out to the next high point, the landscape will be different. Many of today’s top producers are surviving because they "heart" referrals, they have amassed a vast data base of loyal clients during their years of service, and they have achieved rock star status by yesterday’s standards. Tomorrow, will longevity and staying power be enough?

I can’t help but wonder what tomorrow’s top producer will look like.

Kris Berg is a real estate broker associate for Prudential California Realty in San Diego. She also writes a consumer-focused real estate blog, The San Diego Home Blog.

Berg will speak at Real Estate Connect in San Francisco, July 23-25, 2008. Register today.

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