Real estate teams find power in numbers

Agents join forces to grow business

Editor’s note: Do you work as part of an agent team? Want to share your stories with Inman News about how your team got its start, or your current or past experiences working as a part of a real estate team? Inman News wants to hear from you. Drop us a note at future@inman.com. We will be profiling agent teams and highlighting issues relevant to real estate teams in coverage throughout the month of April.

CHICAGO — They say two heads are better than one. But what about 17? Or 30? Broker teams across the country are growing in popularity, but also in the number of people involved in the team. While some Realtors might be hesitant to start sharing profits from their businesses during tough economic times, two teams in Chicago have found that synergy is working for them.

"When I first started in real estate by myself, I was working 75 or 80 hours a week sometimes," says Fred Scovell of Scovell-Sabatini Team, a part of Chicago’s Rubloff real estate brokerage company. "I wanted to hire an assistant, but I realized the kind of person I would want as an assistant wouldn’t want to stay an assistant for very long."

Scovell, who had recently left a law firm where he had been a minority partner specializing in real estate law, started his brokerage in 2003. By 2005, he decided it would be beneficial to hire a partner and his friend Maria Sabatini was looking to get out of her advertising job and into real estate.

The two decided to join forces. They sell mostly condominiums along Chicago’s lakefront from the South Loop to Rogers Park.

The team is somewhat of an odd couple: Sabatini likes designing and marketing, while Scovell is best at scouring the details of a deal, dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s. Sabatini likes working outside of the office, and Scovell prefers to work in it. But the differing personalities also help them gain clientele.

"Buying or selling a home can be kind of an emotional experience," Sabatini says. "When we first do a presentation, a lot of times we can see that that person is a little better fit for Fred or a little better fit for me."

While clients often work with just one of the pair, sometimes they’re switched over to the other. Both partners perform equal roles in the business, so they both know what is going on with each client and listing at any given time. They meet each week to discuss ideas: what to do with a listing that won’t sell, or how to get a buyer interested in a listing that might not initially appeal to them.

But having a partner means more than just support in terms of ideas and business. It also helps the team stay personally sane, Scovell says.

"When you’re going through a trying time like many people are right now, it’s easy to try to control all the events that are happening and to do it isolated from everyone else," he says. "When you get out of the framework of the individual and tell someone how you’re feeling or what you’re working through, things can get a little easier." …CONTINUED

The team is currently working with almost $7 million in inventory, with $725,000 under contract at the end of March. Their business has increased each year, partially because people have started to recognize their names, faces and branding, Sabatini says. Having two names and two personalities can attract even more sellers and buyers to the table.

While the two-person team remains a popular option for Realtors, some are choosing to work in even larger group settings.

Another team working to bring in business on Chicago’s north and northwest sides is the 17-member Mario Greco Group, also a part of Rubloff. According to Greco, his group is the top producer in Chicago’s Lincoln Park, Roscoe Village, North Center and Irving Park neighborhoods.

Instead of dividing work evenly, though, each person plays a specific role in the sales process in order to get a deal done. Greco hired his first partner in 2002, and his office steadily grew each year. He got the idea to build the group after reading "The Millionaire Real Estate Agent," by Keller Williams founder Gary Keller and co-authors Dave Jenks and Jay Papasan.

"I hired without worrying about whether or not I could afford the person," Greco says. "I knew that when we had more people we’d be able to do more work more efficiently."

Some group members work in the office, dealing with marketing, closing or creating new business while others focus on showings and working outside of the office. Clients do their initial presentation with Greco, but subsequently work with a series of other members of the group as they progress through the real estate transaction process.

"We have a lot more resources this way," says Adam Garvey, the contracts and closing manager and group manager for the Mario Greco Group. "We’re always on our BlackBerrys communicating with each other. If I don’t know a certain thing, I can call someone else or e-mail someone else who does know."

Unlike Scovell and Sabatini, salaries at the Greco Group aren’t always divided equally. In-office staff members earn a salary and a bonus based on Greco’s commission. Out-of-office personnel earn a combination of their own production volume and the bonus based on Greco’s commission. Group members say they enjoy this division of labor.

"I don’t have to do everything," says Brent Garcia, sales manager for the Mario Greco Group. "It’s to my benefit that there’s somebody here at the office who’s better at doing the paperwork or better at the closing contracts, or better at generating new business."

While Greco admits that sometimes sellers are skeptical about the fact that several different people could potentially be showing their homes, he says that most clients enjoy the team format. In recent months, the group has been very successful in selling homes under $417,000 — the federally established conforming loan limit in Chicago. …CONTINUED

Greco said the group has sought to break the stereotype of Realtor teams in creating an image and brand beyond the Rubloff name.

"We’re not just a husband-and-wife team with a couple of assistants working for us, or two brokers sharing the cost of advertising," Greco said. "Everyone contributes; everyone’s an expert, so you get better results."

Most of Chicago’s leading real estate companies, like @properties, Keller Williams and Koening and Strey, have only a handful of teams working among their hundreds of brokers. But the number of teams nationwide is growing across the country, says Ralph Roberts, author of the book "Power Teams," a guide to starting a real estate team.

Roberts said he started a real estate team in Michigan in 1975 because he felt he needed assistance from others — his team has now grown to about 30 members.

"If you’re not in a team right now and you’re not doing short sales, you might as well get out of real estate," Roberts says.

He said he interviewed more than 200 teams across the country for his book. Overall, teams tend to be more profitable per person than individual Realtors, plus they allow themselves time to take vacations and breaks, he said. Each year, according to Roberts, more real estate teams start in the country, and it’s only logical.

"Most professions work in teams and it makes sense to," he said. "You see surgeons, lawyers, even electricians working in teams. You can get a lot more done that way."

While Roberts says there’s no guarantee a team leader will make more with a team than on his own, he says it’s easier to do more volume in a team and create synergies that drive sales and profits. It also helps to create more jobs for more people.

"It’s better for us, and it’s better for the clients because we have time to personalize their service," Sabatini said. "There’s always one of us there for them when they need it."

Maureen Wilkey is a freelance writer in Chicago.

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