A few years ago independent-minded Daniela Kunen, an agent with Prudential Douglas Elliman Real Estate in New York City, said she never dreamed she would be working as part of a team.

Kunen balked when the company approached her with the plan six years ago to bring aboard an assistant.

"I was working very long hours and they absolutely insisted that I have an assistant," she said.

Editor’s note: Inman News is highlighting agent teams during coverage this month. Share with us your thoughts on trends and issues you are you seeing with agent teams: future@inman.com.

By NATALIE KEITH

A few years ago independent-minded Daniela Kunen, an agent with Prudential Douglas Elliman Real Estate in New York City, said she never dreamed she would be working as part of a team.

Kunen balked when the company approached her with the plan six years ago to bring aboard an assistant.

"I was working very long hours and they absolutely insisted that I have an assistant," she said.

Several assistants later, Kunen said she finally found the right fit.

Today, she is teamed with two other agents — Min Jo and Julian Berkeley — both of whom she is quick to complement.

Earlier this year, the team ranked 24th in terms of gross commission income among the top 100 sales agents and agent teams in the 62,000-member Prudential Real Estate Affiliates franchise network. The team ranked seventh in terms of gross commission income among Prudential Douglas Elliman agent teams.

Most of the properties the team sells are located in Manhattan, with a small percentage in the city’s outer boroughs.

Although there are a number of teams at Prudential Douglas Elliman, the company did not disclose the exact number.

Although the team concept can work for some agents, it can also pose logistical problems within an office environment.

"From a management standpoint, you have to limit teams," said Steven James, president of Manhattan brokerage for Prudential Douglas Elliman. "Teams can take up a lot of space within an office and can be disruptive to others."

For teams to be successful, the lead agent must excel at selling real estate but also be able to manage others — a combination that can be difficult to find, James said.

"The teams that have been successful at Prudential Douglas Elliman are ones that have learned to manage themselves," James said.

In addition to providing support for Kunen, Jo and Berkeley work with their own clients. Beyond that, the team divides responsibilities according to their experience — Berkeley is a writer and attorney and Jo has a background in business — among other factors.

"Min is single so she relates to single people," Kunen said. "Julian likes lofts so he specializes more in downtown properties. You have to like the properties that you’re selling." …CONTINUED

For their part, Jo and Berkeley also give high marks to the team concept. Jo, who formerly worked for Morgan Stanley, joined Kunen’s team several years ago when she was seeking a career change. "I didn’t know how to go about being an agent on my own, so a friend suggested that I contact Daniela," she said.

Berkeley, who has worked as a real estate attorney, developer and property manager, joined the team about three years ago. In addition to the clients he works with on the team, he has his own customers. "I get the benefit of listing properties on both Web sites" — his personal Web site and the team’s site, he said.

Kunen said Jo and Berkeley earn a base salary plus a certain percent on each closing, although she said she could not name specific commission levels. With their own customers, the percent is much higher, she said. "They earn the same percent on each of the closings no matter how much work was done," she said. "I don’t want my team to pick and choose among listings."

As far as the day-to-day operations, Kunen deals with all the initial customer inquiries coming into the team and handles all of the negotiations on transactions. Apart from that, duties are split up according to availability and skill set. For example if a buyer calls seeking a property, Kunen will handle the initial contact with the buyer, but then bring Jo or Berkeley with her on subsequent meetings. "I want the buyer to be comfortable with all of us," she said.

Next, each member of the team conducts a search of listings to identify potential properties. Listings are discussed by the team to identify which ones may be suitable to present to the client. Kunen handles bids placed on properties and subsequent negotiations leading up to an agreed purchase price.

The team splits the work done during the board approval process (in Manhattan, most buyers need approval from co-op or condominium boards before purchasing a unit) — it’s a process that can make or break a deal, Kunen noted.

Berkeley collects the buyer’s financial information required by the board, Kunen obtains the reference letters and Jo handles the day-to-day bookkeeping aspects of getting the board package together.

Once a buyer receives board approval, Kunen will conduct the walkthrough with Berkeley because of his background as a developer. Closings are attended by Kunen and either Jo or Berkeley.

When a client calls to sell a property, the team splits up the work in a similar fashion. The entire team will meet with the seller to familiarize themselves with the property. Jo updates the listing on the Web site and sends weekly e-mail blasts to the brokerage community. She coordinates the open houses and showings, which Kunen typically runs.

James said teams must follow the same rules as agents who work as independent contractors, although how they divide responsibilities is their decision. Similarly, teams receive the same level of commission from brokers as sole practitioners, although how they split the commission among team members is "their own business."

Although Jo and Berkeley gave high marks in general to working as part of a team, they did name one downside — when working under the tutelage of another, the relationship can be somewhat constricting.

For Kunen’s part, the once-adamant solo practitioner can’t envision doing work in any other fashion. "As far as I’m concerned, there are no negatives to teamwork," she said.

Natalie Keith is a freelance writer in Florida.

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