It’s one thing for a real estate agent who is just starting out in the business to choose the company and brand he wants to work under, and another for an experienced Realtor to jump ship to another company or strike out on her own.

But what do you do when the company you’ve staked your career on decides to rebrand?

That’s the decision facing more than 300 agents in Tucson, Ariz., after Realty Executives Southern Arizona owner Anthony Azar announced last week that he’d struck an agreement to rebrand as a Keller Williams franchise.

While Keller Williams is a large and growing company with a reputation for being agent-run, Realty Executives got its start in Arizona and has loyal followers.

It’s one thing for a real estate agent who is just starting out in the business to choose the company and brand he wants to work under, and another for an experienced Realtor to jump ship to another company or strike out on her own.

But what do you do when the company you’ve staked your career on decides to rebrand?

That’s the decision facing more than 300 agents in Tucson, Ariz., after Realty Executives Southern Arizona owner Anthony Azar announced last week that he’d struck an agreement to rebrand as a Keller Williams franchise.

While Keller Williams is a large and growing company with a reputation for being agent-run, Realty Executives got its start in Arizona and has loyal followers.

The situation in Tucson heated up after management at Realty Executives got wind of Azar’s move, opened up their own office in the city, and offered brokers and agents who wanted to remain with the brand the opportunity to jump ship (see story).

Realty Executives said that as of Friday, "well over" 100 agents had expressed commitments to join the brokerage it’s forming: Realty Executives Tucson. The company says it will open at least two more Tucson offices in coming weeks, and is setting up a dedicated Web site at SearchHomesTucson.com.

A Keller Williams spokeswoman said that 150 of the 200 agents who attended last week’s meeting announcing Azar’s move have already decided to join him in rebranding to Keller Williams, and that more are expected to follow.

Azar’s brokerage claimed a total of 375 agents and employees, and the company’s Web site listed 324 agents the day after the announcement.

Most agents and brokers contacted by Inman News Friday said they were still weighing their options.

Broker Kathy Harvey said she and her husband Richard, brokers who moved to Tucson from New York in 1987, have decided to stay with Azar’s brokerage, to be known as Keller Williams Southern Arizona (the company’s Web site, GoTucson.com, still carried the Realty Executives brand today).

"We like that it’s the same ownership, the same staff, and the same office location," Harvey said. "We feel like we’re getting a bigger presence with a larger company — it feels like a positive for everybody."

Harvey said she’s confident Azar researched the move carefully. After two days of meetings with Azar’s management team and Keller Williams, she said, "What we hear about it, we like."

After taking into account factors such as commission splits and expenses such as office rent and franchise fees, Harvey has concluded that "it’s a wash," as far as which company will have the most beneficial impact on her bottom line.

Andrea Kalmanovitz, a spokeswoman for Realty Executives Tucson, said the company is offering "multiple commission structures" that are "very competitive," and noted that agents staying with the company may be doing so for other reasons, too.

Harvey said she likes the "ownership factor" Keller Williams offers, in giving agents a say in how the company is run and by offering profit-sharing.

The Harveys are used to change: Kathy said she’s been in real estate for 30 years and her husband for 40, and that Azar’s firm is the fourth company they’ve worked under since coming to Tucson more than two decades ago.

"We haven’t changed lightly, but when we’ve changed, our clients have moved with us," she said. "They are trying to make it an easy transition. We carry quite a few listings, and so far every client has said absolutely, ‘We will go with you.’ "

Still in the undecided camp is broker Joann Hanna, who’s held a real estate license since 1981 and has worked in the Tucson market for 17 years — the last 13 of those years with Realty Executives Southern Arizona.

Although Hanna said she was still weighing her decision Friday, she was leaning toward staying with Azar’s firm and making the switch to Keller Williams.

If she does, Hanna said, it will be more because she wants to stay with Azar and the company he has built, and less about what Keller Williams has to offer. …CONTINUED

"It’s not so much the (Keller Williams name) — in real estate we make our own name," Hanna said. "I’m going with the management — we have wonderful people, wonderful staff."

Like other brokers and agents contacted by Inman News, Hanna said initially "we all felt rushed" to make a decision whether to stay with Azar and rebrand as Keller Williams, or leave for another firm.

Some agents said they were under the impression they had to make a decision within 48 hours of Tuesday’s announcement. Azar later made it clear they would have until the end of the month.

"They might have approached us the wrong way," Hanna said.

Now it’s clear there is more time to make a decision, she said, and "we don’t feel like we’re at a timeshare seminar."

Hanna has specialized in new-home sales, working with a local custom builder. With the slowdown in construction during the downturn, she’s branched out into resales, and said she recently sold her first $100,000 house.

"You have to reinvent yourself in this market," Hanna said.

Hanna said she has enjoyed working under the Realty Executives brand, because "I’m so independent … I liked that Realty Executives let me be an agent, and (wasn’t) hovering over me. I’m hoping we can still remain independent (under Keller Williams), because if we can’t, I’m going to be gone."

Ellen Marks, a spokeswoman for Keller Williams Realty International, said all of the company’s offices are run by associate leadership councils, which give agents a voice by examining each office’s finances and making recommendations to the owners on critical business issues.

In weighing her options, Hanna has concluded that her expenses will be about the same or perhaps slightly higher if she chooses to fall under the Keller Williams umbrella.

"It’s not that much different — I don’t let that scare me," Hanna said. "If it’s a little more, and they have a better Web site, or if I do a lot of business with people out of state because they know Keller Williams," then the additional expense would be justified, she said.

Marks said Keller Williams provides agents with a full lead generation suite including a personalized Web Internet Data Exchange (IDX) site, listing syndication and contact management tools.

Keller Williams has a "My Listings, My Leads" philosophy, meaning that wherever an agent’s listings go, leads go directly back to the agent at no charge.

Hanna said when she mentioned to some of her out-of-state clients that Azar’s firm would be rebranding as Keller Williams, "they thought it was a great thing. I think Keller Williams is larger in other states, but here in Tucson, it’s just a small little company, so it will be up to us to make it bigger."

Meanwhile, Karl Krentzel, who’s been with Realty Executives Southern Arizona for six years, told Inman News last week that he would not make the move with Azar to Keller Williams.

"I respect Keller Williams, but I do not feel they are really going to be a strong presence in Tucson," Krentzel said.

"Realty Executives has been a very good company to me … they acted very quickly and very assertively about establishing a presence here" in the wake of Azar’s announcement, he said.

While Realty Executives managers say they intend to remain a force in the Tucson market, Hanna said she worries about whether the company it’s putting together to do that will be large enough to be cost-effective.

She said she was concerned that there weren’t many agents at the first meeting Realty Executives held in Tucson after Azar announced he’d be rebranding as Keller Williams.

"I want to go where there’s going to be a bigger presence," Hanna said, and she thinks Azar will ultimately have more brokers and agents under his wing than Realty Executives. "I feel he’s trying to do what’s best for everyone, not just for him," Hanna said.

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