In 1973, Harold Crye "wandered" into real estate fresh out of the U.S. Army and discovered he had a passion for the business. He worked for a real estate brokerage for four years before co-founding his own company with Dick Leike in 1977. He was 31.

"I felt like there could be a better way. I felt like the agents were being treated like employees at the last place and I felt they could be given more freedom as independent contractors," Crye


Harold E. Crye

In 1973, Harold Crye "wandered" into real estate fresh out of the U.S. Army and discovered he had a passion for the business. He worked for a real estate brokerage for four years before co-founding his own company with Dick Leike in 1977. He was 31.

"I felt like there could be a better way. I felt like the agents were being treated like employees at the last place and I felt they could be given more freedom as independent contractors," Crye said.

"I thought we could set up a company that was a little more agent-friendly, give them more tools they needed, a more fun place to work, more camaraderie. Just a better environment."

Today, Crye-Leike, Realtors has 3,200 agents and 113 offices in nine states: Tennessee, Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, Louisiana and Oklahoma. The company continues to grow: last month, it expanded into the Knoxville, Tenn., market.

Crye-Leike is the sixth largest brokerage in the country by closed transaction sides, according to the latest Real Trends rankings. The company is a member of the Leading Real Estate Companies of the World. 

"That’s a pretty good level of success for a company that started out with two guys and whose sole goal and ambition was 20 agents," said Crye, the company’s CEO.

What agents look for in a brokerage is leadership, stability, and the tools to be successful, he said, adding that part of that is in helping them devise a business plan — but not dictating it.

"One of the things (agents) don’t like is a lot of rules. They like the freedom to succeed and the freedom to fail. They are basically running their own business," Crye said.

"For instance, some companies might say, ‘We only pay commissions once a week.’ We pay commissions on the hour. We feel like if the agent took six months to sell," they should get their money right away, he said.

"We call that an ‘agent-friendly’ policy versus something that someone put in place because it was convenient for them. Another policy might be every agent has to take floor duty. We make that voluntary. Some want it and some don’t."

High producers, for example, may not feel floor duty is worth their time, he said. "(We’re) letting the agents design their own business plan for their particular needs."

Agents don’t usually have a business plan when they come into Crye-Leike, he said, and therefore, the brokerage provides a business coach.

"It’s just like a personal trainer. You know and I know that if we got on that treadmill we’d be in better shape and better health. A personal trainer will tell us to do one more (round), better. A business coach keeps us focused and on track," Crye said.

One of the brokerage’s biggest challenges is keeping agents up to speed on technology, which has changed dramatically in the nearly four decades Crye has been in the industry.

"Going back a ways, our whole industry was based on the newspaper and the telephone. We trained our agents on telephone technique and how to write creative ads for the newspaper. (Now), newspaper’s dead," Crye said.

Why would consumers go to a newspaper ad with tiny, abbreviated text, "when they can go online and see in glorious color virtual tours and that type of thing?" he said.

"(Now), communication’s much more instantaneous. Even voice mail is kind of passé."

The brokerage offers an internal designation — Social Networking Professional (SNP) — that has been spurring agents to take on social media marketing. To get the designation, agents must complete an in-house social networking course and garner a significant number of followers on sites like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

"Here’s what the big disconnect is: Real estate agents are, in general, in their 50s and their clients are in their 30s. Agents are still reading the newspaper and have watches on their arms. The agents are working to overcome that and, while they’re just now catching up to email and all that, the customers are all ramped up to go to the races. We as a company are trying to move the agents along," Crye said.

"The old-fashioned way of selling houses still works — at the end of the day, it’s all about relationships. Social media is one way of establishing those relationships."

The brokerage has also tried to tackle what Crye said is an industrywide issue brought on by tech changes: timely online customer service.

Instead of calling agents on the phone, customers now "send us emails and find we’re not responding to those emails in an expeditious fashion. As low as 30 percent of those emails are being responded to in a four- or five-hour period. If you’re not responding in that period they’re probably off to the races with somebody else," Crye said.

"And a certain percentage (of emails) is never being responded to. That’s the equivalent of leaving a phone ringing. That would drive a real estate company crazy."

In response, the company has developed a department where full-time employees respond to online inquiries quickly and pass the contacts on to agents.

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