Inman is profiling independent brokers. Here’s Sally Lapides of Residential Properties.
Why do you stay independent when there are so many great franchises to join?
I have always prided myself in being an independent thinker. The idea of becoming a a franchisee has never appealed to me. I am very confident in our marketing, branding and advanced technology. Being nimble in our decision-making and trying new, creative ideas without having to get corporate approval distinguishes us from many of our competitors.
When did you decide to launch your independent brokerage and why?
I launched Residential Properties Ltd. in 1981. I had a wonderful potential partner whom I had known for five years. Our vision was to redefine the way homes were marketed. The market was crowded with multigenerational male-owned firms, and we wanted to be in that marketplace with a fresh look, owned and operated by women.
What factored into that decision?
Interest rates were 17.5 percent, and the market was slow. I thought it was a great time to get noticed and to shake up the slumber that had taken place that year.
Why did you think it was the right time and the right move for you?
Being 28 years old, single and fearless, I had nothing but time and energy ahead of me. Taking a risk at that age made sense.
How old is your brokerage?
Residential Properties is (approaching) 34 years old. We opened our doors on Nov. 1, 1981.
What was the biggest challenge you faced in getting your brokerage off the ground?
Finding a bank that would finance a women-owned business was a challenge.
What was the easiest part of getting your brokerage off the ground?
We had immediate credibility because my partner and I were very involved in the community, active in many nonprofit boards, the arts and in education. We had well-established reputations as being leaders in the profession so it was easy for us to recruit based on our reputations.
What’s your approximate agent-to-staff ratio?
Six to one.
Are you part of an independent brokerage network?
Yes, we are members of Leading Real Estate Companies of the World and Luxury Portfolio.
What’s the quirkiest thing about your firm?
We allow our agents to be individuals and to be creative with their marketing efforts, including appearing on camera in their own property videos.
Describe your office. Where is it located? What does it look like?
We have five offices, each in varied settings from a city office, to suburban, coastal and rural. They are each organized and arranged in the manner best suited to the design of the buildings. We cover the entire state of Rhode Island.
What kind of floor plan do you use?
Whatever best suits the particular office. Almost all agents have their own desks. Some offices provide a shared computer or two. All provide color copier/printers/scanners and, most importantly, full-time administrative support.
How many agents and offices and agents do you have?
We have 178 agents and five offices.
How do you recruit new agents?
We cultivate relationships with agents. Each branch manager does his or her own recruiting. Two of our offices essentially have waiting lists, as they are very desirable places to work in their marketplaces.
Where and how do you market your brokerage?
We utilize a variety of media platforms to promote our company, including radio, print and online media. We build relationships and improve engagement with consumers through our popular social media accounts, including Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram and YouTube. We brand ourselves as Rhode Island’s Real Estate Company — but we also remind consumers that although we are a local, independent company, we also provide global reach through our affiliation with Leading Real Estate Companies of the World.
Describe your brokerage’s digital presence.
Our brokerage has made a concerted effort to create a strong digital presence, including our award-winning website. Always looking to stay ahead of the curve, we will soon be releasing a new website with enhanced functionality, including a fully responsive design and a wealth of research tools for visitors.
We also engage with online consumers on a number of social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram and YouTube. We utilize video better than anyone else in our market. We currently offer over 500 property videos on our website to go along with agent bio videos, agent recruiting videos, community videos and more. We also create independent property websites for many of our listings, providing added marketing and exposure.
Do you have office parties?
We have individual office holiday luncheons in lovely local restaurants in December. Some years, we hold an all-company holiday party. We have also had anniversary parties at local museums and other cultural institutions with entertainment.
What would you say are the biggest advantages to operating as an independent brokerage versus a franchised firm? What are the biggest challenges?
We are nimble and can make quick and timely decisions. We are more apt to take chances on new technologies, platforms, marketing ideas and procedures. We do not have to charge our agents a marketing or franchise fee.
The challenges are competing on commission splits with some of the big chains. We find agents are incapable of calculating their actual split percentages, taking into account desk fees and marketing fees. They perceive the 100 percent companies to be a better financial advantage to them than our splits provide, but the math often tells a different story. It is very hard to convince them of this.
What sets your brokerage apart? What makes you different from your competition?
Our agents are full-time, high producers who are very loyal to our company. Some have been with us since our opening day in 1981. We have two in-house videographers, and we produce property videos and websites for many of our listings.
We have in-house technology support for our agents, free of charge. We invest heavily in our website, creating a new design every three years. We just created video podcasts after having our own radio show for 10 years. We also have a full-time, four-person relocation department.
What’s the biggest business improvement you made last year? What’s the biggest improvement you have planned for this year?
We doubled the staff in our video department and increased staff in our relocation department. We implemented broker metrics and “testimonial tree.” We implemented dotloop in January. We will be releasing our new website this year and will be releasing our first round of video podcasts.
Are you an independent broker who’d like to participate in our profile series? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.