Brokerage

How to build street cred by making agents the shot callers

Agents want more than an office, preset branding and forced associations
  • Agents spend their marketing dollars trying to establish themselves, only to be dwarfed by the franchise partner they must bring along.
  • Because we were a service provider, not interested in branding at the consumer level, we could be an enabler for others; we created a DBA (doing business as) program that allows agents to employ their own branding.
  • Not surprisingly, the biggest issue we run up against that we can't combat is fear.

The real estate industry, with its franchise hierarchy, isn’t well-positioned for today’s brand-conscious society. Franchise brands can be very fleeting.

Agents spend their marketing dollars trying to establish themselves, only to be dwarfed by the franchise partner they must bring along.

The franchises will tell you their brand is what attracts people to their agent’s marketing. Perhaps so. But, considering the percent of agents who change brokers like they do socks, you have to wonder if all this broker messaging — which more or less is the same stuff — is really helping the agent?

Early on, our agents asked if they could market themselves as their own realty companies. It made sense — why not?

For years, the large brokerage houses had offshoot DBAs (doing business as) specializing in vertical markets. Century 21 had Click-it, an early online portal, and The Condo Store is Coldwell Banker.

jgorzynik / Shutterstock.com

jgorzynik / Shutterstock.com

But, for obvious reasons, DBAs had never been implemented at the agent level. The concept was anti-franchise.

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We were not anti-franchise so much as we were pro-agent. Why can’t agents create their own brands? Because we were a service provider, not interested in branding at the consumer level, we could be an enabler for others.

It turns out creating a DBA takes four weeks and about $250. There are rules to follow, but under the Wynd Realty DBA Program, agents are allowed to market and advertise a company name or brand of their choosing.

Utilized or not, the branding message of the DBA program is in lockstep with what agents are telling us they want.

Many people think the only reason we promote agent DBAs is because it’s anti-franchise. In truth, it’s more about “bang for the buck.”

We have a local franchise agent of national fame, who openly brags his marketing budget is $1 million a year — old school. The new school says; “If I am investing millions of dollars of my money, I am creating my own brand.”

Why would anyone spend millions of dollars creating a business they couldn’t pass on? Investing in yourself as a franchise participant doesn’t seem like a very good long-term investment.

Although not as widely used as we envisioned, the DBA program was the final piece of our company launch that gave us enough agent cred to prove we were serious about change.

Our biggest hurdle was, and to a certain extent still is today, education. We hear things like, “I love your plan, but where is the office?”

We still get, “Who puts my listings into MLS?” and “What if I need you?” Not surprisingly, the biggest issue we run up against that we can’t combat is fear. Do you read much NAR-generated literature? There is a lot of negative.

Fear is a big seller. Oddly, there is a lot of fear that runs throughout the entire real estate industry. Agents say, “I’m afraid to leave the franchise.”

When asked why, they really can’t articulate it, but you can tell it was genuine. They might not be happy with their traditional broker, but they are comfortable — and comfortable usually wins.

Over time, everything levels out. As agents sit across from each other over closing tables, they all realize no one is evil, nobody got hurt, and the industry is still standing.

Today, our reputation as an alternative brokerage stands on its own. The overall tone and attitude toward our broker/agent concept has become one of acceptance. We have even spawned competition.

Are we a discount broker? If you consider only the cost between broker and sales agent — then yes, we are a huge discount broker.

But if you are defining a discount broker as actively being involved in discounting the consumer experience, we can assure everyone that we are not.

We promote a real estate license as an excellent tool to have. Everyone should have one. If a career falls out of it, fine. Franchises promote careers. Careers are great, but considering agent success rates, careers are few.

Going forward, Wynd Realty will continue to position itself not as a traditional realty but rather as a real estate incubator for new ideas, business models and implementations.

Where the future of real estate goes is unknown. As an enabling service provider, Wynd Realty is hopefully well-positioned to go in any direction the industry wants to go.

Are alternative broker business models viable? A few months ago Wynd Realty celebrated its 1,000th transaction. In the big picture of real estate, this represents a mouse turd. But we aren’t ending there.

The cracks in the franchise systems are showing. Younger, more socially engaged agents are looking for brokerages that don’t reflect the era of the grandparents.

So, to the 22 percent of the agent community who responded to a recent Inman poll saying alternative brokerages had no chance of survival, they might want to rethink — no, just keep sending those calendars.

Read the first two articles in this series: “Birth of a new kind of brokerage” and “Leaving the brokerage herd behind.”

Jeff Bergstrom is broker-owner of Wynd Realty. You can follow him on Twitter @WyndRealty and on Facebook.

Email Jeff Bergstrom.