A former professional junior league baseball player, Jerry Holden wanted to build a team that mirrored the values found in America’s favorite pastime.
The way he looks at it, all ball players are independent contractors like real estate agents. He liked the “if I help you and you help me, we will win the World Series” work ethic that he saw in the sport and brought it with him to his own company.

  • Like real estate agents, baseball players are independent contractors, and the industry could learn from the sport's "if you help me, we all win" work ethic.
  • As a brokerage, hosting events without an underlying sales pitch for prominent people in the community can build trust and brand recognition.
  • Consumers aren't necessarily swayed by an agent's sales numbers, so it can be beneficial to take a more humble marketing approach.

What makes independent brokerage The Holden Agency, with four satellite offices across Ohio, different from a real estate franchise in the same state?

The absence of internal competition.

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Jerry Holden

According to Jerry Holden, the agency’s broker-owner, his team of nearly two dozen agents (who cover all 88 counties of Ohio) work as an actual team. No member rivals another, contrary to franchise fashion.

He gives the example of two or three different Keller Williams offices in one city, all owned independently and jockeying for clients in the same market.

It happens with all the franchises, Holden said.

“And that’s what I don’t want,” he added. “I want one team, one state, one business model. On numerous transactions, agents will work with another agent to better take care of the customer.

“And pretty much all the agents can work anywhere in the state of Ohio.”

Stealing values from baseball

After nine years at Haring Realty in Mansfield, Ohio, in late 2013 Holden set up his own business a few miles away in the city located midway between Columbus and Cleveland.

A former professional junior league baseball player, he wanted to build a team that mirrored the values found in America’s favorite pastime.
The way Holden looks at it, all ball players are independent contractors — like real estate agents.

He liked the “if I help you and you help me, we will win the World Series” work ethic that he saw in the sport and brought it with him to his own company.

“Winning has left the real estate industry because people have become complacent and ‘order-takers,'” said the broker. “They’re just waiting for the phone to ring; they are not willing to go out there and grind and compete.”

“Most franchises and other older independent real estate companies are more traditional. There’s nothing wrong with them, but I am extraordinarily competitive by nature.

“When I started my own company, I wanted to compete and have a team that wanted to compete rather than take orders.”

Thorough screening before stepping up to the plate

Hiring is a multi-step process at the agency. Any potential recruit who meets with Holden then sits in front of the entire team.

All of Holden’s agents come straight from real estate school and range in age from 22 to 55.

“We don’t hire any existing agents; that’s more geared toward the [traditional] brokerage model, where every man [and woman] is for themselves,” he said.

He currently has 22 agents, plus four due to graduate from real estate school soon. Three graphic designers, one videographer, one photographer and two coaches also make up the staff.

“We all share the understanding that we are taking care of clients first; we are not commission-focused,” said Holden, who gives his agents a 70/30 percent split.

Holden, whose sister joined him six months after he set up, said his top agents are selling around 60 to 80 properties per year.

“We have a rule: no assholes. That is the no. 1 rule,” because just one can ruin a company, said Holden.

When an agent joins the business, they have to be prepared to hand over their personal database of clients, which goes into one central database. The brokerage markets to clients collectively.

“Agents can contact anyone in the database and the coaches can, as well,” said Holden, who, despite his open-market mindset, has strict rules about poaching.

Moreover, as all the agents are new, training is top priority at the young brokerage.

“We have a whole training program for new agents; every company should have [that],” he added. “If they don’t, it’s extremely dangerous. Our company has training every week for every agent. Even our senior agents do training every week, in the classroom, live online and with the coaches.”

“A lot of companies will train for six months and stop. We don’t stop.”

Coaches play middlemen

Using his background in professional sport, Holden has employed two real estate coaches (also licensed agents) who are in charge of a wide range of tasks, including client communication, agent training and playing liaison on the agency’s relocation business.

“Agents are really good at selling real estate, but they lack communication when they get busy,” Holden explained. “We need another layer of communication in there to talk to the agent and the client, to make sure we are up to date.

“We want to keep the client informed; the coach is managing expectations on what happens next.”

At the agency, the coaches follow up clients as well as coordinate with home inspectors, title companies, appraisers and the buyer or seller.

With his different approach, Holden likens his agency to the “Uber of real estate.”

“We are not doing things the old-fashioned way, the traditional way,” he said. “We are giving the customer a better experience, redefining the experience from the first contact with us to after the transaction.

“The customer experience that we have created from point A to point B is completely changed, just as Uber is giving the customer a different, better, experience, but still doing the same thing.”

Holden aims to live up to this is by “leveraging technology to the max” and streamlining processes. One example is the use of HipChat with his team, an online tool that offers group chat, file sharing, video chat and screen sharing.

Handing off marketing to the outfield

The Holden Agency has its own marketing resource with one foot inside and one foot outside of the brokerage. Based in the same Mansfield building, it is a separate marketing company, partly owned by Holden, with a division devoted to the agency.

The firm helps the indie brokerage with all its marketing needs — open houses, new listings, you name it.

The marketing business serves clients throughout the country and because of that, Holden hears of about the latest trends in marketing to clients.

“Our clients like it; corporate clients like it, too,” he said. “They know we are going to take care of their executives.”

Furthermore, The Holden Agency has built its own CRM with the help of the marketing company.

“I have tried every single CRM out there; nothing worked,” Holden said. “It was either way too much or too little, so we have taken a basic CRM and then manipulated it to what suits us.”

Another key part of The Holden Agency’s marketing is its regular events, and the brokerage does “more events than anything,” said Holden.

In fact, an event is coming up this week for top business leaders in Ohio. It takes place every year at the beginning of September, with 100 to 200 on the invitation list.

Invitations are sent out two weeks before, an effort organized by staff.

After all this work, what’s in it for the agency? “When you get 100 business leaders together, they collaborate and good things happen,” said Holden. “We like to give them a relaxed evening out with no pressure.”

He added: “This event shows them that we are leaders in Ohio real estate; we are the agents who understand the market, and we are students of the business.”

Keeping the score behind closed doors

Perhaps because of his disruptive approach, Holden won’t share his sales figures, which he said his competitors are “dying to know.”

“There are agents who will advertise their numbers all day long,” he said. “What I have found out is the majority of consumers do not pay attention or [aren’t] influenced on choosing an agent by their sales numbers.”

The Holden Agency does a lot of high-end residential business, already taking a good piece of market share in $1 million-plus properties owned by C-suite-executives, he said.

Holden personally does a lot of off-market deals, which never make it to the MLS (up to 50 or 60 percent of the business that comes his way, he estimates.)

“We have a lot of high-end executives who don’t want their home on the market. They don’t want it exposed to every agent out there. They want privacy,” he said.

Most of the time, the neighbors don’t know about an impending move until they see the moving truck in the driveway, he added.

Holden and his agents also work a lot with relocation companies, including Global Mobility Solutions, Brookfield Global Relocation Services and Sirva.

The broker collaborates with his team to figure out who is best suited take care of that relocation client given their mutual interests.

Redefining first place

For now, the Ohio agent is content exploring business opportunities in his home state, but this may change.

He does hold licenses in other states and just had the company logo trademarked and patented.

“I am an entrepreneur. I like a challenge,” Holden said. “I could go to New York City, Miami, San Francisco and L.A. and build so much quicker, but I want to build it here.

“I have made a pact to continue to be the leader in north central Ohio, eventually be the leader of the entire state of Ohio and continue to build our company and our brand throughout the domestic United States with the model we are using.”

The independent brokerage owner has been approached by other real estate companies since setting up, and his answer has always been a firm “no.”

“The biggest reason is, their model doesn’t focus on teamwork, and you can’t move any company forward unless everybody is on board. We want to trust, share and collaborate every day.

“The goal is to be the best rather than the biggest,” he said.

Email Gill South.

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