This month’s situation: A successful longtime partnership is coming apart, and the broker is caught in the middle.

  • In-house partner/team breakups are tough on everyone…including brokers. Everyone loses something in the process.
  • Brokers can try to referee disagreements over minor issues, but must be very careful to remain neutral when the breakup is actually underway.
  • Most breakups can be managed and even avoided with a good pre-partnership agreement.

In this monthly column, Anthony Askowitz explores a hypothetical Miami real estate situation from both sides of the broker/agent dynamic.

This month’s situation: A successful longtime partnership is coming apart, and the broker is caught in the middle.

Agent perspective

I’m done. I can’t do it anymore!

After more than 10 years of working with my business partner, I can no longer accept the difference between our respective work ethics. I am constantly out there pounding the pavement, generating business, showing our listings and closing sales, while my partner takes vacations and lets things slide.

We had a really good run and I was OK with looking the other way about this disparity before, but it’s just gotten ridiculous over the past few months. I am totally carrying this team, while my partner complains that I am being overbearing. Nothing personal about this, but it is time to go our separate ways.

As frustrated as I am with my partner, I am even more annoyed with my broker.

I have tried to vent to her and asked her to try to motivate my partner a little more, and she totally refuses. She claims that she has to stay “above the fray,” but I just don’t buy it.

Isn’t the point of being our leader to actually lead?

Broker perspective

No two ways about it: In-house partner breakups are really tough situations.

Everyone loses something: The partners lose each other, the broker usually loses one of the agents, and everyone loses sleep and money (in the short term.)

Most partner teams are parent/child or married couples — and these kind of teams actually handle disputes very well. They usually have a strong pre-existing foundation of love and respect, and they already accept each other’s strengths and weaknesses.

But when there’s no family or romance involved (and, of course, even the greatest of romances can die — but that’s a whole different story), it’s very challenging to keep things together when the dirt starts flying.

The broker is truly in a no-win position, and as a leader, must be careful not to play favorites — or to even give the appearance of choosing sides.

In many cases, we can act as therapists or “marriage counselors” and resolve issues calmly, bringing the focus back on the positives of what has been a successful partnership.

Usually the failure is over a miscommunication or misunderstanding, and an impartial third-party can figure this out.

But when push comes to shove and the differences are simply irreconcilable, there’s not much brokers can do except stay neutral.

How to meet halfway

Like many marriages, one of the best ways to manage (or avoid!) a team/partnership breakup is to have a “pre-nup,” or a business plan that addresses the dissolution of the partnership before it comes apart.

The plan should clearly lay out everyone’s responsibility, outline how disagreements will be solved and specify who will assume what expenses.

Before jumping into a full-fledged partnership with both feet, it sometimes helps to first establish a “partial partnership” that lets both agents feel out the arrangement gradually. These also need good business plans and clear delineations of responsibilities.

But in cases where partner breakups are inevitable, it really is important for brokers to remain objective and detached.

One solution to manage this is through internal binding arbitration. The broker can bring in an unbiased corporate attorney to act as the “judge” and have both agents argue their respective cases after agreeing to accept the attorney’s final decision.

Finally, it’s important to remember that partner break-ups are usually quite good for everyone once they are completed.

Very often, the disconnected agents wind up happier and more productive on their own, with a better understanding of what’s involved should they decide to form partnerships again later on.

Anthony is the broker-owner of RE/MAX Advance Realty in South Miami and Kendall, leading the activities of more than 165 agents. He is also a working Realtor who sells more than 150 homes a year.

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