- New Jersey broker's approach to creating a transparent, inspiring and agent-focused brokerage is both intensely personal and video-focused.
In every real estate agent, New Jersey broker Luis Leiva sees a history. A family. A person.
“We all have one thing in common as human beings,” said Leiva, who seeks to humanize his agents over promoting his brokerage brand. “We all carry baggage.”
The entrepreneurial Leiva cut his real estate teeth at a few franchise brands and became a broker in his mid-20s. Launched in October 2016, his company, Culture Estate, is his third independent brokerage. The previous two were set up with business partners, but this time, he’s flying solo, and doing things his way.
The growth has been “explosive,” said Leiva, who estimates the company is on track to close $50 million in 200 transactions since its start. His business has grown from three to 25 agents mainly through word of mouth. He would like to have 100 agents under his brokerage umbrella by next year.
His approach to creating a transparent, inspiring and agent-focused brokerage is both intensely personal and video-obsessed; Leiva gets his agents (many of whom are rookies) on camera right away to share their life and career stories, coordinates silly but educational skits, and tapes all of the company’s training sessions for online posting.
Through this he provides his agents a very clear lead on the brokerage’s company culture — one of inclusion, multicultural openness, hard work and teamwork.
Breaking barriers before getting to business
Based in Scotch Plains, New Jersey, and operating within a 25-mile radius of Newark airport, Culture Estate specializes in foreclosures and investment property.
In keeping up with the New Jersey population, Leiva (who is originally from Guatemala) and his agents speak around seven languages altogether, including Hindi, Creole, Spanish and Portuguese.
Leiva ran a barber shop after high school and used to hear from clients that he had a more organized schedule compared to other salons. The work ethic he developed there prepared him for his subsequent career in real estate.
That translates now to the systems he’s implemented for his agents, who range from 17 to 50-plus years old. With most of them on the new side, training is of utmost priority.
Meanwhile, Culture Estate agents have to work their way up at the brokerage to earn an attractive commission split. They start at a 50/50 split, and after making $30,000 in gross commission, the split to the agent goes up 5 percent every gross commission (of $30,000) until it’s up to a 75/25 split. There are no fees.
To start, Leiva gets agents to talk about their backgrounds in training and sort through any noise that might hold them back in their real estate career. Every agent gets a one-on-one video interview that he or she can share on social media.
“We need to learn how to overcome our fears, obstacles and learn healthy lifestyle behaviors,” Leiva said.
Every Monday, the brokerage holds “mastermind meetings” from 9 a.m. to noon.
The training is run by seasoned trainer Tom Allebegh. And while Allebegh goes over the real estate fundamentals — how to run an a proper open house, being proactive, etc. — Leiva covers self-help, nutrition and life experience, among other things.
“I fill in the other part, keeping people motivated, running skits. Then we talk about what to say to a client,” Leiva explained. “Once our agents have broken through those barriers, they can get some real business done.”
Culture Estate has come to be known for these “skits,” which are filmed and posted on the company’s social media accounts and address agent dilemmas with humor. (See: The agent who’s promised a kingsize “payday” for doing a last-minute open house, only to find out his broker was literally offering him a candy bar).
“They are one of our greatest attributes,” said Levia. “We use the skits to break them out of their comfort zone. We do every one of the skits in front of the camera; everyone comes out of their shell.”
Leiva also does podcasts on Fridays that dig into topics of interest. “Whenever you go to seminars, people ask the same questions, so we take those questions and put them into a blog and into a podcast,” he said.
The multimedia onslaught aims to make his agents the primary focus of Culture Estate, attract new agents and present the brokerage as an educator.
“In my experience, people who teach and educate build the biggest following,” Leiva said.
Better people make better agents
Agents are encouraged to send their videos out to their social media networks. Paul Testa, one of Leiva’s top agents, has a background in marketing and fashion accessory design. He sends his video interviews and skits out to Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Snapchat.
“The trainings are awesome; they really help you to understand the things that real estate school doesn’t even touch on like cold-calling and how to do an open house properly,” Testa said, explaining that Leiva’s value is in helping his agents become better people, and then a better agent.
This spirit manifested when Culture Estate agents helped revamp the landscaping and interior of a home whose owners were older, had no income, and needed the returns of this home sale to last.
Leiva also set up an initiative called Fitness in Real Estate (FIRE) which he hopes will attract more young people to real estate.The first event was a 5K run raising $7,500 in funding for a local school in need of infrastructure repairs. It is open to all companies in the industry — mortgage lenders and title companies in addition to brokerages.
This giveback approach can be quite refreshing for agents, according to Testa.
“Luis is an innovator with the way he runs Culture Estate because most brokers would be looking for production and quantity,” Testa said. “Luis gives his agents the opportunity to better themselves and in return, we work hard for him giving back production.”