This winter, Inman is obsessing over leadership in real estate. We’re publishing profiles, Q&As, strategy guides, and an in-depth 5-part report on what the industry wants from its leaders. Then, on March 26-28, we’re going to gather those leaders in the California desert to digest all of these inputs and figure out where to go from here.
This is a collaborative process. Please engage with our posts, and send us feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org. And if you are a leader who wants to join us in the desert in March, or if you want to recommend a colleague, send a note to email@example.com and tell us why.
Imagine a real estate brokerage in which the management’s focus is truly 100 percent on agents. Where real estate agents are the customers.
Instead of focusing on the next recruit, sales meeting or metric, the brokerage’s management takes the time to pay attention to what’s in the house versus what’s outside of it. Agents are more than just a number with a sales volume attached to their name.
Which raises the question: Do brokerages really know the agents who choose to hang their license with them? Notice I said choose.
Where agents decide to place their license is a choice, and agents have many companies to choose from. When agents hang their license, they are choosing to not only make money for themselves but also for the brokerage that they are affiliating with.
Although obvious, it’s easy to forget: agents are the lifeblood of any brokerage, and without them, the brokerage ceases to exist.
Below is my opinion of what leadership at a brokerage level would look like in an ideal world — in all the facets of a real estate agent’s career.
Learning the business
Recognizing the importance of agents, managers would truly serve as mentors and coaches or put people in place to meet this need.
Serving as a mentor or coach means much more than just a passing “How’s it going?,” “Congratulations on your latest listing, sale or closing” or “Is there anything I can do for you?” Higher-ups would take time to really study and understand your business.
Just because they can generate a report showing the agents’ production for their entire career from the MLS with the press of a button, does not mean they really understand.
A real leader would help agents deconstruct their businesses and analyze every aspect from all angles.
- How is the agent getting his or her business?
- Where is it coming from?
- Where do they want to go with it?
- What kind of roadmap can the broker help them map out to get there?
- What are their pain points and weaknesses?
- What is holding them back from getting to the next level?
And management would consider asking this question: How is the brokerage hampering or hindering their success?
Management that fears and/or loathes hearing the truth need not be in a leadership capacity. Surface-level suggestions and pseudo-solutions need not apply.
Mentoring or coaching
In a perfect world, the manager or designated “mentor/coach” would meet regularly with agents one-on-one to serve as an accountability coach and sounding board.
There would be coaching programs tailored to agents at a variety of levels in the brokerage from brand new agents, lower to mid-level producing agents and top producers because needs and challenges vary greatly from group to group.
Keeping in touch with the basics
Whether an agent had his or her very first listing presentation or was competing for a tough listing and needed to pull out all the stops, the broker would do something unheard of — actually go on the listing appointment with them.
When was the last time your management went back into the field to make a listing presentation, show a home or handle a negotiation?
Reconnecting with these basic tasks would keep leaders close to the very process they are supposed to support. The broker would have a strategy session with the agent in advance of the meeting that would go beyond the typical “armchair advice.”
Marketing support would be provided in advance, much like an ad agency that was preparing for that big “pitch,” with the goal of giving the agent the support he or she needed when walking in the sellers’ door.
Planning for productivity
Meetings would be thoughtful, well-planned events. They would not be held “just because” and filled with dog-and-pony show vendors to have their 10-minute “spiel” in front of agents.
Any vendors that would be invited into the brokerage’s tribe would be vetted, respected and have core values on par with that of the brokerage’s.
Leadership would dig deeper before letting just any service provider or vendor have face time with the intent of soliciting business from their agents.
By this, I mean no builders who don’t play nice in the sandbox with agents all of the time, forget fly-by-night inspectors who are new on the scene and never again another mortgage company that brings a box of donuts no one really wants to eat anyway.
Besides, referrals are not a one-way street. Why should these vendors — who have not necessarily earned the right to a referral — have an at-bat in front of a large agent audience when the brokerage’s agents will likely never receive customer referrals from these same people?
Real leaders are respectful of their agents’ time and information needs, and recognize that an hour is better spent on relevant issues, training and topics of discussion without vendors pitches.
Ownership and management would be 100 percent accountable to their agents. They would actually understand, have tested and know every product, program and offering within their company, whether an independent brokerage or part of a national firm.
Any questions about the brokerage’s services from agents would be answered in a quick and practical manner versus kicking the agent down the road to another department.
Exemplary leadership would encourage and initiate open dialogue and hold “town hall” style meetings to engage in constructive discussion and debate and to be better aware of concerns, challenges and broken processes or systems that need addressing.
Agents could share their thoughts and proposed solutions. Management would be frank about what could be changed and the reasons behind the decision making rather than dodging the same concerns year after year.
True leaders would actively track said issues so that they don’t get brushed over or forgotten. They’d have a goal of resolving as many as they could to prevent the same conversations about unaddressed issues again and again.
They would keep agents informed of the status of these matters without agents having to ask.
Brokerages would see where they could add value to their agents and not nickel-and-dime them for every little thing. It’s the little things, not the big things, that tend to build up over time and cause agents to rethink their arrangement.
Agents are charged enough in the real estate business as it is. Real leaders take time to understand agent frustration points and proactively manage them rather than react after the fact. Trying to rationalize the “grass isn’t always greener” response along with a shoulder shrug each time a productive agent leaves for another brokerage is not getting to the root of the problem.
Speaking of agents, recruiting would shift from a “somebody, anybody, everybody who ever expressed interest in working in real estate” mentality to a quality approach.
Thoughtful consideration would be given to determine if the current company infrastructure could truly support the workload required when onboarding new recruits, whether a newbie or seasoned veteran.
Commitments made would be commitments honored, but not at the expense or detriment of existing agents in the company. Side arrangements and special treatment would not be for a special few.
An in-depth evaluation of a potential new hire would be undertaken, much like a job interview with closer examination of the agent’s work history, track record and professional reputation whether that was in real estate or another profession.
Leaders would stay on the cutting edge of industry issues and what’s next to ensure their agents had the tools to stay ahead of the curve, not catch up to it after the fact. They would serve as thought leaders, industry challengers and disruptors, encouraging their agents to do the same.
Proactive leadership fosters stability and sustainability among management with special focus on the brokers that have front-line responsibility for managing offices, something that is tough to do in the “bottom line” environment that is prevalent in the real estate industry.
Dynamic leaders would devise a compensation model to keep good managers who are empowered to lead versus babysit offices whereby managing agents is akin to herding cats.
Exemplary leadership fosters transparency. Leaders would conduct an annual “state of the brokerage” for their agents that went beyond the total sales volume and number of transactions for the prior year as typical sales rallies depict.
Also explained would be the actual costs that were incurred with running the brokerage for the past year and what the projected costs would be for the current year.
The debt, expenses and the financial investment needed for new projects and priorities would be discussed. In addition, any financial incentives and profit realized as a result of joint ventures or “affiliated arrangements” from preferred mortgage, title and home warranty providers would be disclosed.
If agents are encouraged to support company affiliated service providers, they have a right to know what’s in it for the brokerage.
Although old-school thinking may fear sharing this information, emotionally intelligent leaders say the more that agents are “in the know,” the more they are likely to understand the big picture. It’s easy to complain when you only know part of the story.
If all of this sounds like some lofty, idyllic Neverland proposition, think again.
With barriers to entry into the profession extremely low, high turnover and a generally small pond of recruits, both experienced and brand new, to fish from, the real estate industry is ripe for renovation.
To raise the bar, we must redefine and revolutionize leadership in real estate. The industry is already changing before our eyes. Isn’t it time for all of us to become agents of change?