Following a dramatic showdown on Wednesday in which Keller Williams co-founder Gary Keller scorched a rising tide of technology-forward real estate companies, deriding them as “agent-enabled tech” and accusing them of undervaluing agents, shotmakers from eXp Realty and Trelora fired back.
Commission sharing, emergent technology and the value of agents were all debated inside the Hilton San Francisco Union Square Hotel’s Grand Ballroom less than an hour after a combative performance by Keller in which astonished attendees watched as he took shots at his competitors, including former Keller Williams agents, and refused to sit down while talking with Brad Inman.
“Pages 199, 200, 173 of Gary Keller’s book is all Trelora,” said Josh Hunt, founder of the Denver-based company, responding to a swipe made earlier by the combative 61-year-old firebrand about profit sharing in which he said former Keller Williams agents such as Hunt should refund the profits. “I had the courage to build it, and he pawned it off to other people to build it.”
Along with eXp founder Glenn Sandford and Purplebricks U.S. CEO Eric Eckardt, Hunt defended his company against accusations by Keller that emerging real estate startups desire to eliminate agents by slashing commissions. “They want to reduce the agent’s income by 30 percent or more,” Keller had said 45 minutes earlier, calling out Redfin and Zillow by name.
“Agents aren’t going away, we need agents,” Hunt responded, adding that, unlike real estate professionals, technology alone can’t assist a divorced couple as they navigate the sale of a home.
Sanford, who led a Keller Williams team from 2004 to 2007 before starting eXp, remained calm during the Inman Connect San Francisco panel, despite an earlier drubbing by Keller in which he seemingly suggested Sanford should refund money he’d earned KW through profit sharing.
“By the way, Glenn speaks so highly of you,” Inman had said at the first panel.
“Love it, great. Good for him,” Keller deadpanned. “I don’t care.” Keller later said that former Keller Williams agents now at eXp had received $1 million in profit sharing from KW and that the brokerage should give the money back.
“[Profit share] is a great model,” Sanford responded during the later session. “I still think it’s one of the best models out there. I love it, but I’d actually take up that challenge,” referring apparently to Keller’s demand for a refund.
As for emerging technology, Sanford gently undermined Keller’s earlier appraisal of cloud technology, agreeing that it was important, but, arguably, yesterday’s news. Rather, Sanford insisted, brokerages need to focus on “microservices,” or small pieces of computer code that can be interlocked quickly to implement business capabilities.
“The cloud has almost already been here,” Sanford said during the panel discussion. “I mean, the cloud has already been here for a while, and the thing we think about is microservices. Microservices is where things are going.”
“The cloud is important, but it’s how you use it and how you think about it, It’s about how you use it,” he added. ‘[Microservices] is seal team software, it’s small and works well together, but you don’t need it to do everything.”
As a parting shot, Hunt took aim at Keller Williams’ business model, charging that the franchisor’s use of independent contractors and the inevitability of smaller commissions industrywide could doom the nation’s biggest brokerages.
“He’s (Keller) missing that the future is coming and that the margins in this industry are obscene and if we don’t get them down where the consumer benefits, we’re going to see bankruptcies in this space just like we saw in retail,” Hunt said.