Last updated Oct. 20, 2021
Sometimes agents leave a firm in an explosive meltdown that surprises everyone. A straw broke the camel’s back and the agent picks up and walks out in an angry huff. It happens, much to the shock of the broker, manager and everyone in the office.
But more often than not, the opposite happens: An agent is unhappy for various reasons, starts looking around for another broker to join and carefully plans his or her exit.
This is especially true now as we’re in the last quarter of the year — this is when brokers tend to ramp up their recruiting efforts.
I’m the broker-owner of my own indie office, and last week alone, I received two phone calls from brokers in other areas (who obviously didn’t realize I was the owner) trying to recruit me as an agent.
If I’m getting calls like that — so are your agents. That’s why it’s wise to keep an eye on the situation, and know when an agent is about to leave before it takes you by surprise. Here’s a few signs that an agent may have one foot out the door.
1. Decreased productivity
If a regularly producing agent suddenly has fewer new listings flowing in or buyer sales on the books, see what’s going on. Are they going through a temporary slump, or are they stalling for time?
Agents planning an exit might push off new listings to sign them under the new firm. They might be writing up buyer deals under the new broker’s license (yes, that is illegal and unethical, but that’s fodder for another column).
Frequently, these agents are ripe for the picking. Competing brokerages will call and promise more leads, better training and an overall better situation that will lead these agents to success.
If an agent who normally has a solid pipeline suddenly starts to peter out, you might want to take a closer look at their files and have a check-in conversation. They might simply need a nudge or some coaching, or they might be on their way out the door.
Of course, some of those agents may be down in numbers because of life changes, personal situations or factors that have nothing to do with you. But agents who are behind in their goals look to outside forces to blame — and another brokerage to fix them.
2. Disappearing listings
Along those same lines, pay attention when one agent has listings that are being withdrawn or taken off the market: The seller suddenly decided not to sell; they changed their mind and don’t want to move; they are considering going in a different direction. Listings belong to the broker, not the agent.
In some offices (and MLSs), only the broker can withdraw a listing or allow it to be terminated, while in others, the brokers might give agents this power. If someone normally takes six- to 12-month listings starts taking 30- or 60-day listings, this is a huge red flag.
If you see a pattern appearing with one agent, ask yourself: What is going on?
3. Changed habits
People are creatures of habit, and when they are about to make a move, their habits change. Even if they think they are hiding their thoughts of moving, sometimes they make subtle shifts that a perceptive broker can pick up on.
Agents who normally come into the office regularly shift so they are not in the office as much. Agents who regularly attend office meetings start skipping and providing excuses for lack of attendance.
4. Loss of focus
Are leads not being followed up on promptly? Are buyer deals suddenly falling through at a higher rate than normal? Frequently an agent with one foot out the door is distracted and loses focus.
They are busy getting new headshots done and business cards ordered. They might be training on the new broker’s systems in advance of the change and might be informing their clients and close circle that they are changing companies.
All of this secrecy zaps their time and energy, and things start to fall through the cracks.
5. Avoidance and a cool attitude
Agents who are seriously considering leaving start to avoid their brokers. They may feel guilty for leaving the office or just don’t want to confront the situation. If they know your schedule, they may figure out ways to be in the office when you are not there.
They may start ducking your calls or waiting a few days to return emails. Most agents don’t want a messy or uncomfortable discussion with you, so they plan ways to avoid direct contact.
An agent who is leaving starts to distance themselves from the group, too. They skip meetings and might stop answering the phone when a colleague calls. They don’t want the office to know they are leaving yet, but they don’t want to engage with anyone either.
Social functions, office meetings and trainings become painful to attend, so they start backing out of the group. They don’t want to be a part of your culture anymore so they avoid coming in.
6. A negative attitude
As they progress through the steps of thinking about leaving to planning to leave, a negative attitude can build up.
This negativity might be expressed not only to the broker but also to staff, other agents and to clients. Frequently, colleagues notice something strange is going on with the agent and might notify the broker that something is up, if the broker hasn’t witnessed it already.
This is especially telling if someone who is normally a positive person and a team player suddenly turns into the negative Nelly of the group.
7. Begging for attention
On the other hand, agents who are testing the waters but may be on the fence and are not really committed to leaving may reach out even more than normal. They are looking for your attention.
One broker I work with told me he should have known an agent was thinking of leaving because she started texting him complaining about his lack of communication with her.
“You haven’t called me in a while,” she texted. “Normally, I hear from you more and now it’s silent are you mad at me?” He replied “no,” that he was just busy. She texted these little bids for attention a few more times and then left at the beginning of the year.
Later, he said his gut knew she was reaching out for attention and should have realized this was her way of asking him to pay attention to her.
8. Questioning authority
An agent who no longer cares about what the broker or manager thinks may become combative in the end.
They are reading their independent contractor agreement (maybe for the first time) and trying to figure out the best way to leave without losing any commissions that they feel are due to them. They might realize the broker may not release the listings to take with them, and they might take offense to that.
They are calculating how many closings they have on the books and trying to plan the exit with those closing dates. If they disagree with how they are paid after leaving the office, now is the time these questions come to the surface.
Agents don’t tend to disagree with the policy and procedures — until a break up appears on the horizon. Suddenly those policies they thought were standard operating procedure and fair might not look the same upon leaving.
9. Making demands
Agents who are comparing pay plans and splits at other offices may be thinking that the grass is greener. It isn’t long before they start asking for higher splits, less expenses or more perks.
One broker I know had his top agent demand she pay for a personal assistant for the agent. The broker gave it to her, and soon enough, she had a line at her door of other agents with similar demands. All to say, once you start going down the road of straying from the office pay plan for one person, you soon are treading water to keep everyone happy.
It’s better to address the agent making the demands directly — which may mean leaving them go — than to have an entire office of agents who think they can set their own rules and commission programs.
If you’ve analyzed your office overhead and expenses and laid out a budget for the company, can you let one person put you in the red because they think they are indispensable?
10. Sowing discontent
An agent who’s thinking of leaving may come into the office and try to take others with them. They may put a few feelers out and see of other agents are unhappy with splits or lead distribution or the office culture.
It’s rarely a surprise when someone leaves. Frequently, other agents say they could see it coming for a long time, especially those they are closest with in office circles.
Who in your office is the Debbie Downer? Who do you hear complaining about the office systems or other agents? Who seems more unhappy at the office than satisfied? This one seems obvious but frequently brokers miss what is right there in front of them.
If someone comes into meetings with a chip on their shoulder and regularly complains about how things work, they are ripe for recruitment by another brokerage.
11. Office disputes or issues
Finally, an agent who has an open dispute with a broker, manager or another colleague is easy pickings for another broker to recruit. If an agent feels cheated over a commission or slighted in any way (leads given out, advertising or marketing provided to another agent, etc.) this source of pain is the way another broker can pull away one of your agents.
If an agent is vocal about their gripe, pay attention. You might not be willing or able to fix it, but this is another sign they may be leaving soon. If they are grumbling in your office, they may be grumbling at closings or in conversations with other agents.
Address the problem, and if it’s not fixable (or justifiable), accept the fact the agent maybe would be better off at another brokerage.
Agents might rarely pick up and leave at the drop of a hat, but the exit can be swift. The pressure and unhappiness builds for some time. Then something happens that sets them off, and they use that as the excuse to walk out the door.
All to say, it’s October. If you have more than a handful of agents, statistics prove that a percentage of them will leave you — and normally, that’s in December or January. Take a look at the above signs. If any of your agents exhibit these warning signs, they could be thinking of leaving. If they are, then evaluate if you want to keep them or let them go. Maybe one or two leaving could be a blessing for you.
But if you want them to stay, reach out and try to do damage control before it’s too late. By the time an agent announces they are leaving — and lets their broker know — the decision has been made.
It’s easier to figure out how to keep them (if that’s what you want) then to convince them to change their minds once it is made.