In this column, Anthony Askowitz explores a hypothetical Miami real estate situation from both sides of the broker/agent dynamic. This month: A top Miami agent is frustrated with new state regulations concerning naming and branding, which forbid certain words and force agents, groups and teams to showcase their brokerage on equal terms.

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

A top Miami agent is frustrated with the Florida Real Estate Commission’s new rules concerning naming and branding regulations, which forbid certain words and force agents, groups and teams to showcase their brokerage on equal terms.

Agent perspective

This is outrageous. For years, experts have been advising agents to focus on promoting ourselves rather than the brokerages, and that is exactly what my business partner and I have been doing.

We intentionally distinguish ourselves from our competitors by showcasing “ourselves” more than our office on our advertisements, business cards, website, etc., and the results have been amazing. We are always among the top residential teams in several categories both within our office and among the other area teams, and our marketing strategy has been a major factor in that success.

But last July, the Florida Real Estate Commission announced a draconian new policy that forbids groups and teams from using words like “agency,” “brokerage,” “properties,” “associates” or even “real estate” in their names or branding and requires us have our registered brokerage’s names or logos appear at least as large as ours. They announced the policy last year but are enforcing it now with costly penalties for those who don’t comply.

I have so many problems with this, I’m not even sure where to start. But I suppose I should highlight the — not one, not two, but three — ways this backward policy will take money out of our pockets.

First, we’ll have to hire designers and printers to totally redo all of our business cards, yard signs, promotional pieces, advertising, etc.

Secondly, we’ll have to pay the costs to our advertisers for the placement of this new creative work, such as bus benches with ads that no longer comply.

Finally, frankly, and most galling, the policy forces us into a lower profile (along with less marketing-driven agents who didn’t have the vision or guts to stand out the way we have all this time) and removes a major competitive advantage. I just can’t see how we will maintain the same level of business without being able to market the way we have in recent years.

I have vented my frustrations to my broker, but let’s be honest — he must be delighted by this brokerage-friendly policy, as it forces his agents to shift their marketing under the same company “umbrella.”

But I wonder how happy he’ll be when this new policy inhibits us from hitting our usual production?

Broker perspective

So much to unpack here. First of all, my agent should know that I am not her enemy, and I share some of her concerns about this policy as well. Balancing out the brokerage and agent, group or team branding in advertising and marketing is one thing (more on that below), but I agree that the banning of some of the seemingly innocuous words she mentioned (in addition to “company,” “partnership” or “realty”) is extreme.

But if I may play the commission’s advocate for just a moment — some agent and team advertising I have seen recently goes far over the line in terms of minimizing their respective offices, from whom they draw enormous marketing, technological and administrative support.

Just last week, I saw a yard sign from a competing office’s team which featured them so heavily that I assumed they had left their office and gone independent! (It was only when I stood a few feet away that I saw their office’s logo way down in the corner.)

The commission clearly saw a need to protect consumers who, as outsiders, are less aware of the importance of the broker-agent dynamic in real estate.

Their reasoning was to ensure that our marketing is not misleading and that the broker responsible for the actions of the agents can easily be determined. This would not be possible in the case I just referenced. This is an important part of upholding our industry’s standards and a correction was due.

Also, the commission gave everyone more than a year to assess the compliance of their marketing and make adjustments as necessary, which seems more than reasonable.

The added expenses to adjust marketing and branding is certainly regrettable, but compliance costs are a reality in any business.

Furthermore, I believe this agent still has the opportunity to market her team with the same distinction and creativity as before and will only need to make some cosmetic changes to the designs to stay in compliance.

Past efforts to build a presence have enabled them to stand out in a way that will not be overshadowed by having the focus shared with the company name.

How to resolve

Florida real estate agents need look no further than their colleagues in the legal profession for inspiration in effective marketing despite severe restrictions.

The Sunshine State is famous for stern consumer protection rules concerning lawyer advertising, but firms and individual practitioners (especially in the personal injury category) still get the word out about their services through very effective and creative means.

Brokers can support agents in navigating these new restrictions by brainstorming on strategies and best practices that effectively market the agents, teams and groups, while remaining in compliance.

They might even consider hiring an advertising agency to work individually with their groups and teams to support their respective transitions into compliance.

Anthony is the broker-owner of RE/MAX Advance Realty in South Miami and Kendall, where he leads the activities of more than 165 agents. He is also a working agent who consistently sells more than 100 homes a year. For two consecutive years (2018 and 2019), Anthony has been honored as the “Managing Broker of the Year” by Miami Agent Magazine’s Agents’ Choice Awards. NOTE: Anthony is not an attorney and does not give legal advice. Please consult a licensed attorney regarding matters discussed in this column.

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