Over the past decade, well-documented trend is the shift toward independent brokerages — including small indie firms and large nationals like Compass, eXp and Fathom.
But — why?
The surface-level reasons are easy to spot. The absence of franchise fees allows independent brokerages to offer higher splits. For teams, it’s easier to serve multiple markets with a single firm instead of separate franchises. Top producers have ventured out on their own and proven that brand name recognition isn’t as important to consumers as it once was.
The underlying cause is what got it all started and why the trend is only going to accelerate in the coming years. Agents are valuing their independence, hyper-local presence, and personal branding more than ever before. Some legacy firms and franchises have too many rules and too much confidence in the significance of their name.
In my last article, I wrote about setting agents free from office constraints. This time, we’re going to look at how to allow your agents the independence and local experience they desire.
1. Let your agents build their own brand
Agents no longer need a large corporate brand name to appear legitimate in their market. They’re taught, right out of real estate school, that they need to build their brand and market themselves to achieve long-term success. If your firm requires agents to use company-provided templates for signs or flyers, or to use the firm color scheme on all advertising, it’s time to re-examine that policy.
It’s a convenience for agents who can’t afford a graphic designer or want easy marketing, so the option should exist. However, if you make it a requirement to use company materials, you’re guaranteeing that nearly every agent in your office is eventually going to leave when they decide to brand themselves more prominently. It’s much cheaper to retain agents than to recruit them, so this is a simple, free way to impact the bottom line.
There is a compliance piece to this equation. Most states require agents to display their brokerage name in all advertising. There are lots of ways to do that, and it’s important to allow agents to create their own marketing designs so long as they’re compliant.
2. Improve the policy manual
Nobody reads the office policy manual. That’s because it’s full of filler information, outdated information, legalese, and lots of arcane rules — making it at least 50-100 pages (and I’ve seen worse.) The policy manual should be short and sweet and only contain policies that agents must adhere to. Consider hiring someone to write and create a manual that is a useful, informative read rather than a sleeping aid. After all, manuals are there for a reason.
Formatting tips aside, the point here is to remove the old-school rules that are needlessly restrictive. Your office policies should aim to keep agents compliant with the law, rather than to keep them doing things the way you personally prefer.
3. How much autonomy is the right amount?
In short, as much as you can stomach — and probably a little more than that. Find your office policies that are restrictive or wide in scope and find a way to remove them or hone in on the actual intent.
I was once at a firm that had a “minimum commission” policy specifying the lowest compensation a listing agent could charge. Digging deeper, we realized that we made exceptions to the rule all the time for a variety of circumstances. Rather than maintaining a rule that we didn’t stand by, we replaced it with a condition that agents owe the firm a certain amount per transaction regardless of what they charge their clients. This grants agents the autonomy to run their businesses as they see fit, but without the firm losing what it wants — to be paid on the transaction.
As you look through the office policies, flag all the rules that can be broken in certain instances. Take those rules and decide whether to remove them altogether or just make them more reflective of reality. Instead of prohibiting teams from having an office, for instance, maybe you require them to provide an Office Manager and personally insure the location.
4. Lead at the local level
The culture of any office is a product of the company structure behind it. If you want to feel local, you need to be local. There is no magic trick.
Agents want to know that their support is knowledgeable about their market conditions. To pull this off, you need a great leader physically in the market.
Being a leader doesn’t mean simply holding the title — they need to have the skill set to inspire, teach, and excite the local agent base. The best definition I’ve found yet of a leader is someone who has followers. It’s a pretty simple test — if nobody’s following you, you’re not a leader. Your leaders need to know the market well and be active in the community.
Agents also want to project themselves to the public as a local expert. Even large firms and franchises can equip a local office to have a local presence. Drop the 1-800 numbers — they no longer add legitimacy to your business. The public associates those numbers with long hold times, poor service, and overseas support. Offer agents a local address, a local phone number for the office, and the opportunity to connect with other agents at the firm regularly for meetings, trainings, and events.
5. Let your leaders lead
It’s not enough to give your leader the title — you also have to give them the job. They need empowerment to lead and make decisions. A great person in a meaningless role won’t accomplish much.
Decisions should be made at the local level. A big draw to independent brokerages is the lack of bureaucracy and the presence of transparency. If you structure your brokerage so that local leadership can make decisions on policy, marketing, training, events, and the sort, agents and the public alike will connect better with the office.
Your local leaders are more knowledgeable about what their agents need than the vice-presidents and C-levels three to five levels removed from the front lines. Let your local leaders try new ideas without fear of failure. Encourage innovation and problem-solving at all levels of the organization.
To the contrary, a “top-down” structure creates corporate bloat. That means slow decision-making, impersonal service to agents, inability to pivot when market conditions change, and frequent shutting down of good ideas because of a desire for consistency across the brand.
Remember, agents are valuing their independence and personal voice more than ever before. Looking to another industry, there’s a reason that Costco, for example, has been voted one of the best big large employers in the United States. It’s the culture of connection yet independence that makes employees feel valued.
If you don’t listen, they will find someone who will.
To sum it all up — while traditional brokerages have found success by presenting as highly successful recognizable brands, the brokerage of the future presents as hyperlocal with a focus on service and culture. Independent brokerages are excelling at aligning the success of the firm and its agents. Cutting the red tape and having the right local leadership can make all the difference.
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