Brokers are hurting for cash, and raising splits or buying more leads for your agents might lead you to even worse cash flow problems. What can you do instead? Here are a few things that brokers are doing to boost morale without shelling out tons of cash.

Virtual open houses, digital closings, conversations from behind face masks — what productivity looks like for real estate agents this summer covers new terrain for all of us. All June, Inman surveys the New Productivity: the tools, skills and insights needed to make it work now.

With most of the country open for business now and real estate agents back to work, one question I’ve gotten lately is how to motivate people. Some of your agents are scared to be back in the public; others don’t want to return to the office. Many are low on cash, especially in states where there was a hard stop to real estate activities.

Motivation is not a new problem. It’s always been there, but now brokers are more attuned to the rumbling we are hearing in our offices. Agents are nervous. Staff is stressed. What do we do?

Money might be the most obvious answer to your motivation issues, but I don’t think that’s the best fix. Brokers are hurting for cash as well, and raising splits or buying more leads for your agents might lead you to even worse cash flow problems.

The solution: Ask your agents and staff what they value most. What do they want or need right now? What would make their jobs easier?

If you think this is too simple of an answer, here’s what I — and other brokers — have heard when we’ve asked our groups these questions.

Feed them

One broker regularly puts out direct mail pieces — hundreds of post cards, mailed to vacant houses and properties with out-of-area owners.

The process is tedious. Not only does the staff curate the list, but then they also double-check to make sure the properties are not already listed with another firm, and then they check property records to make sure the mailing addresses are correct and that the property hasn’t transferred privately lately. It’s a hassle. The staff grumbles.

When asked what would make the job a little less stressful, the broker thought they’d ask for a bonus or some sort of monetary compensation.

They asked for pizza.

They wanted him to buy the whole office pizza at the end of the day of the big mailing. Now that office does “Pizza Day” the day that mailing drops every month.

Agents who rarely come into the office show up that day and join in the meal. It’s more than just a hassle now — it’s a bonding experience that ends with breaking bread and camaraderie.

Listen to them

Never underestimate what you can learn by walking around the office and popping in on conversations. Doing this, a broker realized that her group of agents missed their favorite brand of coffee when the office moved across town.

They couldn’t walk to get it anymore, and they missed that little routine. She bought a bunch of gift cards to give to the agents for that shop and K-cups of that coffee brand and stocked the office. It was a small gesture that carried a lot of weight with the agents.

I believe in managing by walking around. When I’m in the office, sometimes I’m sequestered in my office in the back of the building for hours doing paperwork.

I take breaks by walking around and talking to agents. I pop in and sit in their offices with them and just get updates on their files. We talk about what’s going on in their lives. Sometimes they ask me questions, and I wonder if they would pick up the phone to ask if I was not there in front of them.

Ask them

Especially when an agent seems overwhelmed or stressed, I try to remember to end the conversations with “What can I do to help you right now?” or “What do you need to make your job easier?” You’d be amazed by some of the responses I’ve gotten.

You might laugh at some of their answers, but honestly, these are from top producing agents who are in my office almost every single day. So, yes, I take their requests seriously.

  • Take me off lead rotation till I catch up. (That’s an easy one to do.)
  • I want to try door-knocking. (So, I bought him door hangers.)
  • Everyone says it’s fine, but I’m always cold in here. (I brought her a blanket.)
  • Help me learn how to manage my time better. (I offered class for the entire office, and for this agent, I offered weekly accountability sessions with me.)
  • Clients with kids come into the office, and they’re bored. We need to entertain them. (I had an admin create little boxes or kid kits with crayons and coloring books.)
  • More notepads! (A top producing agent with a serious note-taking habit needs paper.)
  • Admin staff needs to help me more with my files. (Done!)
  • Office uses plain manila file folders, but I like the printed ones that are real estate-specific that you write on. (OK, fine — here you go. Write on them.)
  • I need a class in how to use our CRM more effectively. (So do others. We had a half-day Zoom training customized for our office.)
  • My home printer broke. (We have an unused one in the storage room. Just take it)
  • I wish we had direct deposit of commission checks. (Done.)

Each agent is an individual. Each one has their own needs and these change with time. Open yourself up to listen to what is going on in the office (chatter). Learn what is working or not working — and if there is an easy way to fix something, do it.

Did I have to bring a fuzzy blanket in for the agent who is always cold? No, but now she keeps it in her office on her chair, and we frequently find her huddled in her blanket. She’s in the office almost every single day. She’ll close over 40 sides this year. It was worth the little effort to make her happy.

One agent was complaining about not being able to find hand sanitizer that smells good. I had just bought six bottles of a tea tree and lemon scented product I like. I left a bottle on her desk after she left for appointments. The small gestures say to people, “I see you, and I value you.”

To drive the point home, I teach at brokerages across the country and get to see lots of offices. Many times the offices are in big buildings with nice, shiny spaces. They are peacock kind of offices that say “pay attention to me.”

Recruiters bring agents through the building and show them all of the perks. One trend I’ve seen in the past five years is the beautiful break room.

One place that I trained at had a nicely outfitted break room. Huge. It not only had a super sized K-cup machine, but also a second machine for fancy drinks. I tried, but failed, to operate that high-end machine.

It had a full kitchen with stove and microwave, and ready to eat meals lined up on the counter. Rattan baskets were filled with fruits and snack bars. The fridge had flat and bubbly water and all kinds of other waters (and sodas, too).

The one thing missing from this beautiful break room was agents. I would train at this office and sit at a table between classes. Agents would pop in to grab a drink and then zip out. I never saw anyone make a mocha-frappe-cappuccino. Nobody cooked a meal. I did see one guy grab a cereal bar and run. But the eight tables (I counted them) were never occupied by anyone for a real meal or to have a conversation.

The break room dazzled me when I first was given the office tour. I couldn’t wait to set up my laptop between classes and work there. The agents couldn’t care less (from what I saw anyway). Maybe it was used more than I know, and I just missed it.

That kind of break room is out of my budget. I could never provide that for my office. But I don’t have to. As long as I pay attention to the agents and see them — really see them — and their basic needs, I don’t have to spend money on higher splits or fancy lattes. I just need to ask what they want and then really listen to their answers. Try it. The answers just might surprise you.

Erica Ramus, MRE, is the broker/owner of RAMUS Real Estate. You can follow her on Twitter or LinkedIn.

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