It’s never been a more interesting or exacting time to be an indie broker. In November, Inman celebrates the indie by narrowing in on what growth tactics are working best and what tech is emerging that offers the best competitive advantage.
Although technology has been a great facilitator of business throughout the pandemic, it’s certainly not a cure-all — and running a brokerage isn’t only about dollars and cents. Culture is key to keeping agents happy and productive, and it’s something many brokerages have struggled to preserve through these challenging times.
Here are a few strategies some indie brokers are implementing to try and keep their company’s culture going strong in a largely remote work world.
Since the start of the pandemic, Thomas Mestas, president and CEO of The M Real Estate Group, initiated brief, daily brokerage-wide Zoom calls. Most of the time he said they don’t even really talk business, but use the call to maintain the group dynamic. And even though this idea isn’t necessarily new, it’s a good reminder that it’s still effective.
“Every day — with the exception of one day that we haven’t done it — we’ve done Zoom morning meetings,” Mestas told Inman. “It’s for 15 minutes, so it’s not anything too long, it’s not boring. Sometimes we do ask questions about real estate events that are going on, but a lot of times we just make jokes and have a good time, and just socialize a little bit.”
The short time provides a little reprieve during which people can connect with one another, but also creates a forum during which agents can ask questions.
Austin Black II, broker/president at City Living Detroit, said he’s transitioned what used to be a monthly sales meeting to a several-times-a-month affair over Zoom because everyone craves the personal interaction and it’s easier to coordinate virtual meetings than it had been to coordinate ones in-person. He also tries to maintain “constant touches” with his agents on an individual basis.
“I am more intentional now than ever before about not only reaching out to my agents in terms of how business is doing, but how are they doing,” Black said. “I found that the constant [touches with agents] on a regular basis, I think, has helped preserve our company culture to a certain extent — but, it doesn’t fully take [the] place of being able to see each other in-person.”
Putting a spin on virtual conferences
When she and her agents learned that this year’s National Association of Realtors (NAR) conference would be virtual, broker/owner of Garcia Properties Jenifer Garcia said everyone was “super bummed,” but not surprised. She went ahead and registered her whole office to attend the virtual conference — as she would any year — and quickly realized “there’s no way any of us, myself included, area going to actually do this,” she told Inman.
“Because it sounds so boring! I mean, you’re sitting in your home, sitting in front of your computer for hours at a time, and then like, your dog barks, or your kid needs something, and like, no one does any of these classes.”
After a bit of brainstorming, Garcia decided to book rooms for her agents to stay at a remote lodge near Branson, Missouri, for four nights during the conference so that they could focus on sessions while also preserving the spirit of attending a live conference.
“We did not do a lot of group activities, obviously, because of COVID,” Garcia explained. “But it was a good chance to get away kind of into a resort-type environment. And we each had our own room, and that way, instead of holing up in our house with our dogs barking and our kids driving us crazy, at least we had our own private space to concentrate on the conference. And then I orchestrated to have a private bonfire happy hour every night that we were there, so that was fun. And we did some fun outdoor hiking activities together.”
“A lot of people, myself included, when we were planning this in the days leading up to this were like, ‘Should we be doing this?’ … but we had our masks on the whole time we were around each other and a lot of it was just either outdoor hiking stuff or individual alone time,” Garcia added.
Switching up Zoom meetings with a socially distant event
Billy Buck, president and CEO of Buck & Associates, Inc., recently organized an outdoor volunteering event for his team cleaning up a highway near their office in Arlington, Virginia. Initially, he said people were skeptical about getting together, but they kept their distance and wore masks, and Buck said it was so nice to just be physically around one another after so much time apart. Afterwards, they also enjoyed an al fresco lunch.
“To say it was so nice to pick up trash with everybody sounds insane,” Buck said. “But, it’s just nice to see people even masked up and everything else. It’s just nice to be around your colleagues, physically. To be near them for proximity’s sake.”
And it sounds like this won’t be the last time the group does it either.
“After the highway cleanup and after the lunch, everybody’s like, ‘Let’s get another one on the books,'” Buck said. “Which is the first time I’ve ever heard that!”
Garcia said she and her team are now way beyond the Zoom meeting honeymoon phase when video calls still seemed convenient and exciting.
“Anytime I hear ‘Zoom meeting’ I’m like, ‘Ugh, we’re all so over it!'” she told Inman.
When they need a change of pace these days, Garcia said they take their meetings to the great outdoors and make things more interesting with boxed lunches and picnic blankets.
“So we bring our picnic blankets and we descend on the park like locusts, and I bring individual picnic boxed lunches for everyone and we just hang out on our blankets and shoot the shit, and have a good time.”
Jeremy Kelly, broker of Kelly Realty LLC said once he noticed his agents getting “Zoomed-out,” he knew he had to do something differently.
“I’ve got 12 agents, and they began to get ‘Zoomed-out’ after about, I don’t know, maybe the ninth meeting,” Kelly told Inman. “So what we did is, we met in-person outdoors in a park.”
Especially this year, Kelly said he realized that the mindset of his agents “was paramount,” so he’s been working over the past several months to find ways to keep agents “in a positive headspace.” The group is currently planning an outdoor team yoga day and organizing a socially-distant service day, building on the success of one they did earlier this year.
“What I’ve found is that, if we can get together in-person and just focus on something outside of real estate, such as serving the community … I just think it helps the overall morale of the agents,” Kelly said. “When we serve together, we relax together, then we work better together, is what I’ve noticed.”
Keeping things festive
New York City-based brokerage Elegran has always focused on maintaining a mindset of “#inthistogether” and “#strongertogether,” Elegran CEO Michael Rossi told Inman in an email. In that spirit of togetherness, the company has worked to keep up communications and morale across the company through different virtual happy hours and by recognizing special occasions.
“[We hosted] marketing department trivia sessions and virtual happy hours across the organization with team building games such as real estate-themed ‘Jeopardy,’ ‘Family Feud,’ and, soon to be unveiled, ‘The Price is Right,'” Rossi said.
“Acknowledging special events like birthdays and having a high ratio of managers to agents to ensure all agents’ needs are heard on a daily basis is key,” he added. “We’ve also implemented new trainings focused around agent personal care, empathy and embracing vulnerability in uncertain times. Having programs like these in place creates a stronger sense of community and maintaining a strong social component — even virtually — can not only hold people together, but also lift them up.”
Similarly, Nia Knowles, broker at Area West Realty, said she’s currently in the midst of planning an online painting party for her brokerage during December to replace in-person holiday festivities for the first time.
As broker/owner of Summit Executive Realty, Joyce Jeffrey started implementing a quarterly agent contest to break up the monotony of the pandemic and keep agents connected.
“Contests [were] themed ‘Go for the Goal,’ where agents were challenged in different areas of real estate, then entered into a drawing for advertising dollars, promotional products, gift cards and MLS dues paid,” Jeffrey told Inman in an email.
Showing broker support for agents, personally and professionally
To help agents stay inspired and engaged, Jeffrey said she’s encouraged them to pursue their personal passions like their family and second businesses that complement their real estate careers. During these uncertain times, she’s also tried to be on-call to take over transaction coordination in case of illness or emergency among agents or their families.
After one of his agents faced health issues this year, Black said it spurred him to make sure all his agents knew he was ready and available for whatever they needed help with.
“I had an agent who was dealing with some health challenges, so I made sure I made myself available in terms of helping out and stepping in, in terms of working with his clients when he was unable to throughout the process,” Black said. “Fortunately, he’s doing better now.”
Knowles said she’s also tried to show her agents support in their personal lives from a distance.
“I have been diligent in reviewing our agents’ social media pages,” Knowles told Inman. “Sharing in their personal lives and commenting, supporting, cheering their achievements. I also find it helpful to send individual cards, emails and forwarded messages of news articles relevant to them and to personalize my communication.”