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Vanessa Bergmark

“Is this about indies surviving, or is it about them thriving?” Vanessa Bergmark, owner and CEO of Red Oak Realty, asked panel moderator Clelia Peters in advance of their Inman Connect Now panel on Thursday, which also featured Kofi Nartey, founder and CEO of Society Real Estate.

The answer: thriving, with a few caveats.

Over the course of the Connect Now panel entitled “Will the Indie Brokerage Model Thrive in 2021?” the group discussed how indies have been able to channel their best attributes to thrive over the course of the pandemic, and how they might keep the momentum going into the new year.

“There’s a conversation around consolidation, and that is so true,” Bergmark noted.

“That consolidation is creeping up on everything, and it’s coming like a wildfire,” she added. “When everything looks and feels and moves the same way, [that] independence and that uniqueness is when the independents have the opportunity to populate the industry … and offer something different.”

Although many independents have had discussions about consolidating with other brokerages amid the uncertainty of the pandemic, Bermark and Nartey both noted that holding on to independence during this time has allowed many to remain nimble and adjust to new client needs.

Nartey actually launched his brokerage in the midst of shutdowns in May.

Kofi Nartey

“It was fortuitous because everyone was glued to the internet, they were glued to their devices, so the news spread I think faster than had we not been in the pandemic,” Nartey said.

“I’m leaning hard into thriving … with a caveat,” he added. “Because anyone who is deeply engrossed in real estate and has selected real estate as a career is thriving right now. We are so blessed to be in one of the few industries that’s deemed essential and there’s been greater demand for housing and lower interest rates than ever, so we’re fortunate. But, where are you going to go with that?”

Nartey said indie brokers need to prepare for when the rapid pace of the market eventually slows by making sure their brand has a firm hold on the market.

“I think where we’ve been told consumers are going and what we’ve been seeing happening was correct,” Bergmark said. “What we had to do was just skate there really quickly … It was like a crash course and the test was tomorrow and you were up all night… ”

She noted that because of the size of her team (roughly 160 or so agents), they were able to divide and conquer quickly when it came to addressing clients’ new needs. Their local knowledge also became paramount as COVID-19 restrictions varied across the state.

“One of the key elements the pandemic did was you had to have very refined local knowledge about what was happening in your area and it was different when you crossed county lines,” Bergmark said.

“I think preparing for what can be coming and may be right around the corner is crucial,” she added.

Nartey said his brokerage has pivoted by addressing new client desires and servicing more of their portfolios, like second and investment homes, with the idea that this additional focus will position his business for future success.

“Things are good now, but prepare yourself for landing,” he said. “Because it will come to a stop at some point.”

The group also discussed the sweeping change that came across the industry once most business was moved online, and agreed those processes would likely not go away.

“Now I think that’s all we’re going to see,” Bergmark said.

“There’s a huge upside [to going digital] for sure, and I think there’s some things that we’re seeing now that we’ll never turn our backs on again,” Nartey added.

However, Nartey also said that moving business online has created a need for him to find new ways to replace in-person interactions, like those chance encounters at open houses. He said he’s never spent more time trying to connect with different people on LinkedIn, for instance.

With many people across the country looking to move to new locations as they have the ability to work from home, Bergmark added that the new landscape has caused her to create networks across the country and even internationally to put systems in place to help clients relocate. Her team is also tracking those movements in order to learn where they need to make the strongest networks for the future.

In conclusion, for those wondering if they should go indie, Bergmark and Nartey said it’s not necessarily a move that’s right for everyone.

“Always look at where you want to be a year from now, two years from now, five years from now,” Nartey said. “And is being an indie going to get you there.”

“It’s such a personal decision,” Bergmark added. “I would say, realistically, you’ve really got to want to run a business, and innovate, and create.”

Email Lillian Dickerson

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