The best thing about being a real estate broker or agent is knowing that your opportunities are unlimited and you are truly the architect of your independence and future. 

Becoming an independent broker is the dream for many of us “in the business” — the chance to do your own thing and be different. It certainly was for us when we started Climb Real Estate in 2010.

Although we’ve both moved onto new roles (head of brand at @properties and founder of a new real estate tech software company HighNote.io), we still believe that indie brokers represent the epicenter of change and innovation in the industry.  

Succeeding in today’s market is hard. Agent splits are higher, there’s a race to the bottom on commissions, and it’s expensive in both dollars and resources to provide the services agents and clients want.  

We firmly believe that it still is possible to make it as an “indie” — but remember this: brand matters. For agents, create (or partner with) an authentic, provocative, and memorable person or brokerage, and be prepared to spend a lot of time promoting it everywhere! Brand is about differentiation and resonance. It needs to connect with people — so be your authentic self.

1. Don’t be afraid to be unique

You must have a clear and distinct culture based on your “niche” that permeates everything, including branding, recruiting and your office’s decor. At Climb, that meant we had an Airstream trailer, and with @Properties, it’s the company’s unique “Love” script.  

Owning your culture and being different is doable and scalable, as long as new offices and personnel reflect and retain the core values and unique personality that you’ve established. For inspiration, look outside your market, see what works, borrow and translate to your area to win.

2. Be selective with your business 

You must focus on a specific area, property type and business model — and be better at it than anyone else. The brokerage’s emphasis has to be less about individual top-producing agents and more about “owning” a certain niche as well. We followed this plan at Climb by focusing on — and doing all of our business in — a certain section of San Francisco. 

Focusing is not what’s hard, but turning down other opportunities can be. That listing lead over an hour away from your market or helping a friend purchase a type of property outside of your wheelhouse might be tempting, but you must stay strong. 

3. Partner if you can’t do it yourself

Nobody can be great at everything. Explore your weaknesses, and find partners who will fill in your gaps. We partnered because we each had unique talents the other didn’t have (Chris is a marketing and branding genius, and Mark had the vision and the technology chops). 

You might need to license or introduce a new franchise to the area to be different. You will definitely need to find the latest tools and resources for your agents and clients, but you must be creative with how you offer them. Become a beta tester for a new product or technology, and partner with other vendors who target the same client niche that you do.   

4. Don’t be afraid to act

Volatile market forces create opportunity, and there’s no wrong time to “take the leap.” Be willing to push forward in uncertain times where there are apprehension, uncertainty and fear.

The global pandemic that changed how we live and work provided momentum for us to develop new initiatives — @properties launched our new franchise program, and HighNote focused the company’s resources to expand nationwide earlier than planned.  

5. Control your own destiny 

As an indie brokerage, you define what success means to you. Whether you limit your brokerage to one or two markets or join forces with another indie to support larger growth, there’s no right or wrong answer. Yes, there are challenges, but the rewards of charting your own course are even greater. 

Trust your gut, and go for it!

Mark Choey is the founder of HighNote Labs and co-founder of Climb Real Estate in San Francisco. Connect with him on Instagram or LinkedIn.

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