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.
Being an indie broker means having the freedom to be nimble and change what isn’t working, but also balancing that with agents who want to be sure about their commission checks and their tools, according to panelists at Inman Connect Las Vegas on Wednesday.
In a session called, “In It to Win It: How to Achieve Each Tier of Growth” in the Indie Broker Track, Stacie Staub, founder and CEO of West + Main Homes in Colorado spoke about starting her brokerage about four and a half years ago with just her mom and growing it to about 600 agents — mostly without a business plan.
“I had a very, very succinct business plan in the beginning,” she said. “And about two weeks later, I threw it away. I’ve not written another one because it just keeps changing. The magic of being an indie is we’re so flexible, we’re so adaptable, we can say yes and then figure it out.”
She and her partner have a philosophy: “If it’s not easy, let’s not do it.”
“That doesn’t mean there aren’t challenges and long hours and lots of decisions to be made, but if it feels like you’re forcing it, you’re not in flow and the ninjas in here understand flow’s everything.”
She advised attendees who are thinking about starting their own independent brokerage to have one thing set in advance, however: the firm’s business model.
“Decide on your model and stick with it,” she said. “It’s really hard to switch that up on agents. I feel like we made the right decision and it’s fair, but I would never be able to change it now.”
She doesn’t recruit, relying on word of mouth from agents who know and love the brokerage.
“When you’re indie you get to make your own playbook and that’s really fun,” she said.
Elmer Morales, team lead and owner at eHomes in Southern California, said similarly he and his partner, Jackie Soto, started their firm in 2018 with no formal business plan. They’ve grown from 18 agents to more than 260 in the last three years.
“We’re interviewing anywhere from 15 to 25 agents every month and we’re not saying yes to everybody,” he said. “We have to worry about culture, which is a big deal for us.”
“We want to make sure that it’s a good human being that has no ego,” Morales added.
Staub agreed. “Hire slow, fire fast,” she said. “We hire for culture, not production. I can teach anyone to sell a lot of houses. I can’t teach them to be a nice person and take care of their clients.”
Both Staub and Morales said their brokerages use the Slack communication platform to keep their teams engaged and feeling connected.
How do they know when it’s time for someone to go? “When they stop engaging [and] participating, you gotta let go,” Morales said.
Both brokerages are “bootstrapped,” meaning they don’t have any outside investors. West + Main only has 14 people on staff and low overhead, according to Staub.
“We really are careful about what we spend on technology,” she said. “We make very, very informed, slow decisions on that stuff. Brokers think that there’s this magic platform that’s gonna sell houses for your agents and there isn’t.”
The tech products she offers were those she’d been using to train and manage agents even before she started West + Main: Real Estate Webmasters’ website and customer relationship management (CRM) system, a Squarespace blog, RealSatisfied’s customer satisfaction measurement tool, MailChimp for newsletters and Brokermint for back-office management.
The brokerage hasn’t changed any of those tools since its inception except for Brokermint, which she added on a couple of years ago.
“Agents don’t really love change, so switching up the technology and making them learn it [isn’t great] — really, really try to decide on something in the beginning and stick with it,” she said.
If agents don’t adopt a particular technology, eHomes is quick to pull the plug, according to Morales. The brokerage uses Sisu to track its sales and performance metrics daily, SkySlope for transaction management, Ylopo for digital marketing and a CRM from Follow Up Boss.