Independent broker-owners Jena Turner and Serena Lowden share the best way to budget and how investing in staff leads to a gold mine.

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.

Necessity isn’t only the mother of invention — it’s the mother of independent brokerages too.

“I wish I had a more glamorous answer to this. I was just really mad,” Found Homes broker-owner Jena Turner told the Indie Broker crowd on Wednesday. “It literally happened overnight. I never wanted to open or own a brokerage. I just wanted to sell houses, but I didn’t feel like we had a lot of forward-thinking brokerages in my market.”

“The leader I was working for was very forward-thinking, and when she left the market, I was like, well, ‘If I’m gonna do this, I’m going to build it our the way I want to do it,” she added.

Jena Turner

All City Homes founder Serina Lowden had a similar experience, with the veteran broker realizing the Sacramento market lacked a brokerage that understood how to serve diverse communities and address the barriers they faced with homeownership, finances and building generational wealth.

“My business partner and I started at a large brokerage, and we decided to start All City Homes because we thought something was missing,” she said. “What was missing was the connection within the community and culture.”

Both women said indie brokers often contend with limited starting budgets and succumb to the temptation to invest in every new tool or platform that promises to boost their businesses. Instead, they said, indie brokers should focus on building a solid support staff that enables agents to do what they do best: bring in the deals.

“I hire a lot of staff and I think other brokerages in my market probably look at what I’m doing and think that it doesn’t make financial sense because even when we had eight agents, we had four full-time staff,” she said. “Those numbers don’t make sense, really. But if you find the right jobs for the right people it pays off.”

“Every hire I made wasn’t a huge salary — it may have been a college student who was going to school for marketing. But I was able to say I had an in-house marketing department,” he added. “I’m very good at being bossy and I finally told my parents, ‘Hey, there’s been a reward for me being bossy. I can delegate really well and give everyone the right task.'”

Lowden said she’s also invested heavily in building an extensive staff, which has boosted the productivity of her agents.

“We have a heavy admin team and the admin is so important for us because our agents feel like they have a personal assistant,” she explained. “They can walk in the office and say, ‘Hey, Kimmy, we need a new listing presentation.’ Our staff knows exactly what to pull together, they usually have their comps together [and] they bind the listing presentation together. Everything is just standard. They can request anything. All they have to do is just open up their hands and take it.”

Turner said she’s also spent a lot on creating a recruitment system, so she doesn’t spent time hiring agents and staff who aren’t the correct fit for her brokerage. “I have a two-step process before I’ll even interview an agent. We do a one-way video interview. My operations director has a video where she asks three basic questions, and the agent has to answer those three basic questions. We also have a video for management or people in staffing.”

“We actually noticed that in 2021, 50 percent of Realtors will actually open up that link, see the questions and not do the one-way interview,” she added. “So [investing in that] has actually saved me a ton of time.”

After making it through the first round, Turner has potential agents and staff members complete a culture index survey, which costs $15,000 per year.

“A lot of Fortune 500 companies use [the index] and it’s super expensive. I pay $15,000 a year for it,” she said. “My operations director when she was on that sales call with me said, ‘Hell no,’ and I was like, ‘Hell yes,'” she said. “Now I can actually identify what type of agents I want to hire because we’ve built out models for who our ideal agents are. That’s why my retention rate is at 100 percent.”

Serina Lowden

Beyond recruitment and hiring, both women said indie brokers need to invest in the very best marketing for their brokerage and their listings.

“We spend a lot of our funds on mass marketing,” Lowden said. “Print ads and brochures for our listings and drone shots. It doesn’t matter if it’s a smaller ranked house or larger ranked house, we provide the exact service for them all. I’ve sold hundreds of REOs, and even when I get that kind of property, I spend the money to have the same quality on that property’s marketing, as I would have for the other properties.”

Finally, Turner said indie brokers must be able to set boundaries, which not only helps keep their budget in line, but their agents in line as well.

“You must have standards of how you operate,” she said. “I didn’t have that when I first opened and honestly, you have to get burned in some things to start developing some standards and boundaries.  Sometimes [your staff and agents] need saving from themselves, and you have to work together to find a solution.”

Email Marian McPherson

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