Spring Madness is a week-long Inman series analyzing this year’s spring homebuying season. We’re digging into the state of the housing market, the impact of rising mortgage rates, the role of open houses and the rapidly vanishing starter home, among other big issues. It’s total madness, all week long.
Gabrielle Enfield, a broker with Living Room Realty, recognized early on that she needed help at her Portland, Oregon, real estate brokerage before the spring onslaught began.
After recalling advice from mentors — that most agents will eventually hit a threshold in the business they can bring in alone — Enfield made the decision in February to call in for reinforcements ahead of what she expected to be an overheated spring homebuying season. Enfield determined she needed a dedicated buyers agent and a licensed assistant to help run the operations side, both of which she was fortunate enough to nail down within about a month.
“I don’t think any of us were expecting the volume,” Enfield told Inman, referring to the months leading up to March. “That spigot turned on full-blast and there’s only so much of us to go around.”
Working as a solo broker or agent can be a challenge under any circumstances, let alone during a season many economists and real estate professional believe will be one for the record books. But in an overheated housing market, it’s nearly impossible to hold it all together, agents told Inman. A number of brokers and team leaders said they were either in the process of or had recently hired on support staff in preparation for real estate’s busiest season of the year, recognizing that they weren’t willing to go through another spring like last year’s without additional help.
From buyers agents to listing coordinators to marketing directors to administrative assistants, and more, agents need help now. But recruiting talent is riddled with the complications of dealing with a workforce that’s more discerning than it was pre-pandemic — one that prioritizes work-life balance, a competitive salary and remote work options.
“[Back-office talent] want work-life balance, and the people in this industry work all the time,” real estate recruiter Linzee Ciprani of Ciprani Consulting recently told coach and Inman contributor Bernice Ross. “So, we’re pulling at these stable, steady, wonderful personalities, all night and all weekend, and they’re just fed up with it.”
Enfield said her decision to budget for added help is one she had debated over the past few years as the market got increasingly heated. But she was hesitant to commit to making someone else’s livelihood dependent on her own. Ultimately, the pace of the market dictated to her that she needed to hire someone on now before things heated up even more later in spring.
“Are you giving your clients the level of care and attention and service that you built your business on?” asked Enfield. “I had to ask that hard question of myself and it got to the point of ‘no.'”
For some agents, hiring now has been a strategic move, while, for others, it’s just a coincidence that it’s right in time for spring.
Lisa Sapenaro of Keller Williams Kansas City-Northland told Inman she had to quickly bring a buyers agent onto her two-person team this year in advance of spring specifically to help with the struggle buyers continue to deal with amid market conditions of rapidly selling inventory and “too many buyers.”
“The listings are there, they just sell so quickly,” Sapenaro said.
After having her best year ever in 2021 and nearly doubling her business, Kim Parmon of Living Room Realty in Portland, Oregon, told Inman that the year’s physical and emotional toll spurred her to team up with another broker at her company, as well as double down to hire and train an assistant in recent weeks, in order to prepare for this coming season. That way, she can focus on her “highest and best use,” she told Inman — and actually work some small family vacations into her schedule.
The real estate support staff hiring spree follows a year in which existing-home sales hit a high not seen since 2006 of 6.12 million transactions, up 8.5 percent from 2020.
It also comes as the typical residential buyer faces unprecedented competition. Investors purchased a record 18.4 percent of homes sold during the fourth quarter of 2021, according to a Redfin report, and bidding wars hit a new high in February, with 71 percent of homes sold during the month facing bidding wars, according to a recent Tweet by Redfin CEO Glenn Kelman.
Unfortunately, the need for more hands on deck also arrives at a time when qualified real estate support staff is hard to come by.
As Ross detailed in her story from early March following a conversation with Ciprani, pandemic-related factors, including a shortage and reshuffling of workers, rising wages and inflation, and a desire for more remote work, have made finding qualified back-office staff a significant challenge.
“In fact, in terms of the applicants for the 52 current open positions Ciprani currently has posted, she has only between 7 and 10 applicants with even a modicum of back-office experience in real estate ranges,” Ross wrote.
Inman recently spoke with a few real estate professionals who made the investment to work with Ciprani on their recent administrative or operational hires, some of whom said they initially underestimated the challenge of finding the right person in such a competitive hiring market.
Amrita Khurana, an agent with The Falcon Group at Keller Williams in Ridgewood, New Jersey, had been working with a virtual assistant for a few years before deciding more recently that she needed support that could only be addressed by a full-time in-office assistant, since she already had other part-time social media and showing employees.
“Little did I know when I started the process … I didn’t realize how hard it was to actually find talent right now,” Khurana said. “I learned that as we went down the path, that there weren’t that many people. The reality is that the jobs are there but the people … I don’t know if it’s a supply and demand issue, but I felt like there were a lot of people hiring, but not enough good talent.”
Khurana diligently screened several applicants with Ciprani, and it ended up taking her about two months to find the right assistant, which is actually a relatively short timeline compared to some of the other agents Inman spoke with who used Ciprani’s services.
For Matt Harnick of the soon-to-be three-person Harnick Team at Keller Williams in Blue Bell, Pennsylvania, it took him about five months, with Ciprani’s help, to find and hire on his first team member to head operations last year after he realized he was in over his head.
“I was burned out,” Harnick told Inman. “Especially during COVID, business got very busy. I was at home a lot, I didn’t see my family, I was just working 18, 20-hour work days trying to get it all done and I knew I couldn’t continue that.”
During the process, he also initially hired on someone who, he realized after about a week, wasn’t a good fit, and ended up falling through. About four months ago, Harnick also started a search for a marketing director/listing coordinator, and just submitted an offer to a candidate this week.
With Ciprani’s aid and expertise, Harnick also realized he needed to create competitive compensation packages for his new hires in order to find qualified candidates who would fit in with his team. That’s why both positions will be salaried and include annual bonuses based on the team’s production.
The ‘Great Resignation’ impacted Haro Setian of the 11-person Haro Group at Keller Williams in Greenville to the extent that he’s looking to gradually hire on about seven or so new team members in the foreseeable future. Therefore, his hiring spree wasn’t really motivated by the advent of the spring market, but he’s certainly encountered the challenges presented by the current hiring market.
“On the hiring front, I really have to start with why and lead with culture and value because all the other parts of the value proposition of working here are, if we’re going to play a pay and benefits game, the candidates are always going to be able to find someone better,” Setian admitted.
One of his real estate coaches recently imparted what Setian thought was “a really helpful paradigm” to keep in mind during the hiring process, namely, “In this market, you have to think of yourself not as a buyer of talent, but a seller of your company. More than ever, you’re selling your company to potential team members.”
For other agents, team leaders and brokers scrambling to find help before peak market hits their region, agents who worked with Ciprani highly recommended hiring out a professional company like Ciprani Consulting that can help find and potentially train the right talent so that agents can been freed up to do what they do best, which is help homebuyers and sellers.
“I was in that position,” Harnick said. “[I] couldn’t even begin to figure out how to manage and process, how to find that person [and] get them in place. And even if all that happened, how the heck is a busy agent going to have the time to adequately, if at all, train that person?”
“I just think it’s really important, especially for solo agents who don’t have any help … [to] find someone who can do it for you.”
Ciprani herself also recommended RE Box, HelloLeverage, Blink Marketing, and CPros (now only available to Keller Williams agents) for agents in need of a number of support services from listing coordination to bookkeeping to marketing resources and more until they’re able to find the right talent.
In addition, she suggested CareerOneStop as a resource for determining the appropriate salary for different positions in specific markets, as well as finding local assistance.