As independent contractors, agents can hang their licenses wherever they want. As brokers, it’s incumbent on us to create a beneficial environment for agents to flourish.

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With the summer coming to a close and fall on the horizon, the real estate industry is gearing up for the high season of recruiting. While agents can change brokerages at any time, we typically see more activity in the last quarter of the year. As the market resets, we can also expect that agents may be exploring other opportunities.

As a broker-owner, I consider retention a far more valuable use of my time than recruiting. That’s why I am always looking for signs that an agent may be thinking about leaving the company. While some signs may mean a move is inevitable, other signs create opportunities to open the lines of communication and reinforce the firm’s value to the agent. I also take many preventative measures to mitigate the likelihood of agent churn.

An ounce of prevention

In my experience, company culture is one of the main ways to prevent an agent from leaving. Being approachable as managers means that agents can feel comfortable coming forward with questions or concerns.

Another measure we have put into place in our company is a steering committee comprised of agents. When a new agent joins the company, we provide them with a copy of the steering committee charter which explains that agents can come to the steering committee, which serves as their voice with management. 

Another way we make sure agents feel connected to the company is through weekly, deliberate communication with each of our 65 agents. Every week, agents receive a phone call or face-to-face interaction with either an owner, manager or key staff member. It’s a great way to re-engage with agents who may have drifted — especially if it’s been a busy time and they haven’t been to the office much. 

We also create compelling reasons for agents to come to the office, whether it’s a guest speaker, a bagel breakfast or a community service effort.

That said, while culture is very important in retention, there may be some other reasons agents are “looking.”

Here are seven signs you should be looking for:

An agent starts withdrawing from company events and training

When I notice this, I don’t call and say, ‘Why haven’t we seen you?” Instead, I take a positive approach, such as inviting them to present at a sales meeting or chair a food drive. The goal is to get them connected again and make them feel appreciated and valued.

An agent exhibits a sudden change in demeanor or attitude

If you notice someone who was previously positive is now negative or someone bubbly and expressive is quiet and withdrawn, it’s probably a sign something is going on either personally or professionally. I make a point of reaching out and saying, “I notice you haven’t been yourself lately. Is everything OK?”

This comes from a place of genuine concern, whatever the reason may be. The goal is to create an opening for the agent to feel comfortable telling you what’s on their mind.

An agent asks for a copy of their compensation agreement

This likely means they are in conversations with another firm and looking to compare offers or negotiate. I make a point to ask whether they are checking to see where they are in their plan or if they are being recruited. If it’s the latter, I always compliment them on getting noticed by a competitor, then ask them to come back to me after they have an offer.

I use that conversation as an opportunity to revisit why they chose to work with us in the first place. Sometimes there are intangible benefits that aren’t captured in a comp plan, and I like to remind agents of those things they will be missing if they explore another opportunity. I also offer to sit down with an agent to talk about what’s good for the agent and their business and serve in a consultative role.

An agent downloads their database from the company system

You may not be alerted that an agent has exported their contacts, but if they do, it’s likely they are already on their way out. You have the opportunity to reach out and ask if they are thinking of leaving — similar to the conversation I have when they ask for a copy of their comp plan.

An agent requests a meeting with you in the next day or two.

These requests are usually vague or non-specific about the reason for the meeting. In my experience, this is often how agents announce they are leaving. I ask what led to the agent deciding to go. Again, it helps to be prepared to discuss why the agent joined in the first place.

An agent asks questions about other business models.

This is usually a sign that the agent is talking to another company with a different business model from ours. I have taken preventative measures to minimize this by transparently discussing other business models at a sales meeting or training session.

In addition to explaining the different ways brokerages are set up, I discuss why our company is set up the way it is. This way, agents get it straight from the horse’s mouth, reducing the likelihood a competitor can twist things to their benefit.

An agent who is part of a team starts questioning the company management

This is a tricky situation as there is potential breakage on two fronts: the team and the company. It’s important to give the team leader a heads up that one of their agents might be in conversations with a competitor. This can also be a sign that a team member is considering going solo.

I do everything I can to keep talent in-house, but I am completely transparent with the team leader. We have open communication about the financial impact such a move could have, and we come to a mutually beneficial agreement. 

As independent contractors, agents can hang their licenses wherever they want. As brokers, it’s incumbent on us to create a beneficial environment for agents to flourish.

But beyond company culture, it’s critical that we are always paying attention, making ourselves available and keeping lines of communication wide open. The better job we do of retaining our agents, the greater likelihood the red flags don’t get raised.

Ben Fox is the broker-owner of Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate Journey in Arkansas.

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