“Kid, you’ll move mountains! Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting. So get on your way!” - Dr. Seuss
When I started in real estate in 2005, agents with a team were considered industry pioneers. Today, if you’re a top producer without a team, you may be considered a dinosaur.
Evolution is unavoidable in any industry, and we’ve seen our share of it in the residential real estate space. From the proliferation of consumer-centric technology to the advent of new brokerage models, to the way consumers buy and sell homes, to iBuyers, we’re seeing immense and accelerating changes taking place right in front of our eyes.
Teams are also evolving. In fact, the word “team” no longer accurately describes most of the cohorts formed within a real estate brokerage. Over my years spent building and leading brokerages, I’ve observed “teams” take very different shapes and forms.
On the one hand, you had those that were solely unified by the team logo on their business cards, and on the other, you had those that came together day in and day out to meet, work, and even hang out together after work. And then there were those in between and outside! Yet, all of them were referred to as a “team.”
With that, I assert that the term “team,” as it relates to the real estate sales industry, is too general, and I propose the five definitions below for the various real estate agent formations available today.
Why is this important? I’ve learned that clarity is the mother of focus and the grandmother of goal achievement.
As the term “real estate team” gets more and more diluted, how is a real estate entrepreneur supposed to know what they are building or rebuilding and after whom they are modeling? After all, you’d never approach a homebuilder and tell them to build you a house without specifying the type of structure you want- colonial, rancher, split-level, etc. Once you’re clear on where you are and where you’re going, you can then apply the focus required for actually getting there.
As with anything in our business lives, there are pros and cons with each option (to be discussed in future pieces), and even those depend on one’s perspectives and beliefs. I invite you to keep that in mind as we dive into the five definitions.
THE SOCIAL CLUB
(Note: based on a true story)
As a freshman economics major, I joined the Econ Club. It was great. I met new people with similar academic interests. We had a monthly meeting (which I almost always attended) filled with pizza and a conversation about a random macroeconomics topic selected by an elected Club President. Every year, we’d have on-campus events to recruit new members- whether we did or not was unimportant. One year, we organized a trip to NYC to visit the New York Stock Exchange.
Aside from the above, we did not do much together. Nor was there an expectation of seeing or communicating with each other outside of those infrequent club meetings. Members came and went, and it was not unusual for some to disappear in the middle of the school year. No one blinked an eye when that happened. In fact, it was a surprise if the entire club roster attended a meeting altogether. When I applied for jobs and internships, I did get to put my affiliation on my resume.
The same type of loose affiliation occurs in the real estate industry. The “team” name and, in this case, the self-elected leader stays constant. Still, the members come and go, and their entrances and exits are defined by circumstances such as availability, current interests, personal relationships, and kids’ activities. Some of the bigger real estate sales clubs may carry a level of perceived prestige for their members.
You rarely see any remnants of a structured approach to production, systems, or communication. A common interest in real estate is typically the only link between the club members.
Have you ever walked into a legal office and saw a receptionist, a law library, a couple of conference rooms, and a board full of attorneys’ names? You were there to see Mr. Jones about your contract issue, and you had no idea who the other seven names on the board were, and that was fine.
Per the recommendation of your friend, you knew exactly who you were there to see and why. You did not care that Mr. Jones shares office expenses with other attorneys and that, once in a while, when Mr. Jones was not able, or not available, to handle the case personally, he referred it to “an associate” in that legal office and collected a referral fee. This is a typical arrangement among solo legal practitioners - there may be an impression that they work together, but they do not work together.
This type of setup is also prevalent in the real estate industry. These “teams” come together out of desire, or necessity, to share resources such as operations personnel and office space. The real estate sign typically has multiple last names, and there is a tendency for members to cover for each other when needed. The production is pulled together, often for award and recognition purposes, while each member focuses on his production. Client appreciation events consist of “his and her” guests, and often new members join to take advantage of the higher commission split that comes along, in some brokerage models, with being a part of this group.
(Note: based on a true story; names have been changed to preserve confidentiality)
Dr. Wellstein has been my dentist since I came to America in 1991. His first office I visited was in a basement of a small commercial building on Cross Country Boulevard, just inside of Baltimore City. In those days, I remember seeing him, most of the time, as soon as I came into the office as he personally welcomed my parents and me.
I typically spent the first 15-30 minutes sitting in the small waiting area filled with magazines’ older issues as I waited to be served. Many times, he even performed the job of an oral hygienist and cleaned my teeth himself. Back then, if I was in his office for a total of an hour, Dr. Wellstein was either with me or in my periphery for at least 45 minutes.
As time passed, the small basement office got larger, more people were hired, and Dr. Wellstein spent fewer minutes with me. His dental practice grew right before my eyes.
Today, my semi-annual checkup is held in a spawning, ground-level suite in the County. I am welcomed by a receptionist whose only job is to make sure I am warmly greeted and do not leave without paying the bill and scheduling the next appointment; my teeth are inspected, cleaned, and once in a while x-rayed by a professional, full-time hygienist; and a quick, five minute meeting with Dr. Wellstein – two minutes are spent on him verifying that his staff did a great job and the remaining three minutes are spent talking about our families, the real estate market, etc. I get my toothbrush, sample-size toothpaste, and floss in a little baggie, and I am on my way, just like his other hundreds of clients each month.
Bottom line, the time that I am personally spending with Dr. Wellstein has gone down by at least 95 percent since I started seeing him 30 years ago. And I love it! Why? Because I know exactly what to expect every single time, and at every step of the way, I get served by a specialist who takes care of my oral health needs. I come in for my appointment; I go through the service conveyor, I get out fast, and have a brighter smile on my face.
You’ve seen the same setup in real estate. As an agent’s book of business grows, she hires an assistant, then another assistant, a sales agent, more sales agents, and so forth to serve that expanding client base.
There have been books written about progressing through the stages of a real estate sales practice, with The Millionaire Real Estate Agent being the most notable one. At the crux of these books are the strategies on getting more clients, leveraging out lower income-generating activities, providing excellent client service through in-house specialists, and remaining the glue that holds it all together.
In a Practice, you will find defined roles and responsibilities, certain levels of accountability, various levels of culture, and always know who the boss (leader) is - she makes all of the decisions. It’s her name on the sign. The visible differences between real estate sales practices typically lie in how well the machine is oiled, as evidenced by production growth and employee and agent tenures.
I was raised in Baltimore, MD, and am a huge Ravens fan. Most view an NFL franchise as a “sports team.” I see it as a sports organization or a “team of teams.”
In addition to the “players team,” there is the “marketing team,” the “grounds team,” the “personnel team,” the “events team,” the “medical team,” and others. In some organizations, those teams are called “departments” or “divisions.” Each department has a mission, its own goals, members with specific roles and responsibilities, and a clear leader who has a title (Director of Marketing, for example) that puts him in the leadership role. The heads of the departments have a direct line of reporting up to the organization’s owner who sets the vision for the organization- win the Super Bowl, hire key leaders within the organization, and then if he did his job well, get the heck out of their way.
Although still fairly uncommon in the residential real estate industry, the last decade has seen an increasing number of real estate agents reaching this stage. The roster of staff and sales agents is large, tenure is longer on average, the production volume is high, and there is a high level of recognition in both the agent community and the public. The parts of an organization form an interconnected system that may seem to the naked eye to produce consistent results almost effortlessly, like a cruise ship gliding through the Atlantic’s waters. However, do not be fooled. There are massive amounts of action taking place on that ship to keep that steady pace.
Finally, although the owner’s name may still be on the sign, he is almost not involved in the day-to-day operations, client interactions, or mid-level personnel management- unless there is a true emergency. A litmus test for an “organization” is whether it’s dependent on the owner to run effectively long term. As in the Baltimore Ravens case, if owner Steve Bisciotti disappears for a few months, the practices and games will go on.
In a network, all members are provided with a standard set of services in exchange for payment via commission sharing, monthly/transaction fees, or both. The oldest, and maybe the clearest, example of a network in the real estate industry is the brokerage itself. It provides all its members, in this case, agents who hang their license there, with services such as payment processing, legal compliance, training, and access to various tech tools. Everyone in the brokerage has access to the same tools and services.
Today, however, one does not need to own a brokerage to own a network. A number of international brokerages have adjusted their models to allow real estate entrepreneurs to build their networks on top of their existing brokerage platforms. We can consider the expansionist movement started by Gary Keller, Glenn Sanford, and others as proliferation and evolution of this network approach.
Those who own or are employed by the network itself are considered to be a support for the members rather than their bosses as in the case of the organization or practice described above. The affiliation between the network and its members may be fairly loose depending on its members’ requirements and the value provided by the network.
The services provided by today’s real estate networks may consist of marketing services, coaching/training, operations support, access to additional tech tools not provided by the brokerage itself, access to a community of like-minded professionals, etc. The cost of belonging to a network will vary depending on the brokerage model it’s built on and the services it provides. It’s not uncommon to see network members pay fifty percent of their commission, or overall profit, to belong to a network. In other cases, belonging to a network may be free.
Although there is no one-size-fits-all network model, the main characteristic that defines this formation is a predefined set of services available to all members regardless of the network size.
It’s time to come up for air.
We just went through the five definitions of a real estate “team.” For some, the above served as a wake-up call and a rationalization of what’s in the way of progress. You may have been thinking to yourself that you’re running a real estate team when in fact, you’re
a leader of a real estate club, and it’s no wonder why you have not seen one of your agent members for two months.
For others, the above may serve as a confirmation that you’re on the right track, and it’s time to dig deeper into solidifying your path towards a highly functioning sales practice. And it’s time to stop chasing those who are on a different path and are building a network. You may care more about profit margins and your hourly rate rather than taking over the world.
As stated earlier, there are pros and cons to each option that vary with your approach to life and business. So what’s next? Look around...You may already be where you want to be. If not, pick a mountain and go for it!