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The Best Advice from Broker-Owners

Each month in the pages of Real Estate Broker’s Insider, readers find an in-depth interview with a leading broker-owner. It’s a frank and wide-ranging conversation and there are always lots of important insights. You’ll learn about their growth plans, the most successful things they are doing right now, and even their worst mistakes. Below, Editor Jeff Ostrowski asks,

“What is the single most successful thing your company is doing now?”

Bob Hamrick, Coldwell Banker Premier Realty

The thing that I’m most proud of is that we have been able to maintain our positive culture in light of all the changes that are taking place in the industry. Culture is something that is talked about a lot, but it’s hard to really say why we have a good culture. I’ve stayed in very close contact with my top producers. I coach them on a monthly basis. I stay engaged with them and knowledgeable about their business. I also stay in touch with our newer agents. I do a training program we call Earlybirds. It’s Mondays at 8 a.m. That keeps me in front of agents, sharing ideas, sharing best practices.

Miguel Berger, Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate Tech Valley

When I launched Voiceter Pro, people were fighting me. They were saying, “It’s a fad. It’s not going to stay.” We’re going to push the envelope with that company. You can ask Alexa to ’open real estate,” and she gives you the top three results by voice. Of course we capture the information about the consumer. You can also ask Alexa your home value. It’s really cool. The MLSs all love it.

John Makarewicz, Mark Spain Real Estate

The most successful thing we’re doing right now is moving into multiple markets. We moved into Raleigh Jan. 2. The momentum is building. We’ve got a lot of momentum in Charlotte as well.

Matt Difanis, RE/MAX Realty Associates

Showing up and being able to work hard is big. Couple that with persistence and you have a formula for success. I was not making what you could even charitably describe as a living in my first year. In my case, a lot of it was just being persistent for the first two years. When you’re both new and young, that combination makes it very difficult. A typical consumer that was getting ready to buy or sell a house was as old as or older than my parents. Why were they going to hire someone the age of their kids to handle their biggest investment?

Cindi Bulla, Realty Central of Amerillo

We focus a lot on visiting with recent graduates about what their situation is with student loans, and putting them on a schedule to become home buyers. We start that process for most of our clients long before that first transaction. There’s no charge. We structure our services sort of like a physician would. We’ll do homebuyer rap sessions where we might target a certain demographic group, say people with credit problems. We’ll bring in a credit specialist. There’s no charge for that service. We only charge for the transaction, but we offer service that starts long before that.

Todd Umbenhauer, Keller Williams

Keller Williams is a very education-focused company. Agents who have an expertise will teach about their area of expertise — and not just once, but several times throughout the year. If an agent is particularly good at generating leads from open houses, they’ll teach about it. If an agent has expertise in investment properties, they’ll teach about that. It can be anything under the sun. That’s invaluable.

John Collopy, RE/MAX Results

I’ve always been somewhat fanatical about each of our sales executives having a very concise and specific business plan, and then it’s up to them whether they want to follow it. Everybody is different, so everybody’s business plan is different. Six or seven yours ago, all of our top sales executives were in REO. You’d better not be in that market any more. We have some big teams that work for us that are going to sell 500 to 1,000 homes this year. Every sales executive has different aspirations, and wants different things out of their experience, but you need to have a business plan.

Bill Rawlings, Atlanta Fine Homes Sotheby’s International Realty

At our company, the most successful thing we’re doing is growing by adding the right people to the mix. Being able to select the right people for the team is something we pride ourselves on. And at the Atlanta Realtors Association, we’re very proud to continue to grow our membership. There are other associations Realtors can join. Ours is the largest association in the state of Georgia, and we believe we offer the best benefits.

David Walker, TripleMint

Our clients genuinely love what we do. We use [customer satisfaction tracker] Net Promoter, and we ask clients how likely they’d be to refer TripleMint to a friend. Our score is 91. By contrast, Apple is in the 70s. It’s really, really hard to be at 91. That’s our biggest success.

Todd Pillars, Engel & Volkers Clearwater-Belleair

First and foremost, I think you have to have a giver’s philosophy. You have to be willing to give, and you have to have a servant’s heart to truly succeed. That’s No. 1. The second thing is do it right the first time. If you don’t, you’re never going to have a chance to do it a second time. That’s something my grandfather instilled in me. And finally, integrity. You have to have integrity to succeed in this business.

Elizabeth Mendenhall, RE/MAX Boone Realty

We’re able to combine a national brand — RE/MAX — with a lot of personal, independent touches. One of the things we do extraordinarily well is branding and marketing. We have an agent services coordinator on staff who works with agents on mailings, postcards, and anything else they need.

Tara Limbird, Limbird Real Estate Group

Almost weekly, someone says, “I love your marketing. I love your branding. I love what you do.” When you run a small business, it’s easy to get sloppy, but we’ve done a good job of making sure everything we do has the same theme. We have a true marketing program and a marketing department that handles each and every listing. It’s not a one-size-fits-all approach.

Ben Schachter, Signature Real Estate Cos.

We’ve been so wildly successful because of our agent-centric approach to the business. Other brokerages typically focus on the big three Cs of real estate — customers, closings, and commissions. We are not concerned with those areas. We focus on what we believe to be the most important resource and asset in this business, which is the salespeople. This is wildly unique. We don’t have the same prerequisites for hiring that our competitors do. Our competitors traditionally hire you if you have a heartbeat and you have a real estate license. I don’t concern myself with people having a real estate license, because we operate our own accredited school. So if I think someone is innately a good candidate, I’ll put them in school and I’ll pick up the tab to get them licensed.

Ben Caballero, HomesUSA.com

HomesUSA.com is the most successful and satisfying thing I’ve done. Knowing that we are making a difference and helping our clients is my definition of success.

Mark Chin, Keller Williams Tribeca

I have the pleasure of working with over 100 amazing real estate salespeople and brokers. The thing I’m most happy with is getting new agents to do their first sale, and rental agents to shift their businesses to sales. I hired a woman who had spent her entire 15-year career in rentals, and within 18 months of coming to Keller Williams Tribeca, she has tripled her production to over $500,000 gross commission income. Now she doesn’t touch rentals at all. I have five or six brand new agents who will do over $200,000 in gross commissions in their first 12 months. I just love that!

Ken Clark of VIA Group

Getting this company up and running is my most successful accomplishment. It’s also my biggest challenge. I think I’m probably the only broker in Iowa who is as virtual as we are. We’re off to a great start. But the challenge is convincing people that this is the future. They don’t need brick and mortar. They don’t need an office. In this day and age, out of a 24-hour day, I’d say an agent with a private office spends maybe an hour a day in the office. I’m trying to get agents to embrace the future, not how they’ve done things in the past. It’s not for everybody. Our market is unusual in the amount of private offices agents have. Brokers in our marketplace have huge investments in brick and mortar.

Joe Horning, Shorewest Realtors

We say we are a family. We are a team. We value our people. We don’t operate as a corporation, and we don’t have a lot of layers of management. Everyone here is a name and a face, not a number. There’s a culture and a feel that’s hard to explain. You just have to be here and experience it. Every year we give out the John A. Horning award, which is named for my grandfather. Agents vote for the winner based on the characteristics of caring, trust, service, and customer service. We try to recognize people not just for sales but for being good people.

Adina Azarian, Adina Equities

The most successful thing I am doing right now is looking ahead to the future and thinking about what I want the second half of my career to look like. I know I want to achieve more than just traditional real estate brokerage. I enjoy mentoring and coaching and I see myself as a leader being able to mentor others to find their own success. I am taking steps to make that goal a formal part of my career going forward. I’ve designed two programs which I will work with agents on. The most comprehensive is called Real Estate Detox, which is a three-module organizer program over 90 days. Together the mentee and I will look at mindset, time management, inventory building, lifestyle issues and what is holding one back, niche, branding, marketing, team building, and leadership skills. I also have developed a more informal program for effective self-study. The course focuses on beginner basics with one monthly mentoring session with me.

David Gray, ERA Dune Palm Realty

I like to think our culture is unique. We’re fun-loving and family-friendly, and we’re heavily involved in the community. In the past, we turned our offices into an art gallery once a month and invited our clients to come in and have some wine and cheese and to meet local artists. It was very successful, and it gave us a chance to get out and meet people in the community. We’re also involved with the American Cancer Society Relay for Life. Doing things like that helps bring our agents together.

Keith McClain, ERA McClain Brothers

Because we have been so small, we’ve been a company that’s regarded as high in personal service and integrity. We’re the only ERA brand in Kansas City. Because of that, we have several tools no one else has. We’ve got a seller protection plan where if you meet certain criteria and your house doesn’t sell, ERA buys the house. It’s a good listing tool.

Jackie Ellis, Keller Williams

We’re always trying to deliver that wow service. Every seller or buyer that we meet, we have them fill out a getting-to-know you form. What’s your favorite movie? What’s your favorite candy? What’s your favorite restaurant? We really want to get to know them. One day, one of our sellers was very upset because another Realtor had shown our client’s house and left the lights on or the sliders open — I don’t know, but he was very upset. Most Realtors would have defended, but we don’t do that. We take full responsibility. Within an hour, he was delivered the biggest Milky Way bar with a ribbon around it. We always want to surprise you.

Zach Ehrlich, Mdrn. Residential

Scaling our core real estate business by building out a great team has been a real success. We’ve been lucky and moved quickly to bring in a variety of talented professionals with strong real estate backgrounds as well as several with experience in other business areas. The culture we have developed is not something that gets created overnight. Fostering the identity our agents and personnel have with the firm has taken time, but it has proven enormously successful.

Geoff McIntosh, Main Street Realtors, Long Beach, CA

We are the largest single-office independent in Southern California. I have 186 agents all in one spot. We’re a hybrid 100 percent concept. Agents pay a flat monthly fee, and they get 98 percent of the commission off each transaction. It used to be 100 percent, but the state of California, in its infinite wisdom, decided that even though they’re independent contractors, we have to pay workers compensation insurance. We deployed the business model back in the early 1990s, when our primary competition was RE/MAX.

Susan Yannaccone, president of ERA Real Estate

The most unique thing about ERA is our culture. We are a
45-year-old brand with really strong foundations. We have brokerages that have been with us for 30 years. I know culture is such a buzzword, but ERA’s culture is absolutely unique and special. It is a culture of collaboration, and it’s something that’s palpable in this brand. I truly have never worked with a group of individuals who are so committed to helping each other, who genuinely like each other and want to be together. I’ve never seen anything like it, and I don’t think you can replicate it.

Aviv Zumin, FirstService Realty

The most successful thing I am doing right now is maintaining a successful work environment. It is important that every agent is happy, and that every client, owner, or developer appreciates our hard new agents. Because of our relationship with the management company, we are able to assign rental buildings to agents to work on exclusively and generate steady income while working on condos and co-ops to generate sales exclusives in our managed buildings.

Tom Tognoli, Intero Real Estate Services

We have a heartbeat as a real estate organization. A lot of companies have great technology and great marketing and great tools, but at the end of the day, as CEO of Intero, I feel like I have a personal relationship with everyone in the company. It’s the unique culture of our company that sets us apart.

Aleksandra Scepanovic, Ideal Properties Group

We are finding a lot of success serving underserved listings. By that I mean listings that have been on the market for a long time. We realized they were under-represented. We have a staging department, and we go in and shift a few things around, stage the house, and relaunch the marketing.

Richard Grossman, Halstead Property

We have a culture that’s just different from other firms. It’s a culture of support. We believe in educating our agents so they’re the most skillful agents in the industry. We provide them the tools they need to be successful. The experience of working here is different from the experience of working for our competition. You feel cared for here, you feel like you matter and that your needs are met.

Pat Riley, Allen Tate Realtors

I joined Allen Tate in 1991 because he was a visionary — not afraid to take chances, not afraid to try new things, always optimistic, never satisfied. The biggest thing was one-stop shopping with choices. Every brokerage has one-stop shopping, so the “with choices” is huge. We’re a mortgage banker. We’re an independent insurance company, so our policyholders have choices. We represent America’s best insurance companies, so we’re out there shopping every day for the best deal for our customers.

Daniel Hedaya, Platinum Properties

Right now we’re in tremendous growth mode internally. We are really focusing on the trending of the real estate industry and how we should be strategizing to ensure we are ahead of our competition. Being a boutique real estate firm in Manhattan has its challenges as you’re competing with a few large players. However, sometimes the ability to be dynamic and adapt to change more quickly can be very valuable. How technology will continue to play a role in the real estate industry is a very important focus for us.

Tom Salomone, Real Estate II

The personal service aspect is one of the things I’ve always prided myself on. At a lot of companies, you can’t reach the broker. My business card with my cellphone is always on that front counter. I’ve always tried to make sure that anyone who’s working with our company can reach the owner. My agents can reach me, too, even when I’m traveling.

No matter what happens with technology, I believe that our industry is so unique that the Realtor will always be at the center of the transaction. You just can’t replace a Realtor’s knowledge about local markets. There’s a kid in a garage somewhere coming up with the next big idea, but I just don’t see how the Realtor’s expertise can be replaced. Buying and selling a house is a very emotional time, and a Realtor can really emotionally connect with the buyers and sellers. I have yet to see a robot with emotion.

Todd Hetherington, Century 21 New Millennium

We’ve done a great job of attracting great people to our leadership cadre. They didn’t come up through the real estate ranks. They’re former military officers, former managers of corporate America, former professional athletes. These are folks who understand competition and leadership. It’s a different approach. In addition to the leader, we have a supervising broker for agents to ask the technical questions.

Jim Huskey, ERA American Real Estate

We just opened a new office in Billings in August, and we’re already doubling the size. Agents are coming to us and looking for a new start. It isn’t a bottom line of how much we can make. We want to make sure the money isn’t funneled to the top, and that our agents can make money.

Greg Kurzner, ERA Atlantic Realty

We acquire homes for investors, we lease and manage homes for investors, and we dispose of assets for investors. It’s very synergistic. We’re trying to add more management clients. Right now, a lot of investors are looking to sell their properties and take some profits. Where are we going to find our new buyers? We’re starting to actively go after international investors.

Victor Defrisco, Exit Realty Premier

Lead generation. We’re getting 10,000 to 15,000 visitors a month to our website and 600 to give us their names. We buy Google AdWords for phrases like “Lake Worth homes for sale.” Once they wind up on our site, they’re spending a lot of time. We have a very user-friendly site. We’ve studied what works and what keeps people coming back.

Allen Gammons, Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Gammons Realty

We do a lot of work for investors, people who are buying to rent or buying to flip. A lot of people are competing for those buyers, so we try to find a way to fish from a different pond. We do a lot of work with estate sales, pre-foreclosure and post-foreclosure. You have to be very diversified in this market. In Rhode Island, my personal listing inventory goes from a low of $50,000 to a high of $6 million. The market is too limited here to focus on one niche.

Mark Abboud, Coldwell Banker REA

The market is back, and I’m developing a subdivision. It’s called Green Meadows in Omaha. I still do commercial deals, and I’m also a developer. One of my problems is I try to do too much. That’s probably my downside. I have to delegate authority better. I guess I’m old school. In the old school, you do everything yourself.

Ron Croushore, Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices The Preferred Realty

Helping agents to be independent businesspeople. We do counseling sessions and business strategy sessions, and we advise our people on how to build their brand. We also have a full-fledged marketing department.

Michael McGrew, McGrew Real Estate

I’ve surrounded myself with good people, and I’ve empowered them. I’m in my second year as treasurer for NAR, and necessarily, I’m gone a lot. I’m CEO, and I was gone 120 to 140 days last year. I’m still connected, but I’m not in the office. Management by walking around is really good stuff. But when you move into remote-control management — you have to be willing to trust people. I’ve delegated a lot of management to people at my company, and I have to abide by their decisions, and not second-guess them.

Leslie Rouda Smith, Dave Perry-Miller & Associates

Rouda-Smith’s success strategy includes down-shifting from running a large company to managing a small team. She co-owned five Real Living offices in Texas for a time. Then she and several partners took over the 400-agent Prudential Texas Properties. But she learned that she liked sales and management better than ownership. She now works with her husband, daughter, and son as part of a small team.

Pej Barlavi, Barlavi Realty

Expanding into the Los Angeles market. We’re opening a franchise in Los Angeles, and hopefully in Miami later this year or early next year. Our LA franchisee is a pretty prominent real estate attorney who wants to expand his business. In the last two or three years, we’ve started to work with a number of celebrities and their agents — sports figures, pop stars, team owners. Being successful with the celebrity market in New York has led us to expand into Los Angeles and Miami. A lot of our clients own several homes. If they work with you here and trust you here, it’s easy to keep that business.

Jennifer Alter Warden, Baird & Warner

I’m very excited that people again are looking at residential real estate as a viable career option. We recruited 500 people in 2014. I think this is a huge vote of confidence, both for Baird & Warner and for an industry that has taken a beating. The word is getting out that we’re the place to go for agents who want to build their business. We have full-time managers to really help our agents work their business plans, and we’ve had really good results on that.

Charlie Young, head of ERA Real Estate

The rebranding of ERA has really allowed us to tell the story of the success we’ve had in the last five years. We’re getting our message of rebirth and revival out to the marketplace. It’s working to drive growth to our brokers. Realogy recently bought ZipRealty, and as we go into 2015, we’re going to be rolling out ZipRealty’s Zap platform to our agents. Every broker in our system will get a consumer-facing website. On the back end of that website are all kinds of tools for agents. One of the most exciting things is a CRM platform with a scoring mechanism. Agents can get in and look at all their leads, and they’re rated from 0 to 100, with 100 being the hotter lead, so they can see which prospects are more likely to close. I’m really excited about the predictive modeling aspect of it.

Chris Kutzkey, head of Coldwell Banker Chris Kutzkey and president of the California Association of Realtors

We’re very involved in the community. We just got the entire downtown to turn out for Halloween. We hosted open houses to give kids a safe option for trick-or-treating. I learned the importance of community involvement from my late father. On the recruiting side, we’re hosting career nights. We want to bring people along the proper way.

Chris Polychron, First Choice Realty

I’ve got a mountain listed. It’s about 1,200 feet — we call that a mountain in Arkansas. It overlooks the whole city of Hot Springs. I’ve been having a lot of fun with it. It’s a foreclosure, and now I’m trying to market it. There’s no utilities — I love marketing challenging properties.

Benjamin Benalloul, RLTY NYC

The roadshows we do called a RLTY cocktail event. It’s just an excuse for us to go on national TV in different countries. The developer pays us to market their properties. We have this event that goes on national TV Then we set up a sales office for seven days. Our agents are there, and we have attorneys and agents who speak the language. Sometimes after a roadshow, we’ll sell 94 units at one time. The agents are excited about it because they get to go to another country. And the developers are excited about it because it’s opening up a whole new world that they wouldn’t have reached.

Grattan Donahoe, ERA Donahoe Realty

Building our brand culture. Everyone says it, but we really try to do things differently here. Even though some people like competition, we don’t openly encourage it in a way that would make people feel bad. When I hire agents, I don’t hire people who bounce around from company to company and just want someplace to hang their license for the next 24 hours. I’m big on the DISC personality assessment. That’s probably one of the more successful things we’re doing. A lot of times the people who are the best networkers and the most outgoing are the worst salespeople, because they have a hard time hearing the word no, so they’re not good at closing deals. The assessment lets me figure out where agents need help and coaching.

Walt Danley, Walt Danley Realty

Getting to builders before they start building, because they don’t know what the buyers need. Things change all the time. The floor plans that buyers want now are different from five years ago. Now, buyers want two offices — one for him, one for her. They want a mud room — but no more home theaters. I’m working on quite a few large and small projects. When the economy got bad, I lost all 10 of my builder accounts. Now, they’re starting to come back, and we’re in the design phase right now on a couple of projects that are still confidential.

Rick Turley, Alain Pinel Realtors

What I’m very impressed with is Alain Pinel’s cutting-edge technology. We are in the technology center of the world, and there are expectations that come with that. We’re delving into analytics. The consumer wants the analytics on the website.

Michael Barbolla, Charles Rutenberg Realty

The most successful thing is on the recruiting side. Our growth has been exponential. And we really try to create a family atmosphere. We have so many agents who say, “I wouldn’t work anywhere but Rutenberg.” I’m always recruiting, and when I describe the commission split to people, they say, “This is too good to be true. Where are the hidden costs?”

Scott Kesner, Century 21 The Edge

Our agents are really sold on providing quality service. We have a satisfaction rating of about 97.5 percent. I’ve always told the agents, “We don’t ever want to worry about being the biggest. We just want to give the best service.” Century 21 hires an outside company, and they send the surveys after a deal closes. I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty bad about filling out surveys. Agents realize how hard it is to get people to return those surveys. As part of the system, the agent gets an email when it goes out, and that gives them a prompt to contact the client. Agents are so competitive, and at our sales meetings, we talk about who got a survey that week. If we make it important to the agents, they’ll take the ball and run.

Douglas Rill, Century 21 America’s Choice

Having younger agents who are really in tune with the latest technology of Instagram and Twitter and iPads and iPhones, and having a Google Analytics tool to analyze traffic to our website. In the old days you would put up a sign and buy an ad in the newspaper. Now, 90 percent of people start their search online. Luckily by being affiliated with Century 21, they push our inventory out to so many places. Even some of our clients in their 70s and 80s are using the Internet. We’re doing little things like increasing the type size on our website so our over-60 clients can read the listings.

David Schlamm, City Connections Realty

I provide high splits — 70 percent to 100 percent. But I also provide a high level of support and service. The cap at City Connections is $22,500 for our residential brokers. If someone does $300,000, $500,000 in gross commissions, the most that the house can earn is $22,500.

Michael Dreyfus, Dreyfus Sotheby’s International Realty

Our collaboration in the office. The silo model of real estate, in which you have agents not talking to each other and even actively competing, is kind of dead. We encourage our guys to share intelligence. There will be times when they run into each other a bit, but in the long-term, it just improves everybody’s knowledge.

Jean Crosby, Prudential Crosby Starck Realtors

Keeping my agents’ morale up. Keeping them excited about the business. I have an open-door policy, so I hear everything that goes on. I do a lot of one-on-one counseling. They’re just tired. They’re tired of the fight. They’re just worn out mentally. Where other parts of the country have turned around, we’re three or four years away.

Steve Brown, Irongate Inc. Realtors

I’m very organized. I planned for this year. I have three major balls in the air. One is my company. I have a terrific business partner who is very supportive of my work with NAR. The second ball is my own personal business. I have two wonderful assistants who are as knowledgeable about any of my transactions as I am. The third ball I have in the air, of course, is NAR — and that is in many ways the biggest ball I am juggling.

Darren Kittelson, Keller Williams Realty

BOLD. We do it once a year here in Madison. Roughly a third of the company participates in the course. I truly believe that’s made the difference in our productivity and profitability. It’s seven full days of training over seven weeks. In between, there’s homework. It’s getting them to practice what we’re teaching out in the field. We usually see the bump in productivity two or three months after we do the course. We time it strategically so we get the increase in business in the winter, which is our slow time in Madison.

Gregg Fous, Better Homes and Gardens
Real Estate Market America Group

Moving from an independent to the Better Homes and Gardens brand. The turnover was very successful, and very well received by my agents and clients. Change is difficult, but I’ve reinvented myself a number of times.

Linda Vaughan, Reece & Nichols Realtors

Our success is based on our extremely talented leadership team, our employees, and our remarkable agents. That’s our business, and we have probably the best people we’ve ever had.

Bonnie Devendorf, Daniel Gale Sotheby’s International Realty

We work with our agents to know their craft — to be up to date on the sales. We have roundtables where we discuss what’s on the market, what’s selling, what works, what doesn’t. We try to keep our negotiating skills up. We really work with agents on listening to both sides, and understanding the needs of both parties. We try to keep agents on top of everything. We do a lot of in-house training. It’s a completely changing business.

Carol Bosshardt, Bosshardt Realty Services

In the recession, we never stopped marketing. We’re the only company that advertises every week in The Gainesville Sun. People need marketing. When sellers want to sell a house, they want to know that you’re marketing their house in different channels. People still do read the newspaper, no matter what you hear.

Earl Lee, HSF Affiliates

Adapting to change. Not all change is comfortable, some of it is very, very uncomfortable. In my own career, over the last 18 months, I’ve worked for three companies. We were Prudential Real Estate, and then Brookfield bought us at the end of 2011, and then in October 2012 we became part HomeServices. Obviously, we’ve had a number of changes in our business. The challenge is to keep your customers intact and close to the organization, and at the same time to keep your employees motivated and connected to the organization. I am very, very grateful for their faith and trust in us. It could have easily created a dissonance.

Jeff Martel, Better Homes and Gardens
Real Estate 43° North

Affiliating with Better Homes and Gardens is going to be the most successful thing we’ve done. I can already feel the energy. There’s a little bit of fear, but the agents are coming in excited, and the builders are excited. When I tell people the brand, it’s an icon. It’s something from Grandma’s house. It’s the old and the new. Operating as an independent, we reinvent the wheel every day. Their tools and services are incredible — way beyond what I could offer as an independent.

Barbara Schmidt, Jack Gaughen Realtor ERA

Through this six- or seven-year economic downturn, our company has been able to focus on the development of technology, systems, and tools for our agents and our clients. Our company has been developing some amazing tools. It’s exciting that this is crystallizing as the market is improving. This program easily allows agents to stay in touch with everybody they know and everybody who comes in through phone calls and open houses. It’s called Homebase inTouch. It’s a lead-management system on steroids. This program is unique. Part of it is the ability to easily attach a custom-designed plan or an off-the-shelf plan to keep in touch with clients. The contacts come into the program from the different Internet sources we have. It’s huge that our systems are tied together to do this. With just a couple of clicks, we can provide a monthly market report to our clients.

Tom Kunz, Engel & Völkers

GG magazine. It’s a lifestyle-type magazine, extremely high quality. It kind of sets the tone for the brand. When I send that out to a prospect, I’ve never once walked in to see the prospect and not had them comment on it.

Dorian Bennett, Dorian Bennett Sotheby’s International Realty

Focusing on the French Quarter — the history, the architecture, the buildings. I’m one of the commissioners for the Historical District Landmarks commission. Just being out there and being public — people see the things you’re involved in. I also serve on the board of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Foundation, and that puts me in touch with a lot of musicians and entertainers.
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Jeanette Schneider, RE/MAX Southeastern Michigan

We’re rolling out a program we call Broker First. We’ve really got a three-prong focus with this program: Lead, manage, coach. For many brokers that end up being RE/MAX franchisees, this is their first business experience outside of being an independent contractor, and there are a lot of things to learn, most fall into these three categories.
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Ed Krafchow, Better Homes and Gardens
Mason-McDuffie Real Estate

We started this thing called USC, which I don’t appreciate because I’m a UCLA graduate, but it’s the University of Social Commerce. We put 20 of our top-producing agents into this program, and we try to make them more productive in new ways. The market isn’t just coming back, it’s changing, and business is coming from new sources. There’s a difference between being involved in social media and being involved in social commerce.

Russell Nolting, Keller Williams Realty St. Louis

We are fully committed to increasing the productivity of our agents. Every training event we have on our schedule for 2013 is run through a filter. Will this event, this class, or this course help our agents get more listings, get more leads, and better leverage themselves?

Ashley Leigh, Linton Hall Realtors

We created a leasing and property management company back in 2007, and that has been a huge success. It has partnered with the sales business extremely well. They’re independent and yet interdependent.

Web development has also been big for us. Before a lot of people even had a website or email, we were pushing in that direction. We’re creating a mobile website that will be user-friendly for both Apple and Droid. Everything is on our remote server.

John Daugherty, John Daugherty Realtors

We’ve been successful at bringing people from other professions into the business. We’re hiring lawyers who don’t want to practice law any more and want to sell real estate. I’ve asked them, and they all said, ‘We’ve always loved houses.’ We’ve hired three lawyers in the past year, and they’re doing pretty well. We’re always looking for people. That’s the lifeblood of our business — bringing in good people. We’ve had the most success with people who are new to the industry.

Pat Petersen, Daniel Gale Sotheby’s International Realty

We have something called a business development program. We have two business development directors, and they have seven associate directors. It’s a carefully thought-out plan for both new agents and experienced agents. It’s all about homework exercises, role playing and accountablity. Our goal was to get our agents off to a faster start. New people learn to reach out to their sphere of influence, to genuinely ask for business in a way that people are happy to help them. We also do a lot of generational training. And we train for how to do an effective listing presentation. They have to do a listing presentation for their own house, and we videotape it and critique it. They go through this in training, but because they’re new, it doesn’t really stick. Here they’re in a peer group.

Thaddeus Wong, @properties

The most successful thing by far is education and training. Over the past few years, we spent a lot of time and money focusing on education and training. A lot of classes on how to help agents with their communication skills, their listening skills. In the downturn, a lot of agents got scared, and they didn’t know how to communicate with people, because they weren’t confident in the market. They weren’t confident in themselves.

And we’re still doing a lot of advertising in newspapers and magazines. The prices for ads have gone down because demand has gone done. People say it doesn’t work, but that’s just because they can’t afford it. I attribute a lot of the growth in our company in the last four years to print advertising. How are you going to build a brand online?

Randall Kostick, Zephyr Real Estate

What we have been doing for the past several years is embracing the technology wave and making it work for us. We spend $100,000 to $200,000 a year developing online systems and tools to keep up with the needs of our customers. When you’ve got the employees of all the major technology firms as your clients, you really have to be on your toes when it comes to technology. Technology is developing so quickly that we could stop and take a breather, and we’d have some great systems, but the world would pass us by. We’ve developed our own lead-generation systems, we’ve developed our own online marketing systems. To help support the investment, we added to the business services fees our agents pay. The beauty of owning proprietary technology is that the costs are in the development, and once you’ve developed it, it costs almost nothing to run.

Gus Grizzard, ERA Tom Grizzard

We put a lot of focus on our business plan. We don’t just write the plan and put it on a shelf. We make it a living, breathing document that changes. Recently, we’ve really focused in on per-agent productivity. One of our goals was taking our per-agent productivity from 10 to 13 transactions per year. I know that doesn’t sound like a lot, but making that improvement across 120 agents really adds to the bottom line. We’re tracking closer to 14 transactions per year right now.

We made that part of our business plan, and we told the agents. They’ve got to feel a part of this. We’ve really done a good job of selling that vision and demonstrating the value of that.

Dan Forsman, Prudential Georgia Realty

Staying connected with where my agents are. We understand that without successful Realtor agents, we are nothing. To the extent that we can motivate, train, support, guide, and produce systems they can use to market, we’ll have the best real estate company in the market. If we ever think our agents work for us, or they don’t matter, we won’t be successful. At the end of the day you have to be committed to your agents.

Gary Malin, Citi Habitats

We’re investing a significant amount of time and effort into training and coaching. The barriers to entry into our industry are so low. Agents need and want training and coaching. It’s really just to enhance everyone’s skill set. People get to a certain level in their careers and think they know everything, and that’s not the case.

Bob Albanese, Long and Foster

We are a really neat enterprise. We are the largest independently owned real estate brokerage in the country. We are still profitable. We have no debt. We are a whole company positioned for growth. That is the most profound and distinct thing that separates us from the pack right now.

Jeffrey Schleider, Miron Properties

Our online marketing has delivered remarkable yield per dollar invested. We have a search engine strategy that’s based on organic results. We do email marketing that’s very effective. We also have a policy of encouraging agents to pursue their own innovative marketing ideas, which has brought great results.

Noah Freedman, BOND New York

We have a database of over 30,000 New Yorkers that we have worked with in the past and we have an ongoing email drip campaign to them. It has really been a boon to business for our agents.

Gary Legrand, Surterre Properties

We have a thing we call best buys. We have all our agents looking at all these properties, and if they see something that they think is a great buy, they send us an email and tell us why they think it’s a great deal. It doesn’t even have to be one of our listings. The best buy can be based on value or uniqueness. Every other week, a panel of 20 agents gets together and looks at all the nominations. Then the best buy goes out to all 300 of our agents, and they resend it to their contacts. If the property makes the best buy list, it has a 73 percent chance of selling. We’ve sold well over 100 properties in this program over three years, so it’s been a very successful program. They’re anywhere from REO properties all the way up to $14 million.

Leah Caro, Bronxville-Ley Real Estate

Right now, back to basics is what’s required. Somebody said that thinking outside the box is great if you’ve got the box mastered, and if you don’t, get back in the box. That’s really true. I have a written list of expectations for my office. It’s simple stuff, but if it’s not written down, nobody knows what’s expected. Be on time. Respond in a timely fashion to people. Know the inventory. Know the marketplace. Be a better agent. Do your homework. Do your due diligence. And follow through, follow through, follow through, follow through. I nag my agents about that a lot. I continue to train agents one on one, which I think is important to them.

Shaun Duggins, Carol Jones Realtors

It’s our advertising campaign. Our “Right Now” campaign is running online and on television. We’ve got billboards with Abraham Lincoln holding an iPod. We’re just letting people know that if they’re sitting on the fence, one of the best times in history to buy a home is right now — the best prices, the best selection, the best interest rates, the best terms, the best everything. No one else in our market was really saying that. Instead of wasting money on bricks and mortar, we just decided we were going to be the voice to step out there and do some aggressive marketing. It’s created a new excitement within the company. We’ve kind of changed the mindset of the agents. It’s created better agent morale. We launched it in May, and we’ve seen a tremendous increase in web traffic, leads, and phone calls.

A full interview with each broker-owner appears in the pages of the monthly newsletter Real Estate Broker’s Insider.


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