Making the dream work: How teams fit into brokerages

by Jason Porterfield

A savvy agent knows the time may come when they need to take on some extra help to ensure their business will keep growing. They may plateau at a point where they can’t take any more listings or any more referrals on their own. At that point, they have to decide whether it’s time to form a team.

It’s easy to check off the benefits of bringing more agents and administrative help on board to form a team. More agents can reach more clients. Back-end staff can handle tasks like marketing and paperwork, taking those chores off the agents’ plates. Team members may be well-experienced in handling certain types of properties, or they may be familiar with markets where the team wants to deepen its presence.

Patti Junger of Dorsey Alston, Realtors started her team in 1994, while she was with Coldwell Banker. “They gave me my first assistant, and shortly after gave me a second assistant,” Junger said. “I have always hired licensed Realtors so I don’t have to be concerned with restrictions on what they can and cannot do. However, my primary need was and still is administrative assistance.”

Junger, who describes herself as a “very hands-on person” with a high level of energy, initially had a difficult time turning real estate tasks over to her first assistant. She quickly realized that having an assistant was a great way to improve her work-life balance.

“You can’t do what I do at this level of real estate if you don’t have a balance and if you don’t have people to help you, Junger said. “I wanted to do well in my business. I saw that I needed to keep that balance with my business if I was going to do this seriously.”

Tamra Wade of RE/MAX Tru started her team when she realized she needed help to reach her goals. Today, her team consists of 40 agents and 10 members of her support staff.

“It really happened somewhat on its own as far as the size of my team,” Wade said. “I always knew that I wanted to do a lot and be very involved in the industry. I wanted to grow and I wanted to be a name that was known in our market.”

Plotting a team

Teams tend to start small. Many remain that way. Rather than taking a hands-off approach, team leaders often remain active as agents while handling additional management tasks.

The National Association of Realtors’ 2018 survey on teams revealed that about two-thirds of real estate teams consist of five or fewer people, though 20 percent were made up of six to 10 members. Only 8 percent of teams have 16 or more members. Eighty-eight percent of the survey’s 3,483 respondents identified their primary roles on their teams as agents.

Robin Blass of Coldwell Banker started her team two years ago, after going it alone in the business for 37 years. Her team consists of her two daughters – both licensed agents – as well as a listing coordinator, a contract-to-close specialist and a third assistant who helps with marketing and other tasks. The small size of the team makes it easy for everyone to keep tabs on the status of every aspect of a transaction. Blass said she tries to keep everyone focused on their designated roles to minimize confusion.

“The hardest thing is trying to keep their roles separate,” she said. “I try not to cross over because it causes confusion. If I need someone to type in an amendment, that needs to stay with the inspection, so that should go to my contract-to-close person. It’s a close enough office that keeping those jobs separate can be challenging.”

Becoming a team leader is a significant step. Agents should take the time to think about whether they’re ready to assume a role that will require them to lend assistance to the other agents as needed while seeing to their own business. Are they serious about providing better service to their clients, or do they just expect the team to help them generate more revenue? An agent who simply wants to lessen their own workload is likely in for an unpleasant surprise.

Establishing what their own immediate needs are can help them as they work out what kind of team they want to form. If the first member of the team is going to be an administrative hire, the agent should consider what aspects of business they feel comfortable handing off to someone else, as well as which parts they don’t want to deal with themselves. Paperwork, marketing, scheduling and staging are all tasks that can fall within the purview of an astute assistant or two.

Wade’s first hire was an assistant who grew into the role and embraced the industry, eventually getting licensed to make her own sales.

“My first hire when I built my team was my assistant,” Wade said. “She has been with me for 10 years. She’s grown from an assistant position to where now she’s my operations manager. I encouraged her to get her license. So she does real estate on the side. She keeps her hands in it some, then really runs my team with me.”

Organizing the team

Some teams start with an individual agent hiring an assistant to handle administrative duties and finding that he or she is suddenly free to focus more time on growing the business and serving clients. Hiring the assistant might lead to hiring another agent to take on more business.

That organic form of growth is common for many agents. Teams have a leader (or leaders, if it began as a partnership) who will serve in a role similar to that of a managing broker. Team leaders facilitate communication among agents, mediate any conflicts that come up and make sure the agents and staff have the tools they need to be successful in the field.

The team leader should also be prepared to evaluate the person they’re hiring to make sure that he or she is right for the intended role. But as any experienced team leader will point out, simply keeping everyone on an even keel can be tricky when they’re working on a sale.

“I still love what I do every day, after all these years,” Blass said. “A lot of psychological energy goes into this, managing buyers and sellers and keeping everybody happy and calm. I feel like I do a really good job with that.”

Delegating responsibilities is the key to her success. “We do so much for our clients that it does take a lot of time,” Blass said. “We’re full service as far as helping do everything to get the property ready. We do staging to starting painting, whatever we need to do first. Then at closing, we handle all the repairs, we do everything and manage all that.”

In Junger’s case, she is the only member of her team who makes sales. Her two licensed assistants step in to help when needed.

“As difficult as it is to let go, it is a blessing to have capable people helping me accomplish my goals,” Junger said. “The buck still stops with me, yet I don’t have to carry the entire load.”

Each member of Wade’s support team has a designated role. Each member is cross-trained in another area so that they can step in if someone has to take time off.

“I have a contract and closing coordinator,” Wade said. “I have somebody who handles all the bookkeeping, I have a marketing director and a marketing assistant. We have an agent services person. We have a general sales manager. So each has their direct areas that they cover in order to keep the team moving forward.”

The brokerage fit

Brokerages, especially those with a strong brand identity, may have some top-down policies that teams have to adhere to regarding their branding. They also provide added resources for the teams.

Junger and her team spent many years with Coldwell Banker before switching to Dorsey Alston. She appreciated the support Coldwell Banker offered, but the company had a much more corporate feel.

“Dorsey Alston is the oldest real estate company in Buckhead,” Junger said. “Although I spent many happy years with my previous brokerage firm, I enjoy the fact that it is local and less corporate with more of a caring family-type environment.”

The fine details

Agents who join teams will likely go into it with a set of expectations. They’ll want to have the support of the team lead and administrative staff. If they’re joining a team with a reputation for success, they’ll expect to benefit from that association. Marketing materials and access to new leads are also great motivating factors. And there’s also compensation.

The structure of compensation has to be right for an agent to want to join a team. If agents can earn more individually than as a member of a particular team, there’s not much incentive to motivate them to make the jump. The splits have to be fair and reasonable.

Wade’s agents receive a 50-50 split on each sale, while her staff is salaried. “If they’re on my team, the benefits are that they do get all the support staff, they do get all the marketing, they do get me to coach them, they do get inventory and leads,” Wade said. “That’s how we set up our teams. They definitely can see the value added when compared to spending a bunch of money to get those leads.”

Blass makes sure her support staff members get the vacation days and sick days they need. She doesn’t provide insurance for them, but they receive a stipend to cover their insurance costs.

“Our split is basically through Coldwell Banker,” Blass said of compensation for her agents. “We all get the same type of split. Photos and whatever kind of advertising comes off the top, and then we split.”

Junger keeps it simple when it comes to compensation.

“As Realtors, my team members are independent contractors,” she said. “I have no employees. I pay them a monthly amount for their work and a percentage of each closed transaction. If they generate business, I receive a percentage when they close their transaction.”
The benefits of running a strong team are clear, but it’s also a lot of responsibility. Agents who form teams can’t count on being able to step back from their business.

“If you want to grow your business, you have to stay involved in your business,” Wade said. “You don’t just trust people and let them kind of have full control. You’re the team leader. You’re the one who developed it, you need to be the one to stand by it.”