Taking the helm: How managing brokers learn to lead

by Tom Ferry

Succeeding as a managing broker requires a deep knowledge of the real estate market, superior organizational skills and a deft touch when it comes to handling agents. It’s a challenging job, but deeply rewarding for those who can handle those demands on their time and energy.

Of course, becoming a managing broker isn’t always a straight path. Some set out with the goal of managing or set their sights on it early on, while others discover their desire to run a brokerage later in their careers.

Also in this issue

Real-life lessons from managing brokers

Agents explain what they want from managing brokers

Managing brokers on the challenges of leading a brokerage


Making the leap

Kristen Jones, broker/owner of RE/MAX Around Atlanta, entered the real estate field with the intention of eventually becoming a broker. She says that while many successful agents see becoming a managing broker as a natural step on their career trajectory, the skills needed are very different.

“It’s two very different jobs,” she said. “Back when I became a managing broker, the broker was making sure that people were hopefully doing the right thing. They were available to answer questions, but there wasn’t as much of an emphasis on leadership as today. I think people really need good, solid leadership and not just somebody who’s an enforcer or a recruiter or a mediator, which is what I think traditionally the brokers have been.”

Derek Varnadoe, vice president of broker services at Solid Source Real Estate, has been with the company since 2011. Before becoming a managing broker, he worked as an agent and associate broker, discovering that he enjoyed interacting with and helping agents on a daily basis.

“I enjoyed the training and problem-solving aspects of serving them and helping them build their business,” Varnadoe said. “When the opportunity to serve as a managing broker for Solid Source Real Estate Companies presented itself, I accepted it with open arms. I’ve always had a strong desire to learn as much as I could about the real estate industry, contracts, MLS regulations—you name it. It was the ‘why’ in addition to the ‘how’ that intrigued me.”

Tara Versluis, a managing broker with Coldwell Banker Residential Broker at the Johns Creek office, became an agent in 2013. After completing some continuing education courses through Coldwell Banker, she became a managing broker in 2016 by taking advantage of an opportunity to fill a temporary role.

“I had gone through Coldwell Banker’s Leadership Development Program,” Versluis said. “One of our offices needed temporary assistance, and I was brought in as an assistant manager. My original office, Johns Creek, opened and I was asked if I’d like to become managing broker at that office. I gladly accepted the great opportunity.”

Breaking in

The Georgia Real Estate Commission outlines the licensing process for real estate agents. Applicants have to be at least 18 years old, hold a high school diploma or its equivalent and pass a background check that includes a criminal history review. They must complete education requirements such as a 75-hour salesperson pre-license course provided by a GREC-approved school, pass an exam and pay a licensing fee. Additionally, they have to take a 25-hour post-license salespersons course in their first year of obtaining a license and at least 36 hours of continuing education during every four-year renewal period.

To become a broker, an agent has to be at least 21 years old and have been “licensed on active status” for at least three of the previous five years. They also have to complete broker-specific coursework at an approved school, college or university, pass an exam, pay fees and keep up with continuing education requirements.

The road to becoming a managing broker isn’t always a clear path. Jones has a degree in industrial and systems engineering from Georgia Tech. She became a licensed agent in 1999 after working as a consultant who helped train people on how to use software, but she missed helping people learn and develop. She obtained her broker’s license in 2002 and had the opportunity to purchase a RE/MAX office in 2005.

“There was not a lot of support and coaching at my particular RE/MAX office,” Jones said. “All these people were paying for coaching outside of the office. I was like, ‘How cool would it be to have an office that coached people and provided a great environment to grow a successful career?’ I decided pretty early on that one day I want to do that.”

Varnadoe relishes the opportunity to work with agents on a daily basis. He attributes some of his success to his background in communications and graphic design, as well as his experience working as an agent for Ben Farmer Realty in Savannah.

“I had the combination of the experience of having been a real estate agent out in the field and digging a little deeper than your average agent,” he said. “I really did read the contracts. I was very detail-oriented and wondering, ‘Why are we doing it this way? What law does it route back to?’ just to help me understand it and to help me explain things to clients easier. I think the combination of that, plus the experience that I had gained through communications through graphic design, really helped me help the agents more.”

Versluis prioritizes staying on top of contracts, new regulations, technology and other developments in order to serve her agents.

“I’m a non-competing managing broker and that enables me to be 100 percent focused on the success of my agents,” she said. “My phone is attached to my hip and I make it a point to check in with agents regularly.”

The support she offers ranges from backing them up when a builder or broker tries to cut them out of a commission to providing reassurance when an agent is going through a difficult time in their personal life.

“They look to you for strength and guidance to keep moving forward in business while dealing with the circumstance,” Versluis said. “Sometimes you take their stories home with you at the end of day.”

Staying sharp

Jones believes she has to continue to grow as a professional in order to provide her agents and their clients with the best service possible. She learns about becoming a better leader by reading books and articles and listening to podcasts about leadership. She also takes advantage of RE/MAX’s expansive professional network.

“We spend a lot of time sharing and collaborating with other good leaders in our network,” she said. “I don’t know that I could take full credit for anything that I’ve done at RE/MAX Around Atlanta because I’ve taken great ideas that other people have implemented and made them my own. And I’ve seen where other people have failed and tried to avoid that pitfall.”

Versluis makes sure she stays on top of the latest regulatory developments and trends. She also works with her agents to help them grow through mentoring.

“I work with all of my affiliated agents to help achieve their goals,” Versluis said. “As far as mentoring, I have taken a couple agents under my wings to build leadership qualities. We also have mentoring and accountability amongst the managers, both locally and with other metros.”

Varnadoe encourages his agents to develop a passion for knowing the industry’s rules and regulations. Every year, he forms what he calls a book club for his staff to study the latest edition of the Georgia Real Estate Commission’s rules and regulations.

“We think is it’s very important that everyone on staff go through those rules and regulations,” he said. “It’s hard to imagine a question that an agent may have that doesn’t in some way route back to ‘What does the law say about that?’ We have fun with it. We order the books for every member of the staff, we assign a certain number of pages, and we meet every Thursday or whatever day has been designated and we go over what we learned and discuss it.”

Adjustments and expectations

Versluis believes that the role of the managing broker is often misunderstood. Education is key to developing the next generation of managing brokers so that they understand the commitment the job requires.

“I feel that most people do not fully understand the depth of the position and often, in other brokerages, there aren’t development opportunities available prior to becoming a managing broker,” Versluis said. “The role of a managing broker is also much different, even from only a few years ago. Just like the industry changes, so does the role.”

For Jones, one of the greatest challenges of the role is managing more than 100 agents who are effectively her clients, each of whom has at least 100 clients of their own looking to buy or sell a home at any given time. Supporting those agents means helping them develop, keeping them loyal and ensuring that they’re happy and motivated. Despite the challenge, she finds it rewarding to help them grow when they have competing agendas, individual needs and are at different stages of their careers.

“One of our core values is personal growth,” Jones said. “My hope is that, as a result of being a RE/MAX Around Atlanta agent or staff person, your life is better, that you grow both professionally and personally. The ripple effect of that is almost overwhelming – that as we help people transform their business and themselves – how that impacts their lives and their family.”

After about five years in the role, Varnadoe remains passionate about being a managing broker.

“No one told me how much fun it was going to be,” he said. “I really do have fun every day. I love what I do, and it was very much what I thought it would be. I love being out in the field and working with clients, but I will say I love this side of it more, because I am able to do more of it. I’m helping the agents working with the clients, so I’m able to help more people.”

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