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22 July 2014

Inman Connect Broker War Room: What We Learned in the Trenches

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At Inman Connect San Francisco, Sherry Chris, president and CEO of Better Homes and Gardens® Real Estate, led a robust series of discussions with dynamic brokers from across the country to a packed room discussing key issues that brokers currently face. The overall theme of the Broker War Room session was “What Matters Most” and was segmented into three areas of content regarding agents, business operations and the end consumer.

However, one theme that seemed to thread together all discussions was Culture. The right vision and principles for your organization act as an anchor for all key decisions. This helps create the platform to attract the right people, make the right decisions about where to invest, as well as how to interact with the end consumers.

Below are some of the key takeaways:

Agent Recruitment & Retention
Robyn Erlenbush, owner of ERA Landmark Real Estate, discussed surveys done within her firm, which validated that community and philanthropy drive recruitment and retention.  She also had her affiliated agents help rewrite the company’s value proposition, which gave the agents a sense of ownership and pride in the business. This sense of involvement and focus on culture she has found particularly important in recruiting a multigenerational team of agents.

Joshua Tanner, president & CEO of Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate® Generations, spoke about the value his brokerage finds in hiring new agents.  In his opinion, less experienced agents have not established habits that may not fit within the company’s culture.  When hiring experienced agents, you must ensure that they believe in your environment wholeheartedly. Also, when determining what agents value and what motivates them, it’s important to go right to the source. BHGRE® Generations recently sent out a survey to their affiliates which showed 86 percent of their agents stay with the brokerage because of the people they work with. Synergy, teamwork and support in a main source of value agents find in the company.

Tiffany Kjellander, owner of EXIT Towne & Country, added that the little things are what mean most to her affiliated agents. There is never a one size fits all solution to making your agents emotionally invested in your company. Do your best to make them great and understand their positive and negative sensitivity buttons.

Jeff Martel, owner of Better Homes and Gardens® Real Estate 43° North, provided his perspective that there are three important factors in hiring, none of which are related to the ability to “sell.”  His agents need to have a strong world compass, strong work ethic and ability to be positive in the face of adversity.  Hiring to these principles and your business culture creates longevity and stops the 18 month revolving door, which is counterproductive to growth.  He also emphasized that you must fire agents that work against the culture, even if they are strong producers – it will allow others to grow within a positive environment.

Business Operations
Kendyl Young of Glendale Homes runs a small firm and spoke about how to invest when cash is tight.   She said culture was important.  Connecting locally is critical to Young, which is why she invested in the right office environment to draw people into her space and engage with the community.

Nick Segal, president of Partners Trust Real Estate Brokerage and Acquisitions, noted the importance of investing in technology.  He noted that 80 percent of the business that you do comes from the people you know. Therefore, you should invest in harnessing those referrals. Segal emphasizes not to chase your tail for the next bright and shiny tool, but instead invest in tools to help your agents get in and win in the living room. You must engage your agents on a list of tools they might want to use and then have them participate in the selection in order to determine what tools work best.

As part of the discussion regarding what matters to your business, culture was discussed in-depth.

Kevin Woody of GoRealty recommended  adapting ideas inspired by great companies, like Zappos, to your business.  GoRealty built a culture book with help from their agents, and it was so impactful they invested in making it a coffee table book for their clients to see. He also recommended not just recognizing transactions, but recognizing your agents when they exemplify the culture.

Mark Woodroof, managing partner of Better Homes and Gardens® Real Estate Gary Greene, asserted that culture must grow as it begins to fade.  Culture drives each small decision that your agents make, especially the decisions that you won’t be there to see. Never believe that culture stands still. It is constantly evolving, and you need to ensure its headed in the right direction.

Connecting with Consumers
Daryl Rogers, owner of Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate Reliance Partners, made some important points on having the right client approach.  Consumers want an agent twho is responsive and direct.  “When clients ask how much a home is, instead of answering ‘How much can you spend?’ you should give them the price.”  Consumers can see through your sales approach.  In addition, consumers expect things right away.  They are mobile and they do not expect you to send them something when you get back to the office.  Get the forms you need on your tablet and give the clients what they need in that moment.

With one third of all consumers now considered Millennials, Sarah Schnell Jones of Bamboo Realty provided her perspective on working with that generation.  She gave these tips on what Millennials expect.

  • Millennials are not the same as other buyers.  They value “5 star customer service” and will research you online to make sure you are a good fit for them.
  • Millennials are interested in learning more about the actual process. Educate them! Sara uses Closing Time (www.closingti.me) as a good checklist tool for contracts to close.
  • Millennials want information on lifestyle and information about the neighborhood. They need data for them to be flexible – meaning they do not believe this is a long-term decision. Sara uses Yelp and Walksquare.com – it helps understand the lifestyle in areas where you don’t live.

Joe Rand, of Better Homes and Gardens® Real Estate Rand Realty, provided a number of important points about setting up processes to promote high-quality customer experience.  He posed the question, “If a family member was moving and wanted an agent recommendation, would you be comfortable referring 100 percent of your agents?”  If the answer is no, you must do more to establish the right culture of training and process for greater consistency.  Rand encourages the use of checklists, despite many agents’ resistance. Many professionals, like airline pilots, use a checklist.  It is not because the pilot is a bad pilot. Rather, it is because it is important to make sure every item gets done.

Joe Schutt, broker/co-owner at Unit Realty Group, made a similar point about trusting an important referral to his agents.  If you cannot trust your agents with important clients, you cannot grow your business. He also called out areas of focus that his consumer base finds of value:

  • Mobile – Be the brokerage that is always available when a client needs you
  • Green – People appreciate the efficiencies and environmental benefits
  • Pet-Centric – We take this to the next level and are sought after by clients with dogs. We treat them as part of the family.
  • Give Back – 5 percent of commissions go to local charity. Giving back to the communities in which you serve benefits everyone.

Overall, an amazing group of speakers provided critical insight into running a brokerage in today’s environment. The room became more crowded as the event progress, a true sign that the insights are valuable to running a successful brokerage.

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