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Fear and disappointment in real estate – back in the saddle

Everyone of us go through periods in life where we experience disappointments. It is during those times that we personally grow the most. The problem is, is that during the time we are growing through them we don’t see the growth. We only experience the emotions. It takes getting through them to be able to look back and see the A- Ha moment.

In December I tweaked my Buyer Agents contract. Yes, I said tweaked. Most of it changed very little. The big part was on the commission splits I had with my team members. It changed by 10%.

I changed my contract because as primarily the listing agent I was paying for and doing all the marketing of the homes. If you or your Broker is doing a good job, then there is a ton of expense getting the exposure the home needs, both in time and money.

With the price point in Ann Arbor going down the last few years, when my agents turned in the Commission Reporting Form, I was walking away with a huge deficit in what I was spending to market the home and what they were walking away with for listing the home.

My conversation was, “You can market the home and we can keep the same split, or you can refer it to me, or the split must go down by 10%.”

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I wish I could say that ended well.

It did not.

Tearing Down To Build Again

I’ve always applied the principal that when a construction company is building a new bridge over the water, you have to build the new bridge first. Once it is complete, then you tear down the old one.

Oh, I could have said, “hey guys, I’m sorry…we will keep things the same.”

But, I knew in my heart I couldn’t continue to work at a loss.

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I knew as a Small Business Owner that it was not financially profitable to do that, so I let the proverbial wall fall down. I have always had a team but over the last couple of years it had grown due to the amount of internet leads we were acquiring, so I added more buyer agents to handle them.

Before each buyer agent was/is hired for the TEAM, I administered the DISC test to see if it would be a good fit. I also gave a 3 month trial period to continue to see if it was a good fit.

Disclosure: I am not a detailed person, I am a visionary. I do not want to and hate to micro-manage. Perhaps that is one reason why my first two team members are still with me.

As Realtors we are Independent Contractors, and self employed. I believe one reason people are attracted to our profession is because we like independence and are for the most part self motivated. Successful agents are find the drive and motivation within themselves.


The first thing that hit me was fear. What am I going to do with all these leads ? How can the few of us left possibly take care of them in a time frame that potential buyers need to be responded to?

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So I went to work, reviewing the production of each buyer agent that left. There were only two, that made any significant money. When I looked at my net for the last few years, I realized that I was netting the same amount of money whether I had a large team or small team. In fact, when it was just me and an Assistant I was netting more.

By looking at the raw data…numbers don’t lie, I realized I could do it. The fear left.

Mark Twain said, “Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not an absence of fear.”


Yes, I was disappointed in how some of them handled it. I have never understood how in our profession, agents pack up in the middle of night and leave. When I left my first brokerage I refused to participate in this unprofessional (juvenile) way that I had observed my first year in the business.

I sat down had an intelligent conversation first with my manager and then the broker owner.  After they realized my mind was made up, and I was convinced I could make more money and work more independently elsewhere I gave them the keys. Can I say they didn’t speak to me for 5 years, but now we are very friendly?

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Back in the Saddle

Shortly after the mass exodus, one of my former team members that went to work in a 9-5 job to provide benefits for her child, called and said she wanted to come back. I welcomed her with open arms.

Just this week, another agent who had left my Brokerage (not team) called to say, he would like to get back into Real Estate. He had been doing mortgages for the last year and realized he didn’t like it.

So after doing the DISC test, I welcomed him to my team.

Lesson Learned

There are many lessons to be learned from this, the most important to me was about change. People don’t like change. I should have anticipated that. What seemed like a little tweaking to me, turned out to be HUGE to them.

I also learned that you must be willing to accept the results of any changes you make.

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For me it meant build the bridge before tearing down the old one.

I still question myself if I should have just let the current team members stay at the current split and when I hired new ones changed it for the new ones. However,  I’ve always felt one of the big mistakes Brokers make is when they give different splits to different agents it hurts everyone overall.

Maybe not?

I guess it is OK, to second guess yourself.

We talk a lot in the blogosphere about raising the bar in real estate. How we treat other agents when they decide to move on, or how they move on is one area that definitely needs that bar raised.

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If I want to let someone go, I don’t send an email. If someone wants to move on to bigger or better shouldn’t we step up to the plate and have the discussion.

Fear and disappointment are a part of life. It is up to us in how we face it, deal with and move on. It is not fun going through it, but there is light at the end of the tunnel and a bridge can be built to the other side.

Thanks for reading, if you made it this far. Must be the longest post I have ever written.

Flickr Photo Credit

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Written By

Written by Missy Caulk, Associate Broker at Keller Williams Ann Arbor. Missy is the author of Ann Arbor Real Estate Talk and Blog Ann Arbor, and is also the Director for the Ann Arbor Area Board of Realtors and Member of MLS and Grievance Committee's.



  1. mikecampagna

    March 15, 2011 at 7:02 pm

    I appreciate your transparency. It is a people business, isn’t it? ~ both out and in. ;D

  2. Gwen Banta

    March 15, 2011 at 11:17 pm

    Missy, this is a great post. Your honesty serves as a reminder that we are all vulnerable – even seemingly fearless leaders like you. Your wonderful advice on how to handle those difficult moments we often face is not only appreciated, but truly admired. Your choices were grounded in intelligence, honesty, class, dignity, maturity and professionalism – which is why you will always be a leader in our industry

  3. Vicky

    March 16, 2011 at 9:35 am

    Thanks Missy! Things change much quicker now so we have to be the type of person & business that can accommodate those changes.

  4. Jeff Brown

    March 16, 2011 at 2:48 pm

    Hey Missy — You’ve touched on a common theme in our business. Of all the commission-only jobs, the buyer-agent working for a team, seems to have the mindset of entitlement more often than ‘regular’ agents, who must generate their own business.

    It appears there was a sign on your forehead saying ‘Not For Profit’ or ‘Buyer Agent ATM’.

    Though I’ve never employed them, the idea of paying them more than 40% is anathema to me. In fact, 35% seems about right.They show up, get fed leads, then get paid four figures even in a $150,000 median market. Wanna make 80-100%? Show the courage to risk failure that Missy has demonstrated. They work on a team cuz they can’t or won’t generate their own leads. They’re literally a dime a dozen, while you, Missy, are a perfectly cut diamond.

  5. Missy Caulk

    March 16, 2011 at 3:12 pm

    Gwen, thank you so much, made me smile. I have been swamped which is why I am just now getting back to the post.

    Jeff, you are so right, and I researched buyer agency contracts from both local team leaders and 3 in other parts of the country. I was definitely paying too much, and when I looked at the numbers it just didn’t make sense from a business perspective. All of the ones I reviewed did do a 35 to 45% split as the leads were handed to them. Thank you for your kind words.

  6. elizabeth cooper-golden

    March 16, 2011 at 9:59 pm

    Missy, Oh girl, you did the right thing and I feel your pain as we speak! I’m so thankful that you wrote this tonight. I’ve been beating my head against a wall lately, overworked, tired and frustrated.

    I too decided that I was overpaying for the leads I was busting my hump to get for my agents, so I started charging a referral fee for each one. When I announced it, most were very upset. I told them they didn’t have to take the leads, get their own, lol. They aren’t my buyers agents.

    I just let 3 agents go Dec. 31st, and I, like you, have been scrambling trying to find the perfect agents to help my handle all of these leads. I am back up to 6, but need 4 more. Ugh. I’m going to start giving the DISC test as well…you are a genius!

    Don’t second guess yourself. You did the right thing and your new team will be stronger than ever 🙂 I have so much respect for you! See you in Nashville?

  7. Missy Caulk

    March 16, 2011 at 11:10 pm

    Elizabeth we will have to have a phone call soon. But, as for ReBarNash, I overbooked, speaking in Lansing that day and accepted too long ago to back out.

    Talk soon!

  8. MH for Movoto

    March 17, 2011 at 3:53 pm

    Hi Missy – really great post. All that you say is true. And it is certainly natural to second-guess yourself – but it sounds like you have no reason to do so. Thanks for sharing your story!

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