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Does Size Matter?

Transcription of Video:

Hey. Jim Duncan here in Charlottesville, Virginia also known as Seattle East because it has been raining for so, so long.

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The thing about brokerages, big and small, what defines a brokerage? I wrote a story a few weeks ago and a friend of mine who is a real estate brokerage said he took umbrage to the fact that I was using “big brokerage” in a negative way. I see what he’s saying because his brokerage is a fairly sizable brokerage, but it’s not acting like a big brokerage anymore.

By big brokerage I mean resting on its laurels and depending on the three S’s – size and scale and in my mind, squandered opportunities. Big brokerages have an an opportunity for a number of years to really dominate their markets, but for whatever reason – I think we could get into them – they just haven’t. They have been complacent and they have been stagnate in their growth and their adoption of new trends and technologies. Small brokerages have taken this up and have really leveraged their competitions’ inability to react to new trends.

I’m just wondering what a brokerage means. A big brokerages’ identity is lost in my mind. You could go to any one of the big brokerages around the country and ask them what the franchise means – what the brokerage means to that particular agent and I guarantee you would get 1000 or 2000 different answers.

Whereas if you go to a small brokerage that has popped up in the recent past, you would get a fairly cohesive answer from the few agents in each brokerage. I think if you would ask anyone in the who have gone out on their own in the last 18 months what their brokerage means you would get a fairly distinct and good answer. If you asked any of the agents within those firms what that brokerage means to them you would get a good, distinct, and strong answer.

So I’m wondering: what does ones identity as a brokerage mean? How do you define that for yourselves and your customers? Where are we going from here? Are you out there seeing a big rejuvenation of the big brokerages or are you seeing the same stagnation that has been persistent for so many years? I’m curious to know your thoughts.

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Written By

Dad, Husband, Charlottesville Realtor, real estate Blogger, occasional speaker - Inman Connects, NAR Conferences - based in Charlottesville, Virginia. A native Virginian, I graduated from VMI in 1998, am a third generation Realtor (since 2001) and have been "publishing" as a real estate blogger since January 2005. I've chosen to get involved in Realtor Associations on the local, state & national levels, having served on the NAR's RPR & MLS groups. Find me in Charlottesville, Crozet and Twitter.



  1. Jeffrey Douglass

    June 19, 2009 at 5:10 pm

    Hi Jim, Having worked for a huge brokerage and managed 175 agents in a Branch I can say there is benefit to both large and small brokerages. At the end of the day it comes down to the talent of those in leadership and what the culture of the Company is.

    Much discussion is going on regarding the changes in the industry through this market shift. Many of the large brokerages are struggling because the majority of their top agents are on very high splits, many with marketing allowances, which does not allow the Company to be profitable. While in good markets the middle to lower agents on lower splits would help, most business is going to a few agents. These big boys are really stuck because they cannot adjust the agents and they have brick and mortar expenses. Trying to augment their profit margins with affiliated companies like escrow and title may or may be in the best interest of the consumer.

    I know that I was under a great deal of pressure to hire any agent (new of otherwise)that walked through the door. This poloicy and others lead to me finally deciding for me I would rather be in control of my Company and very selective in who would work for me. In reading you blog I think that we have similar ideas of what the new small brokerage should look like. I want to focus on the Client, Agency, and the experience.

    I think it will be really interesting to watch more of these top agents decide to move out on their own as more pressure is applied on them because of lost revenue with the big brokers. There does not seem to be much differences between the big brands or a compelling reason, beyond the split, to be with them. Most are now really using the “legal” scare tactic or the “top producer” worship to keep them going.

    I know that in the San Diego market we are seeing more and more smaller brokerages with new ideas and successful agents.

    A mix of both large and small with completive business models probably will be best for everyone. Thanks for your great article.

  2. Ken Montville - The MD Suburbs of DC

    June 19, 2009 at 10:00 pm

    I’ve worked for the big boys all my professional life and I don’t know that I every understood that any particular office or independently owned franchise had a clear “mission” or “vision” or whatever it is you’re alluding to.For me it’s ab out agent services and the BRAND. I’ve had people tell me that “Oh no. It’s about YOU. It’s not about some big, universally recognized name.” I say, “yeah. Right.”

    There may be some people out there that pick there Realtor because they’re charming but my guess is that the brand helps. If the office or franchise is run well. I’m happy with the mammoth.

  3. Ken Montville - The MD Suburbs of DC

    June 19, 2009 at 10:02 pm

    Sorry for all the typos. I’ve been trying to sign onto AG and it keeps erasing my comment. It was about the third time I typed it.

  4. Matt Thomson

    June 20, 2009 at 1:36 pm

    What I’ve found locally (in Virginia West, where it hasn’t rained in a month) is that the identity of the small brokerages has been “It’s saving me money. It’s the only way I’m staying alive.” Not what the broker had in mind, I’m sure.
    Most of the large brokerages are scrambling, too. Changing splits, cutting services, and thus losing many agents. Agents are scrambling here, looking for greener grass.
    Our brokerage, while the 3rd largest in the US, is run like a small boutique. People talk about the profit share, education, technology, etc, that KW offers, and while all that is really great, I’d say 95% of the agents in our office would give you that one succinct answer you mention…”We love the atmosphere here. It’s fun coming to work and it makes me want to be in the office.”
    I don’t think the logo on the building matters nearly as much as the character and culture within.

  5. Missy Caulk

    June 24, 2009 at 8:35 am

    Jim, this week I got an email from someone about listing their condo.

    She said I had talked to her and emailed her on it in the past. The name didn’t ring a bell, so………I put her name in my search bar and low and behold there is was. I had contacted her in 2007, I looked at the email and it had my old RE/MAX signature on it.

    An A-ha moment, she found me not the brand as I am now with KW. That was really heart-warming to me, and a great revelation.

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