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Who is the Center of Your Real Estate Business?

Target by Jasper JohnsIn a recent conversation during the Virtual ReBarCamp, Joe Ferraro was talking about the future of real estate brokerages, which he thought would be an Agent Centric Model. Rob Hahn of 7DS Consulting immediately chimed in that if the real estate industry became any more agent centric, it would put brokerages out of business because of their low profit margins.  I saw the conversation and threw in my two cents – that a successful business should be consumer-centric.

All of the phrases seem to be buzz-words, but in order to have a discussion, we first have to have a common (or agreed upon)  understanding of what we mean when we use the phrases – and since this is my post, I get to create those definitions.

So let’s define our terms for the purpose of this discussion;

Agent-Centric – where the operation of the business is centered around the real estate agent and the operation of the business is focused on the benefits to the agent first

Broker-Centric – where the operation of the business is centered around the real estate brokerage/firm and the operation of the business is focused on the benefits to the company first

Consumer- Centric – where the operation of the business is centered around the consumer’s needs and the operation of the business is focused on the benefits to the consumer first

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I was going to try to make the other two cases , but I’ll just hope that Rob & Joe stop by to make their case in the comments. I’m just going to make the case for the consumer centric model. In that model, though the business needs to be operated in a profitable manner, and the real estate agent needs to make a living, it is the consumer’s need that has to be addressed first. In the words of Field of Dreams,”if you build it they will come”.

I don’t believe that the consumer-centric model is built around fee structures, or some obscure business model, but around quality service and attention to their needs and desires. The best agents I know, with the longest careers build those careers on their referral business, and that is a function of their satisfied consumers.  And I don’t believe that consumers are driven solely by price anymore than I believe that agents change brokerage firms because of percentage splits. That being said, this model would put the interests of the consumer at the forefront of their search for a home. Business decisions would be made to facilitate whatever is needed to provide the consumer the best experience possible.

Jim Duncan (on the agent-centric side) chimed in with the question “How is having profit centers- in-house loans/closers beneficial to clients?”.  In my mind its beneficial to clients because they indicate that they prefer a one stop shopping experience. However that doesn’t mean that those companies don’t need to be competitive and service oriented. The ownership of the company is less important then the service or product offered in my opinion. If the company (in a Broker-Centric model) is big enough to do the business and be profitable, then more power to them.

Jim also expanded on a statement by Joe ” agent centric IS consumer centric”  saying “&  Broker Centric is not“.  I need you to know that I really respect both of these guys and think they are very smart. But in my opinion, in this case, even these really smart guys are just wrong. By definition, neither Agent nor Broker Centric models can be Consumer-Centric  because they don’t start by having the consumer’s interest first – they place either the broker or agent first.  It doesn’t mean that the people in either models are stupid or too self-serving to remember that the customer is central to our business, it just means that their strategies don’t start there. Take Nordstrom’s as an example. They are a retailer that built a business on serving the needs of the customer before the needs of the company, and became a model for customer service in the retail industry.

Perhaps the best example of my thught process is from the movie “Miracle on 34th Street”. In that movie a child comes to Macy’s (where the “real” Kris Kringle is working as a seasonal Santa) and asks for a toy that Macy’s does not carry. Kris tells him that Gimbels (Macy’s arch rival) does carry the toy, making the customer really happy. The manager is prepared to fire Kris, until they realize that people are flooding the store, because they want that consumer-centric service model (of course they weren’t using those terms – its a holiday picture for goodness sake!).

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Without a Kris Kringle working in our office, I do believe that the most successful real estate companies have awesome consumer centered cultures, and those cultures provide both the agent and the company with a lot of consumer contact (generated at a low cost through word of mouth and referrals) and therefore the opportunity for lots of transactions. From those points on, its about the competence of the agent and the business models of the agent and company, both of which can be choke points for any person or operation.  In other words, even if you have the opportunity, you won’t be able to execute against it if you are not good at your job. And of you have lots of transactions, and you run your company poorly, you may still manage to run your company into the ground.

No one is foolish enough to think that a business that doesn’t make money is sustainable. I don’t think any of us believe that a company that doesn’t treat its agents well can long retain a quality sales staff, and attending to the consumer’s needs is not only required by the Code of Ethics, but is just plain good business, for without clients and customers, we’re out of business.  And for those reasons, it has always seemed to me that putting the consumer at the center of your business is the surest way to succeed. What do you think?

Written By

Bill is an unusual blend of Old & New - The CEO Century 21 Advantage Gold (Philadelphia's Largest Century 21 company and BuzzBuilderz (a Social Media Marketing Company), He is a Ninja CEO, blending the Web 1 and 2.0 world together in a fashion that stretches the fabric of the universe. You can follow him on twitter @Billlublin or Facebook or LinkedIn.

28 Comments

28 Comments

  1. Brandie Young

    November 25, 2009 at 12:47 pm

    Bill,

    Great post! Yes, a business should be built around the needs of the customer. Without them, you have no business, regarless of processes, sales people, etc.

  2. Matt Thomson

    November 25, 2009 at 1:05 pm

    I agree with Jim Duncan. Agent-centric is client-centric. Why? A really good agent knows that the success of their business is in customer service. Repeat and referral business is central to any truly successful agent’s business.
    The brokerage’s job is to create an atmosphere that is agent centric, one that will allow the top agents to focus solely on their customers and not waste any energy worrying about their own position in the brokerage.
    I believe that Gary Keller has created the ultimate agent centric model, and one of his foundations is “Customers always come first.”
    The brokerage, in my opinion, can’t be customer centric, because the brokerage’s customers ARE their agents.
    An agent-centric brokerage will attract the top agents, the ones who have as their model a customer centric focus.

  3. Mark Brian

    November 25, 2009 at 3:14 pm

    For long term growth, it is pretty obvious to me that focusing on the consumer is the only logical way to go. Put a smile on your client’s face and the results will be not just repeat business but referrals. So simple, yet it eludes many.

    • Bill Lublin

      November 25, 2009 at 3:51 pm

      No that’s what I’m talking about

  4. Bill Lublin

    November 25, 2009 at 3:23 pm

    Brandie; Thanks so much for your comment – always makes me feel good to know you’re reading my posts! (and i love it when we agree)

    Matt; Thanks for the comment, but at the risk of sounding heretical, my brokerage’s customers are the people who trust my company to buy, sell, and manage their real estate.

    My agents may be contractors or colleagues, associates, and team members, but they are not my customers because I am not selling them anything – and frankly that whole concept of agents as the broker’s customers is fuzzy thinking that was originally a tagline created to demonstrate to brokerages who did not value their agent population that they needed to think of benefits to their agents in their recruiting and retention programs.

    With all due respect to Gary Keller, he did not invent the concept of “Customers always come first” and while I am sure that he believes that, it is not core to the success of the business model he set up, which is, objectively, a recruiting based business model as is ReMax – in both of those models, the business owner directly benefits from a larger agent population (because of desk fees and expense sharing) as opposed to business models where the number of agents is less important than the total amount of their production (because the brokerge’s income is intimately tied to the income of the agents). In fact, if a KW office was not focused on recruiting agents, it would not be a success from their business viewpoint, regardless of how satisfied the consumer was. On the other hand a small brokerage firm with limited agent population and a consumer-centric philosophy could be considered wildly successful hwile providing great financial and emtional rewards for the owners and agents.

    Its not to say that one business model is better than another, merely to point out the differences in the two. But that is a discussion for another day, and one that is prone to misunderstandings in a venue like this.

    Without getting into a discussion of business models I would point out that its a self serving argument to assume that putting the agent at the center of the business model somehow benefits the consumer because the agent’s “enlightened self-interest” requires that they take care of the consumer. Sadly, I have seen many agents who were “one hit” artists who made huge livings while paying only lip service to the consumers, Frankly leaving the consumer’s interest to the good will of the agent just begs the question of who should be the center of the business’s attention.

    Also you need to remember that though agents may come and go during the lifetime of a brokerage firm, the firm is always dealing with consumers, and for that reason must keep them at the center of the transaction, and their satisfaction a core part of their business mission, so the mission of the brokerage to satisfy the consumer cn’t be dismissed so simply.

    So I still don’t think that having anyone other than the consumer at the center is really more than a “me first” attitude on the part of the participant – broker or agent!

  5. Doug Francis

    November 25, 2009 at 5:07 pm

    Last night when I was writing up an offer with clients, they pulled out a “Zestimate” on the property and were pretty firm about hitting that target. We then talked about all the sites throwing data at them, and, they admitted that they were getting overwhelmed.

    Consumers do have access to it all, BUT, when they focus on “Zestimates” or tax assessments to determine market value then they really need the help of an experienced agent (in this case, me) to put the 25 page offer together and not blow it.

    The web is totally consumer-centric, but at the end of the day having the experienced agent helps put that chaos of the web into logical order.

    • Bill Lublin

      November 25, 2009 at 8:14 pm

      Doug; Your point is well taken, and relates to why consumer’s need us and our services – but I would argue that the web is not necessarily consumer-centric – Zillow’s goals are to make money and the customer they serve is not necessarily the consumer. In fact the consumer may be the commodity that the real customer on zillow (lenders and realtors) are looking to acquire – and I agree with you that we are needed to help make sense out of the avalanche of info available to the consumer – in any of the three models we’re talking abou here..

  6. Rachel Rosen

    November 25, 2009 at 5:54 pm

    Hi Doug, Rachel from Zillow here. So true! I”m glad you were there to help them “weed thru” all the information that is thrown at consumers. Good luck on the offer!

    • Bill Lublin

      November 25, 2009 at 8:16 pm

      Doug; Your point is well taken, and relates to why consumer’s need us and our services – but I would argue that the web is not necessarily consumer-centric – Zillow’s goals are to make money and the customer they serve is not necessarily the consumer. In fact the consumer may be the commodity that the real customer on zillow (lenders and realtors) are looking to acquire – and I agree with you that we are needed to help make sense out of the avalanche of info available to the consumer – in any of the three models we’re talking abou here..

      Rachel; You guys do an awesome job of reputation management – say Hi to David, Drew & Sarah for me please 😉

  7. Ken Brand

    November 25, 2009 at 6:12 pm

    I guess we could ask the consumer? Which model do you think they would prefer? Consumer, Agent or Broker Centric? I rest my case.

    Not really, I don’t rest my case. I’m going to yammer, there’s more.

    With my heart and my head, I vote for Consumer Centric. The brokerage that wins (on all levels, personally, professionally and financially) is the one that gives the consumer what generates/creates the best result/outcome for the consumer (the cheapest price isn’t always the best outcome).

    By supporting their agents with best of what works best for the consumer, the broker wins because the agent wins more business and the consumer wins because they get a better result. In the other models, somebody may lose.

    Another key component to Consumer Centric success, is insuring that the quality of the services offered and the promises made, to the consumer, are kept. If the focus is on the agent, then this is more likely to slide downhill, all you have to do is look around to see it in action.

    Many brokers tout the agent-centric model, because it’s what the agents want to hear, and the more agents attracted by the siren call, you’re divas, studs and rockstars, the more broker fees collected, supplies sold, space rented etc, the emphasis isn’t necessarily on sales, quality service and professional accountability, it’s on agents recruited and agents recruiting other agents and monthly fees collected. This approach is not consumer centric or friendly, compared to a consumer focused approach.

    This is a fun and a forever debate. What ever the choice, be passionate about it. There are many models that make money for brokers and agents, while not wrong or bad, not all of them are best for the consumer.

    Cheers and all the best, what ever you centricity’s…. unless of course you’re in my market, then we will try to crush you (aggressive guy talking smack) with our Consumer Centric model.

    Happy Thanksgiving all – Cheers.

    • Bill Lublin

      November 25, 2009 at 8:19 pm

      Ken; I so wish I had the opportunity to work with you in the daily grind of the brokerage business, your perception, integrity and passion make you awesome! (Of course agreeing with me gives you an extra 2 points)
      Thank you for making the point in such an articulate manner – and for reading my scribbling
      😉

  8. Jeffrey Douglass

    November 25, 2009 at 6:49 pm

    Bill,

    Thanks for the post – is it not past, present, and future you are talking about?

    Broker Centric was the days of the big brand broker pushing their Brand, hiring agents, and making profits and growing bigger by the day – PAST

    Agent Centric – Big brand brokers in the race for the biggest and best continued to hire and promote top agents paying them higher and higher splits while going broke paying the bills – PRESENT

    Consumer Centric – Lots of discussion on what that looks like from within the industry – little discussion on-line from the Consumer. Providing experience, education, guidance, and information – FUTURE?

    • Bill Lublin

      November 26, 2009 at 10:11 am

      Jeffrey ; Thank you for reading. and I agree with you except I’m not sure that people still don;t often have their priorities in order – but that was sort fo my point…

  9. John Ziemba

    November 25, 2009 at 6:58 pm

    I think you are all missing the point. The model of the company you work for has very little to do with the service you provide. I believe we are in a customer service business and that communication is one of the most important rolls that I have. It is possible for an agent to be consumer centric and work for Century 21, it is possible for an agent to work for KW and be consumer centric and it also possible for someone to work for RedFin and be consumer centric. The model of the company in my mind has very little to do with the service I give to my customers. I have found as I switched companies from C21 to KW that the biggest difference was how I provided the service for my clients. The level of service stayed the same just the tools that I used and who provided them is really what changed.

    • Bill Lublin

      November 25, 2009 at 8:21 pm

      John, you’re 100% correct – its not about business models (which I think I say somewhere in the post) its about who you place first in operating your business. If you run your activities everyday in a consumer-centric manner, its not about where you work or how they pay you or earn their money – its about putting the consumer first!

  10. Jay Thompson

    November 27, 2009 at 11:37 am

    OK, this will be a gross over-simplification, but here goes.

    I’m a broker. “Consumers” in my mind are buyers and sellers of real estate. If I don’t provide a consumer-centric focus in my brokerage, my agents won’t have anyone to help buy or sell real estate.

    Ergo, we HAVE to be consumer-centric.

    My agents put their clients first, why shouldn’t I put their clients first? It’s their clients that pay us after all.

  11. Jirius Isaac

    November 27, 2009 at 1:45 pm

    How can it be any other ways since we have a fiduciary duty to do what is in our clients best interests. This is a no brainer. We just have to remember to make enough money at it so it is sustainable.

  12. Matt Stigliano

    November 27, 2009 at 5:00 pm

    Bill – Consumer, consumer, consumer. If the consumer isn’t getting what they want and need – guess where they’re going to go? Your competitors, FSBO, Zillow, Trulia…wherever and for whatever, they’re going somewhere else.

    I do think brokers could be somewhat more agent centric. Helping their agents perform instead of the “empty desk, warm body” theories. That’s not to say they should not be consumer-centric. They can help make their agents more consumer-centric with better training, more face to face time between broker and agent (I’m shocked how many agents rarely see their broker), and an open door policy.

    I have a great relationship with my broker and I view her as part of my business. I want her to succeed and I know she wants me to. Her and I work well together and because of my confidence in her and her’s in me, I am more confident and focused on my clients than ever before. Each “centric” provides a slight bonus to us all, but without the consumer, we’re all dead in the water. Take care of them and the rest will fall into line.

    PS I hope you don’t read this today as it’s your birthday. Hope you’re having a great time!

  13. Houstonblogger

    November 28, 2009 at 12:17 am

    Run your business as “Consumer Centric” and the end result is an “Agent Centric” and “Broker Centric” business model. Focus on the consumer (as you should) and you will have a happy client. Over the long term this equates to more referrals, which equals more business which will likely up your commission percentage as you sell more which makes the brokerage more money. Easy.

  14. Brandon Fosters

    February 2, 2012 at 9:29 am

    Great post! I think that consumer centric is very important because you are here to solve the problems of the consumer. If consumer is satisfied with you it automatically create a goodwill for you which help to enhance your business.

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