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Op/Ed

Real estate agents are migratory now; what you should look for in a broker to insure you won’t have to leave again soon?

Real estate agents jump from broker to broker these days. What should agents be looking for to insure they won’t have to jump ship in the coming year?

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In last week’s Wall Street Journal article, “The Rise of the Mercenary Real-Estate Agent,” Stefano Chen discusses the current “mercenary” migration of real estate professionals – from one brokerage to the next in search of better commissions, more deals, and other dangling carrots.

The forces driving these moves, according to the article, involve a decreased housing inventory and a trend towards lower overall earnings. Decreased inventory means agents are less busy, which in turn, prompts them to look for better, faster, smarter, prettier options elsewhere. And, over a period of years, the decline in commission offered on the MLS results in lower earnings leads many agents to seek 100% commission brokerages or offices with higher commission splits.

What are agents seeking in a brokerage?

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In an interesting thread in the Raise the Bar in Real Estate group, Michael McClure poses the question, “Without naming the brand or otherwise promoting your brokerage or your brand, if you had to name ONE reason why you work at the brokerage where you work, what is that reason?”

The answers run the gamut from support and brand recognition to high splits, corporate culture, and free leads – some of which are more mercenary than others.

Below are the top five reasons that agents love where they work:

1. Broker support is vital

Support. It is absolutely vital that the brokerage and the broker provide a mechanism for support. Brokers and managers need to be available via telephone from dawn until dusk to help agents overcome obstacles and solve problems. Additionally, the brokerage needs to have strong training programs and regular meeting schedules. Even the savviest agent needs to be up to date on the latest trends, laws, policies, and procedures impacting how they conduct their business.

If agents forego support for a higher commission split, there is one important factor to consider: liability. An unsupervised or unsupported agent opens up the principal, the agent, and the brokerage to extreme issues of liability. So, finding a brokerage that can protect you (even when you don’t think you need protection) is vital to the health of your personal business.

2. Agents are drawn to culture

Culture. When used with respect to real estate brokerages, it seems to imply a specific climate, environment, or ambiance. Simply stated, a strong corporate culture is one where the brokerage and the agents align with respect to core values. When thinking about where you want to hang your license, think carefully about your own core values. Then, when exploring brokerages, ask for an explanation of the company’s core values.

If the two answers are not similar, then despite all the seemingly positive aspects of the brokerage, it just may not be a good fit for you. Many agents who consistently close want to surround themselves with high energy, motivated agents with positive attitudes instead of negative nellies that sit around and play bridge and hoard office Internet.

3. Everyone loves money

High commission splits. Everyone wants to make big bucks selling real estate. But, as an agent, it is important to evaluate what you get for your money. If you are seeking a spot in a 100% commission brokerage, what other charges are there? What is included in the fees? Do you have to pay for administration? transaction review? copies? desk fees? What is the cost of Errors & Omissions Insurance? Remember that everyone needs to make money.

So, if it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is. High commissions are great, but be sure that you understand what your true earnings will be prior to signing on the dotted line.

4. Leads, leads, leads

Leads. I’ve long been a believer that agents who seek a brokerage where the broker feeds them leads are agents that don’t know how to generate the leads on their own. Instead of becoming dependent upon the leads being fed to you by others, why not develop multiple channels and lead sources?

Look for a brokerage where you are taught to establish multiple lead sources. In this way, if one well dries up, you’ll still have a steady flow of buyer and seller prospects from the others. If you happen to be slow right now and thinking about making a move to a brokerage with more leads, maybe you need to look more deeply at your own business plan.

5. Does the name matter?

Brand Recognition. The phrase “brand recognition” came up several times in the Raise the Bar thread. Lots of agents feel that it is important to be affiliated with a large brand—that brand recognition leads to more deals and more business. The industry is a bit divided on this point as many agents state that it is they who the client seeks and not the brand.

The client couldn’t give a hoot whether they are with ERA, Sotheby’s or on their own, because they have developed a value that far exceeds that of the brand. Interestingly, Paul Habibi, a professor at the Ziman Center for Real Estate at the University of California, Los Angeles concurs. In the WSJ article, he states, “the brand used to belong to the agency—now it belongs to the agent.”

In conclusion:

For those mercenary agents looking to migrate to a brokerage that will better suit their needs, you’ve got a lot of things to consider. Not only should you be looking to get value from the brokerage, but you may also want to consider that value that you will provide to the brokerage.

In a real estate climate that is forever changing – where you don’t know if your company is going to change names or get sold tomorrow – you need to be a self-sustaining entity that has value whatever the future holds.

#MercenaryAgents

Melissa is an in-demand business success speaker and author, as well as a real estate broker with thousands of short sale transactions under her belt. She leverages her experience as a short sale insider to motivate thousands of business professionals to plan their careers better, execute more effectively on their plan, and earn more because of it.

Op/Ed

8 lessons on how to keep work-life balance in your real estate career

(EDITORIAL) Your real estate practice can be overly consuming if you let it. With discipline, you can have a good work/life balance.

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Real estate agent shaking hands with clients over a For Sale sign marked sold.

8In your real estate practice, you have a plate, and you can only put so much onto that plate before things begin to fall off into the cracks. These cracks are what I call “fires” – you know, those things that become emergencies because simply put, you let them.

What I am about to share with you at first glance may come off as cold, however, I believe that with a little thought, some practice, and your own tweaks, you can realize the income you want and afford time with your family – all while elevating the respect you deserve from your real estate clients.

Balancing work and life in real estate is no easy feat.

At no point in my real estate career have I ever allowed myself to appear too eager or desperate for a client, and my clients always felt special and cared for, even though I observed a strict daily schedule. The following is how this can be accomplished:

Lesson one: You know your threshold of how many clients you can handle at once. Your pipeline should be full, and the next client in line for your services should know you’re worth waiting for, and be assured that the same care and attention will be shown to them as soon as they are “next” (never answer a client call while with another client, or this will not work for you). A client became “next” when an offer was accepted on one of my existing transactions. My threshold was originally four clients. If my pipeline was expanding quickly, I brought on agent assistants. As they waited their turn, my assistant held their hand and kept them busy with pre-qualification, buyers agreements, and the like.

Lesson two: When I took on the next client, clear rules of the road were established. I do not leave the house (home office) until 10. I have better things to do with my time than to sit in rush hour needlessly. Some like this time for phone time, however, your undivided attention is not always given, and the possibility of missing vital details while driving and negotiating grows exponentially (as do safety risks). My phone calls were made from 8am to 10am before I left my office.

Lesson three: All of my appointments were set on the half-hour – I’m not sure why, but it worked and I was always on time, as were my clients. The same went for phone calls. Schedule them on the half-hour. You will find, for example, that if you grab lunch at noon, you’re ready for business again at 12:30.

Lesson four: Be home either before or after rush hour. I preferred before. The implied impression of my work hours with my clients worked in my favor nearly 100% of the time. Why? Because I skipped the salesman b.s. of showing them more expensive homes first – I actually took them to the home described in the range they wanted. I set the proper expectations in the first place. I listened to my clients, and they appreciated it. The day they may have waited for my undivided attention gave them immediate results, and they loved it.

Lesson five: If you cannot show your buyers their next home within five showings, either you’re deaf to their needs and wants, or they don’t intend to buy – if you’re experienced, you know it when you see it, and they’re wasting time for the next customer in your pipeline. Place them on a drip campaign with a buyer’s agreement in place, or refer them.

Lesson six: Decide when your workday ends. Mine was at 5:30. However, from 8:30pm to 10pm I would work on offers, faxes, enter listings, answer texts, and emails.

Lesson seven: Not every client was right for me. For example, I have a zone of travel. The markets I work in. Working outside of that zone takes up time from my clients in travel, and time from my family. Refer them, or if you’ve tapped into a further away zone, build your team. Teams can grow and shrink as needed.

Lesson eight: You are a business. Real estate is a business. You have business hours, and you have you time. My you time was with my family, but I love marketing, so I added a 6th half-day for my marketing, blogging, and the like.

As my business grew, my referral network grew. I utilized an assistant until an indie brokerage was established. We had a clear code of how we conducted business, encouraged our buyer’s agents to adapt their business model as I’ve described, and never allowed an unseasoned agent to handle more transactions than their limit. Inevitably my threshold grew to six, but it took time.

With the technologies we have today with instantaneous communication, it’s very easy to allow things to creep onto your plate. So my final lesson is to utilize an assistant frequently.

It is possible to work and live but it takes discipline and a set of business rules for yourself that you’re accountable to besides just the Code of Ethics. It’s about being honest with yourself, and never being so desperate that something can’t wait a minute.

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Op/Ed

Tips to become one of those people who is good with their money

(EDITORIAL) In real estate, it’s difficult to anticipate which years will be the busy ones and which will be eerily empty. So how do you manage money?

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I’m a firm believer in making mistakes. Specifically, the all-out, crash-and-burn kind. You know those people who say “own it” – yeah, that’s definitely me. That’s the sort of high-risk, high-reward mentality that leads to really thrilling moments onstage and in life. And when the reward is that intense, so is the loss. It’s the same with money.

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My formal background is as a professional opera singer. The level of training for a full-time career in the field includes Olympic-level physical, emotional, and intellectual training. Opera singers don’t use microphones, which means they must use their bodies in a perfect, practiced physiological balance to become a human megaphone.

They learn several languages, with enough facility to jump into rehearsals with colleagues who are relative strangers, singing about passionate love, and infuriating politics while maintaining that physical balance in a foreign tongue.

Unlike the Olympics, regular opera singers don’t get endorsement deals. (Okay, famous tenor Plácido Domingo is sponsored by Rolex, but that’s a particularly singular example.) So despite its extreme training, opera is a medium that requires its artists to manage themselves as freelancers. Freelancers and be-your-own-boss types, I know you feel me:

It’s difficult to anticipate which years will be the busy ones and which will be eerily empty.

Preparing for financial uncertainty

So how do you manage finances with so much up and down?

Invest time instead of money. I rethink how I’m approaching my everyday needs. I’m talking about what methods of transportation I use and how often; I’m talking about regular doctor’s visits or self-care; I’m talking about any payments that you owe regularly. Is there any way to reassess seemingly non-negotiable expenses? Can you refinance a mortgage? Can you drop the gym altogether and commit to really learning and developing an exercise routine? Find something convenient you can replace with a free education; the Internet is an insanely abundant resource and should be milked for information.

Develop multiple interests and invest in them. I am a professional singer, but I also love to cook and am serious about it. I write frequently and across a wide spectrum of interests. I read avidly. When you invest in other ideas and interests, you make yourself a more powerful candidate for the workforce, and you give yourself more ability to seize opportunities. Who knows – you might find yourself pivoting careers.

Design a financial contingency plan before you need it (but go broke at least once). Do you have a place to crash if you can’t afford your own place? How much money do you really need to get through the month? How far can you stretch $50? If you can’t define your limits, you’ll never be able to develop a plan with thoughtful security.

What’s life without risk?

The freelancers who truly succeed are the ones who failed. It’s that Oscar Wilde quote, right? “Experience is merely the name men give to their mistakes.” And so have I before, and so will I again. The only way forward is up. I’m going to take my experience along with me for the next chapter. I hope mine will help color yours a little, even if with a passing thought. Dare to lose it all — and see where it leads.

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Op/Ed

Tips to combat lack of participation in virtual meetings or online events

(EDITORIAL) Even after the pandemic, virtual meetings and online events have no end in sight. But how do we get people to participate?

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Online conference call on skype, without Meet Cam widgets.

Online meetings are here to stay and increasing participation is key to making them fun and inviting for everyone involved. Those little icons of our faces and initials showcasing the fact that cameras are off-strike dread in the heart of the presenter. Or even worse, the camera-on view of the ceiling fan or mic-on sound of the smoke detector that needs a new battery.

Instead of leaving the success of an online meeting to chance, presenters can help make their meetings more fun for everyone with a few easy practices.

Send out an agenda with meeting expectations early. If attendees know the time investment, expectations, and what will be covered, it’s easier for them to be involved. Do you want cameras on? Share that. Be specific with what that means. If you don’t make that expectation clear, be prepared for bookcases instead of people, ceiling fans instead of people, and other distractions. Do you know specific questions you will be asking? Include those in the agenda so people can be thinking about them ahead of time. Often people don’t talk because they don’t understand what you want them to say or they’re not sure you really want them to participate.

Ask participants to help create the agenda ahead of time. What questions do they want answered? What do they need from you?

Let people know you will be asking questions regularly and answers are appreciated either on the mic or in the chat. If you can, include when you will be taking questions or opening up for conversation in the agenda. The chat feature can run seamlessly throughout the meeting. Allowing and encouraging the use of the chat feature regularly increases participation and leads to a more conversational feel for the session. If you can have a co-facilitator who can answer questions on the chat so they don’t get lost, that helps. If you don’t have one, consider asking an attendee to watch to help make sure questions are answered throughout the meeting.

Break the meeting up into sections. Don’t throw all the information out at once. Instead, make sure you pause regularly for feedback and questions and answers. If the group is large consider breakout rooms where smaller groups can answer questions, work through agenda items or participate in roundtable discussions, then come back to the large group with their ideas and answers.

Know your end destination. What’s the purpose of the meeting? What do you want or need to accomplish? Make sure everyone involved knows what that is and why. That helps keep everyone focused.

Set a time limit for responses if needed.

Be prepared. It’s even more important to be prepared for your online meeting than in-person meetings where you have multiple resources at hand and the energy of the crowd to bounce off of.

If these online meetings are a regular occurrence, consider adding a fun element like bringing your pet or plant to the meeting day. If it’s a brainstorming session, consider creativity ice breakers. And again make sure attendees know the expectations.

Use the poll feature to help encourage participation. Then follow up with participants to go deeper with those answers.

Instead of asking are there any questions at the end, ask everyone to either tell at least two things they learned or share two things they still have questions about. Again utilize the chat feature here. Some people are more comfortable chatting than speaking on the mic.

Consider offering prizes and give-aways to those participating. It’s not always necessary, but it’s fun when you can.

If you can, run the meetings live instead of recorded presentations with the leader in front of a slideshow. The sit and get PowerPoint and speaker presentation leads to bored participants who aren’t invested in the content. However, if that’s not possible, make sure you have a real-time chat session available for participants who are watching and make sure your slides are light on text. That chat session can change “sit and get” boredom to excitement, fun, and learning for all.

As always remember the meeting needs to last long enough to cover what’s essential but should be short enough to keep people engaged. Use surveys to gather meaningful feedback throughout the meeting and at the end. You can’t get better without feedback from your participants.

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