Cover story: How managing brokers recruit and retain top agents

by Jason Porterfield

Being a managing broker means taking on several roles at once and excelling at each of them. Their job description often calls for them to serve as coaches and mentors to their agents. They provide unwavering support and expertise when needed, while ensuring that the clients who come through receive the level of service they expect and deserve. 

Managing brokers build great organizations by recruiting top-level talent who have in-depth knowledge of Miami’s real estate market and a drive to succeed. They seek out agents who have qualities to offer beyond top-tier production. The attributes they want to see in their agents include a soft touch with clients, the flexibility to slide seamlessly into how a brokerage does business and a willingness to fit in with the office’s culture.

The ideal recruit

Michael Koval, chief operating officer of  ONE Sotheby’s International Realty, said his company looks at an agent’s experience and track record of completing transactions, as well as their methodology. The agents who are already with the brokerage play a part in the process.

“We do this by talking through the types of properties and clients they’ve provided professional services to, how much of their business is recurrence and what process frameworks they follow,” Koval said. “We also conduct peer reviews to ensure the candidate and our existing agents complement each other. We focus on a cooperative and collaborative work environment with full transparency.” 

John DeMarco, managing broker at RE/MAX 5 Star Realty, puts a strong work ethic at the top of his wish list for new agents.

“Every successful agent I have ever worked with has this quality,” DeMarco said. “If you do not put the hours into your business, you will never make it in this industry.”

Mauricio Umansky, founder and chief executive officer of The Agency, explains that his brokerage looks for people who are ethical, have integrity and demonstrate themselves to be the best in class. They are collaborators who are capable of continuing to improve, not people who see real estate as anything less than a full-time occupation.

“We’re always looking for the production, but we’re also looking for people that we can help improve their production” Umansky said.  “We also look at personality traits. Whether they really are driven, competitive, want to be successful and are really ready to be successful. A lot of people, unfortunately, get involved in this market and in this business who look at it as almost a second job. We don’t look for those people.”

Finding promising agents

Recruiting top talent isn’t a one-size-fits-all proposition. It requires scouting, conversations about the role and a basic introduction to the brokerage to ensure an agent will be a good fit.

When DeMarco encounters a promising agent, he invites them to the office for a tour and a confidential conversation that enables both parties to feel out whether a business relationship will be mutually beneficial.

“We interview the prospective agent as they interview us as their potential broker,” DeMarco said. “I really try to understand their goals and discover if we are a good fit for each other. If you’re a part-time agent with low production numbers and no ambition to increase your business, you’re not a good fit for our office. The average RE/MAX agent closes 16-plus transactions a year. We are a busy office.” 

The managing broker will need to lay out some of the basics of the office culture and the benefits. An agent who is experiencing success with another brokerage will need compelling reasons to leave those fruitful relationships behind. Discussions of pluses like a supportive and collaborative office culture, technology tools and a record of success can pave the way for bringing those agents on board.

According to Koval, recruiting at ONE Sotheby’s International Realty often takes months, or even years. It took 18 months to get a commitment from a $250 million agent. Koval considers that coup a “great day,” but places more emphasis on the agents the brokerage has helped grow from $5 million in sales to $50 million.

“As a broker, it’s imperative to have a true value plan and focus on how you will build trust, the partnership and how the brand will help elevate their business,” Koval said. “Talk in terms of taking an agent from $10 million a year to $20 million, then $40 million and so on. These aren’t incremental bumps; they are business and life-changing levels based on your professional services in supporting the agent to grow their business.”

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Culture and competition

DeMarco emphasizes a positive office culture and is selective in hiring agents and administrative staff. Negative or disruptive agents are not welcome because they could upend that culture. The selective hiring process helps weed out agents who don’t fit in with that culture and who could potentially hamper the brokerage’s success.

 “Our culture is one that projects success, delivers results and is very positive,” he said. “We work hard and have a great time doing it. With just 50 agents, we sold or leased over $350 million of real property in just 2018.”

Competition among agents can be healthy part of the office culture. It motivates agents to outperform their past numbers, so long as it doesn’t become disruptive in the brokerage.

“Competition, in a measured and managed quantity is often a powerful motivator,” Koval said. “The difference in our case is that competition is used to guide, lift and motivate our agents. It’s never used as a wedge or opportunity to act in a braggadocious or disruptive fashion.”

Umansky seeks out agents who know how to work well with others without creating a toxic and overly competitive environment.

“We want to make sure that they are not in a situation where we end up with a whole bunch of competing people stealing clients,” Umansky said. “We’re trying to create an environment of collaboration versus theft.”

Learning and collaborating

Umansky encourages agents to transition to a collaborative mindset once they have a listing and to see other agents as colleagues who will help them complete a transaction.

“We often need another agent to sell a house and that’s the way that the majority of the sales occurs,” Umansky said. “We’re obviously competing against each other to receive a listing or to receive a buyer. Once that’s done, you  need a change from a competitive nature to collaborative colleague nature.”

For Koval, competition is often tempered by mediating petty differences between agents before they can become a real problem. Building a culture in which a bond of trust exists between agents and managing brokers is crucial to creating a positive office culture.

“When the agent trusts their broker, amazing things happen,” Koval said. “It’s not just a place to hang a license or about getting the highest split. It’s far more than that, as it’s a true partnership based on mutual trust. All the gold in the world can’t replace the value of a strong partnership based on trust.”

Agents should be willing to work to improve their own production and take the next step toward being more successful. DeMarco bonds well with those agents he sees making an effort to succeed, and those are the agents he seeks to recruit.

“I would have to say that when I see an agent really trying hard, that shows a significant amount of ambition, the agents that ask me questions and ask how they can be more successful, nothing makes me work harder to help them achieve their goals,” DeMarco said. “That is what clicks for me and really makes me proud to be their broker. When I help a new agent secure and close their first pending contract or take first listing, nothing makes me connect and bond with an agent more.”

Keeping top talent

Skilled agents are always in demand. Managing brokers know their top agents are sought after by other brokerages. Some of those agents are going to be tempted to move on. It’s up to the managing broker to make a case for those agents staying on board, regardless of what another brokerage offers.

Umansky keeps track of how agents who have left The Agency fare after departing. He shows agents who are considering leaving the numbers and asks them what they need that he isn’t providing.

“Sometimes you just need to tell people, ‘dude, the grass is just not any greener, it’s just a different house,’” Umansky said. “I can tell you that 85 percent of the people that have left to go elsewhere, their production is lower where they have chosen to go than it was at The Agency.”

For Koval, keeping top agents on board means maintaining those clear lines of communication and an honest relationship.

“Be available, be communicative, be smart, be focused on them and most of all be honest,” he said. “You applaud their success and course correct when necessary. You’re there to listen and then to advise them on what’s next. You are there to elevate their business and challenge their existing processes. Your dedication and partnership will pay off in trust and long-term success.”

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