Cover story: What managing brokers do to keep their best agents

by Jason Porterfield

Managing brokers are like the backbone of the real estate industry. They provide support for their associates and help them stand on their own through training and career development. As leaders, managing brokers must consider the big picture as they guide their teams toward long-term goals and establish innovative strategies.

Although their work is often done behind the scenes, their role is critical to an agency’s success. Like real estate agents, managing brokers must wear a lot of different hats. However, unlike individual agents, managing brokers are responsible for a whole team’s success — they have to lead their associates wisely, or it could impact the outcome of their entire agency.

So, what does it take to manage a real estate team effectively? We recently spoke to managing brokers in the Miami area to see how they are leader their brokerages toward success.

“Without happy and productive associates we cannot and will not succeed,” says Patty O’Connell, vice president and sales manager at EWM, Coral Gables-South Miami Office. “It certainly helps to have significant transactional experience and understanding of the market, but the associate has to be front and center with your attention and your energy as a managing broker.”

Tony Cho, president and CEO of Metro 1, believes managing brokers play an important role in establishing a company’s ethos and overall mission. His mindful and progressive brokerage focuses on promoting smart growth in urban areas. “I grew up with the belief there was more to success than the bottom line and I hope I’ve instilled some of these values in my team,” he says. “As a leader, I’m direct, honest, and motivational. I try to see the best in everyone, but I don’t tolerate laziness. Nothing good comes easy, but I also believe in working smarter not harder.”

O’Connell believes communication is key. “I think we have to know about our associates’ challenges,” she says. “We need to celebrate their successes and take the time to understand what their motivation is.” O’Connell also points out that EWM’s benefits are also attractive to agents, such as full-time management, excellent training, a healthy market share, and a warm and welcoming environment. As a manager, she focuses her energy on creating an environment that associates want to engage in, where they can be happy and productive.

Company culture truly makes a difference in whether agents stay or leave. Carol Cassis and Stephan Burke, co-founders of the Cassis Burke Collection at Brown Harris Stevens, foster a positive culture, prioritizing honesty, health, equality and comfort. Their team of experienced agents specialize in high-end luxury real estate and cryptocurrency real estate transactions. “It’s all about building a fair culture,” Cassis says. “You have to like and respect your manager. It’s important that you have a clear and defined role.”

The struggles with agent retention

Cho agrees that when it comes down to retaining the best agents: “It’s all about culture and ethos.” He also encourages managers to share project outcomes with their team. “All team members, from leasing associates to VPs, see the tangible results of their work on a daily basis,” he says. “They are able to witness the positive impacts on the local community first hand.” This inspires and motivates his agents to keep working hard.
“Brokers who choose to stay with us do so because they share our vision and passion for developing communities,” Cho says. “There are countless brokerages and real estate companies where they can get a paycheck, but only one where they are truly making a difference for their clients and for the residents of their local communities.”

“In our business, there’s no loyalty,” Burke says. “Agents leave for a number of reasons. One, to change their environment. Two, they’ve been approached by a competitor brokerage that will offer them many exciting new features.” In Miami, there is a large corporate influx going on as many New York brokerages open in the area. Many of these brokerages focus their marketing efforts on recruiting new agents in the area who might be looking for a change. Burke thinks that agents are getting enticed, excited, and maybe a little bit misled by marketing.

Often, agents choose to leave if they think they will make more money elsewhere. “I think the reason people are leaving in this current market is signing bonuses, higher splits, and big promises, most of which I believe will be corrected over time,” O’Connell says. “I just don’t think it’s sustainable.”

Agents also might leave a brokerage if they want to start their own business. “An entrepreneurial spirit and a desire to build a business is what drives many to a career in real estate, and ultimately leads some agents to go out on their own,” Cho says. But if his former employees become successful brokerage owners, he views their success as a testament to the strong training and mentorship they received at Metro 1.

Read more from our Managing Brokers and Leaders Issue:

Training and mentorship

Leaders who provide training and mentorship give their associates the chance to grow, benefitting not only the individual employee, but also the company. That’s why many managing brokers, like Cho, make it a point to offer mentorship at every stage of a broker’s career to keep them at the top of their game.

“Sure, independence and initiative are two of the most important qualities of successful real estate professionals, but without proper guidance, young brokers are going to spin their wheels and be less effective,” Cho says. “Some competing firms see this as giving away the secret sauce, but we see it more as a way to nurture our talent and give them every possible tool to reach success, both for themselves and Metro 1.”

O’Connell has seen a trend in the industry toward larger teams who have their own established identity. One of her challenges has been to properly and enthusiastically support these larger teams and deliver value to them while still maintaining the integrity of EWM’s brand.

“I think that the other challenge that everyone is finding now is how to embrace and guide the younger generation that wants instant gratification in a field where success generally doesn’t come overnight,” she says. As a leader, she is working on managing their expectations, encouraging their energy and enthusiasm, and not letting them get disappointed if they are not reaching their goals right away.

As a manager in a larger brokerage, O’Connell has access to many resources and tools, which makes her more available to focus on her associates’ needs full time. “If you were managing all the details, including your own training, IT, and so forth, it would be much more difficult to focus on the associates,” she says.

Misunderstandings about managing brokers

In addition to size, O’Connell also believes the type of management model you choose influences the success of your brokerage. “It’s always better for the growth of an office to have full-time management because then associates never feel as though they’re competing with their broker,” she says.

One misunderstanding is that it is the managing broker’s job to give their agents leads and do all of the prospecting for them. When O’Connell and her team interview people, particularly new licensees, they often ask how many leads they will receive from her per month. “I think the misconception is that it’s the managing broker’s job to provide the leads as opposed to training them how to find their own and create their own,” O’Connell says.

Cho says there is a misconception that managing brokers can’t or shouldn’t do deals or investments themselves. In fact, it is possible for managing brokers to continue making their own sales while managing their team. “I still have a passion for closing deals, finding new markets, and developing new client relationships, but as my team matures, I’ve been more focused on the big picture,” Cho says. The big picture involves planning goals and strategies for Metro 1 and then guiding his team toward their objectives.

Future expectations

Metro 1 made some big changes in 2018, promoting from within and hiring a new senior management team that offered many new and exciting ideas to the company. They are planning to keep expanding and strengthening their team in the coming year. “In 2019, we will continue to explore new talent while simultaneously training our larger Metro 1 team for success,” Cho says.

Next year, O’Connell is interested in finding new and better ways to deliver leads to her associates. EWM is planning to enhance their website and stay at the forefront of the innovation in the industry. “Luckily, I’m very fortunate because we have a whole group of very forward-thinking and capable people who are moving us in that direction,” she says.

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