Miami team leaders share their secrets to success

by Jason Porterfield

Savvy agents know that the time may come when they need to take on some extra help to ensure their business will keep growing. They may plateau to a point where they can’t take on any more listings or referrals on their own. When that happens, they might want to think seriously about forming a team.

It’s easy to check off the benefits of bringing more agents and administrative help on board to form a team. More agents can reach more clients. Back-end staff can handle tasks like marketing and paperwork, taking those chores off agents’ plates. Team members may be experienced in handling certain types of properties, or they may be familiar with markets that the team wants to develop.

Jeff Miller of the Jeff Miller Group with Brown Harris Stevens planned to start a team from the time he became an agent in the early 2000s.

“When I first started my real estate career, I really wanted to be able to offer the highest level of personal service to my clients,” Miller said. “I really wanted to be able to exceed all their expectations. At that time, I saw most agents were working as individuals, as was I, but I knew that to really to set myself apart I had to develop a team.”

Plotting a team

Teams tend to start small. Many remain that way. Rather than taking a hands-off approach, team leaders tend to remain active as agents while handling additional management tasks.

The National Association of Realtors’ 2018 survey on teams revealed that 66 percent of real estate teams consist of five or fewer people; 20 percent were made up of six to 10 members and only 8 percent of teams have 16 or more people. No matter what the size, the vast majority, or 88 percent, identified their primary roles on their teams as agents.

Riley Smith of The Riley Smith Group with Berkshire Hathaway HomeService EWM Realty started his team when he realized his lead generation system was pulling in more business than he could handle on his own. With the team, he could leverage more of those opportunities and help his business grow.

“It started initially just out of pure necessity,” Smith said. “And then, as we started seeing it working so well, then it became a matter of leverage, learning to capitalize on all the opportunities that we had. As a single agent, you can’t be in all places at all times.”

Becoming a team leader is a significant step. Agents should take the time to think about whether they’re ready to assume a role that will require them to lend assistance to other agents as needed while seeing to their own business. Are they serious about providing better service to their clients, or do they just expect the team to help them generate more revenue? An agent who simply wants to lessen their own workload is likely in for an unpleasant surprise.

Establishing their own immediate needs can help agents as they work out what kind of team they want to form. If the first member of the team is going to be an administrative hire, the agent should consider what aspects of business they feel comfortable handing off to someone else or what parts they don’t want to deal with themselves. Paperwork, marketing, scheduling and staging are all tasks that can fall within the purview of an astute assistant or two.

Corey Schwartz, of the Corey Schwartz Team with RE/MAX, started his team in 2014 when he hired agent J.C. Vina to help him handle his growing business. He hired agent Ashlee Albert in 2017 as he and Vina needed additional help.

“I had too much business and they perhaps didn’t have enough,” Schwartz said. “I was kind of mentoring them at the same time. I was giving them business, and I benefit financially from that relationship. It helps all of us.”

Miller is strategic when it comes to hiring new agents. He invests time and energy in studying the agents he plans to bring on board to be sure they’re a good fit. Maintaining a positive environment is important to him.

“I like to watch people for a year or two and see how they interact in the industry,” Miller said. “Are they in it for the long run, or are they just joining to try to make a quick buck? Are they here because they have a friend who wants to buy a piece of real estate? Or represent a family member one time and then disappear?” He looks for people with staying power.

Organizing the team

Some teams start when an individual agent hires an assistant to handle administrative duties. Finding that he or she is suddenly free to focus more time on growing the business and serving clients might lead to hiring another agent to take on more business.

That organic form of growth is common for many agents. Teams have a leader (or leaders, if it began as a partnership) who will serve in a role similar to that of a managing broker. Team leaders facilitate communication among agents, mediate any conflicts that come up and ensure that the agents and staff have the tools they need to be successful in the field.

Team leaders should also be prepared to evaluate the person they’re hiring to make sure that he or she is right for the intended role. Simply keeping everyone on an even keel can be tricky when they’re working on a sale.

Miller began building his team in 2006, when he hired his first assistant. He wanted it to grow from the ground up. “She handles appointments, scheduling, contracts and personally assists me in all aspects of my day-to-day interaction with clients,” Miller said. “My next hire was a director of marketing to handle all of the marketing aspects and coordinate everything: professional photographs, graphic design, 3D property tours, custom home video tours, print advertising, website development and social media. We seek out the most talented people and work with them to create a custom marketing package for our properties and clients.”

Eschewing conventional wisdom, Schwartz started his team by hiring an agent instead of getting an assistant or an office manager. For his next move, he’s considering hiring someone to handle administrative tasks.

“I started with J.C., and he was going to be my pseudo assistant-slash-agent,” Schwartz said. “But once he started doing real estate transactions, he really didn’t have time to help with my administrative tasks. He has his own administrative tasks. So, I’m thinking about expanding and the next hire will probably be like a team manager-slash-marketing manager-slash-transaction coordinator.”

Smith has shifted his focus in recent years from maintaining a smaller team to expanding. In four years, his team has grown from seven to 32. Twenty-one members of his team are agents, five are part of an internal sales team that handles internet leads, two are marketing specialists, one is a recruiter and one is a transaction coordinator. He plans to hire a videographer next.

“Now our mission is to create a space where we can help any agent reach whatever potential they want, whether they need training or platforms and systems,” Smith said. “We provide all that support.”

The brokerage fit

Brokerages, especially those with a strong brand identity, may have some top-down policies that teams have to adhere to regarding their branding. They also provide added resources for the teams.

Schwartz’s team was with a small, mom-and-pop brokerage for about six months before going to RE/MAX. “RE/MAX really lets you be your own entity,” Schwartz said. “We have a lot of decision-making power on marketing our brand. They give us a lot of leeway to let us make our own decisions as opposed to some of the other corporate brands where you have to abide by their marketing rules or regulations. I can’t see myself changing to something where it’s more rigid and you have to get approval for everything.”

The fine details

Agents who join teams will likely have a set of expectations themselves. They’ll want to have the support of the team leader and administrative staff. If they’re joining a team with a reputation for success, they’ll expect to benefit from that association. Marketing materials and access to new leads are great motivating factors. And then there’s the commission question.

Compensation has to be right for an agent to wants to join a team. If agents can earn more individually than as a member of a particular team, there’s not much incentive to motivate them to make the jump. The splits have to be fair and reasonable.

Smith offers a larger split on every deal to agents who bring in their own leads, as opposed to using those he provides.

“We have a two-split structure,” he said. “Leads that are generated by us, you get a referral fee of a certain amount. If you generate your own lead, then it’s more favorable on your side. We want to encourage you to get your own business.”

Schwartz covers overhead and lead generation costs for his agents. He gives them a 50-50 split on leads he generates and disseminates. “Anything that I bring in, we split equally,” Schwartz said. “Anything the agents actually bring in, new business, I essentially get a referral fee for it. They’re incentivized to generate their own business.”

Most of Miller’s team is salaried, and Brown Harris Stevens covers insurance and liability for everyone. Team members are incentivized based on their performance and have the opportunity to earn bonuses.

“The harder we work, the more we sell, the more everyone makes,” Miller said. “All of the agents’ splits are competitive in the industry and they are very happy. I originate about 99 percent of the business opportunities, and my team helps me service the clients’ needs.”

The benefits of running a strong team are clear, but it’s also a lot of responsibility. Agents who form teams can’t count on being able to step back from their business.

“You only have 24 hours in a day,” Schwartz said. “If a team member has a question and I’m showing a property, it’s obviously difficult to do both.”

But Schwartz tries anyway: “If a transaction has an issue or one of our team members doesn’t know how to handle a certain situation, I just have to make myself available to help.”

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