At our meeting this morning we were talking about what it was like being a realtor 25 yrs ago. It was 1989. The year I started in real estate. In a room with 20 agents only 2 had been in the business longer than 8 yrs. The changes we have seen over the years are quite staggering and since nearly 60% of the Realtors currently working today have less than 10 years experience (check out a blog post I wrote on the subject here), they really have no idea what it was like in the ‘good old days’ to list or sell a property but I suppose none of that should really matter. They operate by today’s standards and are used to smart phones and Google maps. Frankly there were a lot of blank faces when we talked about legal size offers with carbon pages, how we were sceptical of fax machines, and had to write crazy financing conditions like assuming mortgages, vendor take-backs, selling 2nd mortgages. So just for kicks I asked a bunch of long time Realtors to talk about their experiences 20+ years ago compared to today. The answers are hilarious and brought back a lot of memories.
1. MLS books we guarded with our lives. Often very thick, they were broken up by district and came out every few weeks. Properties took longer to sell but you had to get used to calling about a listing and learning that it had sold a week ago.
2. Also had daily “tear sheets”. Each 8.5 X 11 had 4 listings which were perforated. You would tear out the listings that were interesting and store them in little black binders. One agent I knew had a binder just full of funny listings with terrible spelling or grammar. (you know who you are).
3. Agents had pagers and used pay phones to return calls. Argh! Always a drag to have to break paper money to get a quarter.
4. When rates were high (15%+ sometimes) Sellers would often agree to pay money up front to buy down the interest rate. Agents were skilled at creating these clauses.
5. Agents had to get mortgage details prior to listing a home because if the mortgage was at a good rate it was often smart to transfer that mortgage to a buyer and then do a vendor take back 2nd mortgage. We would then try to sell that 2nd mortgage so the seller could get their cash out of the sale. Sometimes we blended mortgages too and had to calculate the payments. Crazy complicated but standard practice.
6. Processing listings and producing feature sheets took forever. Take pictures of the property, take the film to get developed, pick out the good ones, tape them to a piece of paper and then photocopy it for open houses. They were pretty much always in black and white. We were masters of the cut and paste.
7. Agents relied heavily on the secretaries to create feature sheets. We didn’t have marketing are graphics people.
8. If you had a good listing, you would go around and drop a bunch off at other real estate offices. I have to say that I still see that once in a while although usually for exclusive listings.
9. If you had a client out-of-town you had to snail mail everyone and wait for paperwork to come back. No one had a fax machine, although clients could find one at a business centre and go there and wait for your fax which was on thin thermal paper. The ink would eventually fade so you couldn’t really save files for any length of time.
10. Forget about lock boxes. If you were out showing houses you had to go around to offices to pick up keys and then drop them back after you were done. And yes, sometimes we would forget.
11. Obviously no computers so no CRMs. Our databases were in our day-timers. If you lost it you were screwed.
12.There was no such thing as a home stager so what you saw was what you sold.
13. Offices were packed with people in large “bullpens” and pretty much everyone smoked so there were ashtrays all over the place and plenty of whisky near by.
14. When you arrived at the office in the morning the secretary would hand you your stack of pink “while you were out” message slips. At your desk you would sort trough them and then jam them on a desk skewer.
15. We all wore suits and ties. No jeans. Ever.
16. All our paperwork was done in triplicate legal size with carbon paper between the copies. When photocopiers were used more no one could figure out how to print double-sided offers. There was always at least two pages that were upside down on one side.
17. We needed 6 copies of an offer. One for the buyer, seller, each agent and each lawyer.
18. Caravans. After every meeting we would all jump in our cars and tour the listings of the day. No one wanted to be last and sometimes if you got a listing but had trouble pricing it, you would get agents to write down a suggested price on the back of their business card so you could show the seller. What?!?!
19. We used the Perly’s Map book to get around (no gps) and had this huge book called the Bowers book which was kind of like a reverse phone book with properties listed by street.
20. No condos.
21. Training? Not so much. Sell houses or move on.
22. We all worked for the Seller. There were no BRAs.
23. There were no standard clauses stored somewhere. We would cut and paste clauses or write new ones. Webforms didn’t exist.
24. A good deposit was $10,000
25. No one ever argued about commissions. EVER!
Well, we’ve come along way in 20+ years. This isn’t just a trip down memory lane. What sticks out the most for me was that we all worked full time at the office. We were in every morning. Started our day the same way…everyday. Today we have incredible technologies that keep us connected to the business from anywhere we are. Effectively, besides actually showing property, you could be on a beach in Miami and no one would know. Still, there were no efficiencies at work back then. We had to work hard to survive and buyers and sellers saw value in our service.
Here’s something else to consider. After reviewing how we worked 25 years ago, and thinking about how you work today…..What will it be like 25 years from now?
mark mclean is the Broker/Manager at the Bosley Real Estate Queen St W office and President-Elect for the Toronto Real Estate Board. The opinions expressed here do not reflect the opinions of TREB or Bosley RE.
These days I am occupied with building a new office for the company I work for. In our new neighbourhood, there is a bit of a buzz from local agents. We are building something unique. It hasn’t really been done before in the city. Over the last few weeks I have met with many agents who are interested in what we are doing. While they see the value of what we are creating, their main motivation in talking to me is less about being part of a new brokerage and more about getting away from the office they are working in now. This led me to consider the notion of agent retention and how to avoid losing good agents to the competition. There are many reasons agents leave. Some you can avoid, some you can’t. Here are some in no particular order.
- The agent has moved their principal residence and doesn’t want to commute. This is more likely to happen to the agent who comes into the office regularly.
- The agent has a conflict with another agent in the office. This is a big issue to tackle. As a manager/owner, it is your job to make sure that conflicts are dealt with fairly. Agents should always come away from a dispute knowing that, regardless of them winning or losing, you have looked at the facts accurately and explained your position clearly.
- Management issues. Believe it or not, some companies don’t get the fact that the agents are the clients, not the public. Our job is to provide agents with the tools to do their job well. Whether it is through training, front office support, advertising, etc, agents will abandon ship if you are not supporting them.
- Office aesthetic. The office should be current, clean and functionally laid out. Agents not only need a good work environment but they need a place to bring clients. Torn carpets, dirty bathrooms, and poor maintenance issues need to be addressed quickly. Agents will maintain a clean environment when they are proud of their surroundings.
- Commission structures. It is a reality of life that agents are looking for the best splits. Let’s face it, no one has yet to build a business model where the agent gets 100% of their commission and the office personnel does everything for them. The key is to simply be progressive and ahead of your competition. The difference in the take home commission of a mid range earning agent is negligible when you look at pay for service brokerages versus the full service models.
- The fun factor. Many companies, for whatever reason, lack office camaraderie. Managers and owners should make it part of their mantra to plan events and have fun as a group. Everyone should feel like they are being treated as a key part of the team. Our offices actively participate in golf tournaments, mini ski trips, social events and barbeques.
- Education and weekly office meetings. Management needs to be proactive in making sure agents are up to speed on current topics, policies and procedures. Presuming agents are doing it themselves will land your brokerage in a heap of trouble.
- Offices are too big or too small .I talked to a couple of agents who felt that they were simply lost in the shuffle. When they first started working at their brokerage there where fewer than 50 agents. Within 6 years, the company had grown to over 300 agents. Regularly there was a line of agents that formed outside the manager’s office. All of a sudden, asking a simple question became an hour long ordeal. I met with another agent who worked for a terrific little boutique company but there was no one even answering the phones. The few agents that worked there had to do everything from clean the offices to confirm appointments. There is no advertising budget and no one to update the website.
- Technical support. A strong brokerage needs a solid online presence. The web site needs to be constantly maintained, accurate and updates.
- Agents overstay their welcome or get fired. Surprisingly, many companies don’t check with the governing bodies to see if a potential new agent has complaints laid against them. There are agents out there with absolutely no respect for rules and regulations. You should avoid them at all cost as they are surely to be repeat offenders.
- Finally, there is something to be said for being part of something progressive and different. The day of the cookie cutter mentality is long gone. Agents today want to be a part of something unique.
It is a reality of life. Agents will move around but hopefully, if you are aware of the reasons why they leave, you can take steps now to eliminate or minimize the disruption to your office.
The views expressed in this blog may not represent the views of Bosley Real Estate, Brokerage, Ltd.