In theory building and running a real estate team seems like a pretty good idea. You are getting more leads than you know what to do with so you bring on a junior agent as your buyer agent. You give them good quality leads and if they sell the client a home you take a percentage of their commission. The more junior agents you have working for you the more money you make. Sounds awesome.
The reality is that when you run a team you agree to take on a lot more responsibility. Not only are you a selling agent you are now a manager, a leader, a trainer, a mentor and an engaged human resources director. If you cannot lead effectively, or over-manage the team you will ,in effect, spend more time managing and less time doing what you do best…selling. But when you dive into the relationship even further a few dichotomies surface. As a sales representative you are working as an independent contractor for your broker, your team members also work for the brokerage but report to you. Hopefully you have the same values as your brokerage and are on the same page when it comes to business goals. With any luck your team members are well-trained and share your ethics too. But what happens when a team member does something wrong? Your brokerage is on the hook to clean up the mistakes even when, for example, the mistake was made because they were following the team leader’s direction. So the question remains, who is responsible for the team members? The team leader or the brokerage? With teams these two entities are fundimentally at odds with eachother. The brokerage provides services essential to the agent (The ABC test of who controls the services) vs the team leader who supplies the leads ( the economic reality test). The real estate brokerage is, in many ways a unique creature. It is statutorily required to provide certain duties, like oversee agents, provide accounting and practice risk reduction.
Compensation based on commission.
Here is something else to consider. There are currently three separate cases before the courts in the United States that are challenging the very nature of the agent and team member relationship. The outcomes could very well force team leaders to re-evaluate how they build their teams. In each of the cases the team members are arguing that they were hired as buyer agents but were also required to perform tasks for the leader such as pick up and deliver cheques, meet appraisers, sit agent open houses, home inspections or even write blogs or post stories on social sites. The very nature of these tasks, it is argued, presumes an employee/employer relationship and if that is the case then wouldn’t the team member deserve the benefits that an employee would receive, such as employment insurance, medical and dental?
If teams are here for the long-term then, in my opinion, it is important for brokerages to develop a policy and procedure manual and some standards of service. Team contracts need to be more than just a handshake agreement or a quick email. The reality is that no two teams are the same so a blanket agreement is just not going to work. Have a lawyer draw up a binding agreement and make sure that it works within the laws of REBBA 2002.
Certainly brokerages need to understand that teams are developing at a fast and furious pace and there is yet another complication….the sub brokerage. I will talk more about that in part 2 and then later in part 3 I will talk about the finer points of developing your team.The reality is that as the team concept evolves, more questions and complications will develop. In the meantime the best you can do as a team leader is to have a written agreement which sets a tone and understanding of the relationship, achnowledge that compensation is based on commission, list tools and materials supplied for day to day efficiencies as well as who is responsible for their maintenance and upkeep, include clauses on sick leave, vacation time, desk duty (if required) and above all else have a system that will have solid arbitration mechanisms.
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.
Technology talk used to be the dominant topic of conversation at real estate conferences over the last few years but these days there has been a noticeable shift to discussions on brands and brand building. I think we are talking about brands more because our industry has become so fractured that it is tougher and more expensive for agents to succeed.
Consider this, in the early days of real estate sales, agents worked for a neighbourhood brokerage who fielded calls and handed out leads. Upon successful completion of a transaction, the brokerage would keep a substantial portion of the earned commission. In return, the brokerage office was responsible for advertising listings and managing day-to-day operations. When independent contractor status came out agents assumed more responsibility for the sales function thus opening the doors for new brokerage models. Now take a look at what is happening now.
In Toronto we are closing in on 40,000 agents who are all competing for a piece of the 90,000 sales that happen each year. The sharp increase in the number of agents in our market has caused significant shifts in the real estate industry. The first is a downward pressure on commissions, and the second is the rise in popularity of the “discount brokerage”, a model that relies on fees rather than commissions. Both of these shifts have benefited the consumer in some way but have also put pressure on the traditional real estate brokerage model.
Now agents are faced with a new dilemma. Their competitive advantage is no longer their ability to offer lower commissions. They need to create a lot more value for the consumer. That may come in the form of neighborhood videos, access to a research department, market and/or neighbourhood reports, rich demographic information, media coverage, websites with killer SEO, and, least we not forget… training. For the average new agent coming into the business with nothing more than a few hundred dollars in their pocket and a dream, it is next to impossible to shoulder the costs of these tools. For the savvy brokerage, it is clear that an opportunity exists to share their offerings and create a new competitive advantage with their agents …at a cost.
For further clarification and a hint of what is to come, it is worthwhile to look south for additional trends. Following a catastrophic real estate collapse, the US market is finally returning to health. But something happened along the way. The primary objective to staying in business moved from saving money to creating an experience for the client. Several companies that operated VOWs in the past are now embracing bricks and mortar models. Others are moving away from the fee based systems and returning to traditional brokerage business models. Take a look at these great videos from Go Realty in North Carolina or Red Oak Realty in California. They are creating an experience for the consumer who may have come to the realization that buying and selling real estate doesn’t work in a virtual environment.
This is not to say that a virtual office or fee-based brokerage can’t succeed. I am all in favour of consumer choice but from where I sit it is clear that the full-service real estate model is about to make a giant come back.
As the old expression goes…what comes around goes around. Years ago independent contractor status destroyed the big brand but just like the circle of life, the independent contractor status is bringing the concept of brand back.
The opinion expressed here are the opinions of Mark Mclean and don’t represent the opinions of Bosley Real Estate.