By Marylyn B. Schwartz
RISMEDIA, Nov. 4, 2008-Back in the early nineties, Lou Izzo, president-Residential Brokerage, Hunt ERA Real Estate, Buffalo, NY, was busy creating an innovative concept that would turn into a corporate initiative far ahead of its time. Nearly 15 years hence, his concept is still considered an anomaly within the real estate industry. However, every great idea has its time and place. Considering the state of the real estate industry and the challenges inherent in recruiting and retaining productive agents, that time may be now.
Marylyn B. Schwartz: Your Employee-Agent Program takes recruiting to a new level of creativity. Please explain to our readers just what it is and how it works.
Lou Izzo: Since its inception, dozens of people have successfully completed the program. The focus of the program is to convert people into career-tenured agents. In order to move in that direction, we had to develop a stringent set of criteria for consideration of admittance. The applicants, if and when accepted, are employees of the company for a period of approximately one year as they transition into independent contractors. Their every action and behavior reflects on the company’s integrity, something we value above all else.
The criteria are as follows: 4-year degree, prior sales experience in any field and/or two years in customer service and a proven income stream. We require our applicants to provide us with a resume, references and to complete an employment application.
MBS: When an applicant comes along who meets the criteria, what is the actual process for joining the Employee-Agent Program?
LI: There are several ways that a potential agent-employee might enter the interview process. We may hear of a candidate through a referral from one of our agents, a branch leader (that is what we call the “traditional manager”) through an employment website such as Monster.com, self-inquiry and career the development department of any one of the twenty plus colleges in the area. After they complete the requisite paperwork and we determine that they meet the required criteria, they go through three interviews, one with our career development department, with a branch leader and with either Peter Hunt or me. During the interviews we ensure that the applicant is made fully aware of, and is willing to, embrace the company’s training requirements, understands the real estate process/business, knows what is required to get his/her license, understands the commitment required and answers all questions openly and candidly. When the interviews are completed and references and resume have been validated for accuracy, the three interviewers meet and discuss the candidate. We all must agree that this person has the ‘right stuff’ for the program, or no offer is made.
MBS: What have been the successes of this program and advantages to the company?
LI: First and foremost, this program provides us with a higher caliber applicant. When you hire a person as an employee, you are able to control his/her activities and guide them toward success based on proven prospecting and business- development activities. When his/her branch leader requires that today we are all contacting ten expireds, ten expireds are contacted. As agent-employees, they are paid a salary (based on a competitive wage for the area in which they work). Salaried employees have job descriptions controlled by the goals and objectives of the company. These individuals can also be fired. And, if his/her performance is not up to our standards, they will be terminated. Fortunately, the program’s success was so well documented over many years, we are beyond confident in its past, present and future success. We have created the right formula for generating excellence long-term.
MBS: A few years ago, it was unheard of for a real estate company to recruit candidates using on-line sites such as Craig’s List, CareerBuilder, etc. However, now most companies are regularly using these sites. Has this created a disadvantage for your initiative?
LI: The competitive edge is something we’re always seeking to maintain, not only in the way we execute the everyday running of our real estate company but also in keeping the pool of talent ever green. We recently signed an agreement with an amazing company (unnamed at the time of press as final arrangements are still in the works,) who work with mainstream Americans presently employed but not happy with their work situations. It may surprise you to know that over the past few years that group of people has increased 200%. These individuals, referred to as those who are ‘thoughtfully helpless,’ are ones who feel trapped in their present careers, but for whatever reason, are under the impression that there is nothing better out there.
These are folks who would not normally think about real estate as a career option. Through the innovative profiling process of our new partners, we are going to zero in on this growing populous and help them to examine a career in real estate using different measurement standards and truths. These people may be the right ones for us, but because they are unable to give up a paycheck to start as a commissioned worker, they pass us up without a second thought. By providing the agent-employee option, that provides a paycheck for a given period of time while working toward financial autonomy, we’ve suddenly increased the pool of applicants one-hundred fold!
MBS: I am guessing that you are asked time and again what this program costs. So, what does it cost?
LI: As I mentioned earlier, the salaries are competitive with the markets in which the person works. Even with a great training program, if we are not willing to pay a competitive wage and add all the trimmings (vacation, sick leave, healthcare,) we would attract no one. The real question and answer to the issue you raise is simply this. What is the return on investment? We find that we are well rewarded relative to ROI time and time again. The program costs far less that it pays out in higher production, agent retention, quality of recruits and job satisfaction. People tell us that it is a privilege to find a career they love. We make that possible by creating a transition period that works for most everyone. If I had to give you a motto for our program, it would be simply that we are not seeking people who want to work in real estate. We seek people who want to be in real estate with Hunt ERA. Those are two very different things.
MBS: I often tell my clients that it is crucial for them to tell their recruit candidates that it is a privilege to work at this company. Be the purveyor of pride for your company and seek others who are looking for that kind of an environment. Is the agent employee program the only way that you recruit at Hunt ERA?
LI: We have six payment programs. Because the criteria for this program are very specific, we could not limit ourselves to this program alone. However, our standards are always high regardless of where a person may be when he/she joins the company. As we perfect our recruitment program and better understand the challenges faced by the ‘thoughtful helpless,’ I am certain we will see nothing but growth and enhanced quality in our pool of candidates.
MBS: I applaud your inventiveness, willingness to challenge the norms and refusal to accept what others have decided were the limits of real estate recruiting!
Marylyn B. Schwartz, CSP, is an expert in real estate and corporate sales training/management and team development. She is president of Teamweavers and a trainer for Leader’s Choice.
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