By Marylyn B. Schwartz, CSP
RISMEDIA, January 9, 2009-It is often said that some of the very best real estate sales professionals were once teachers or nurses. That certainly holds true when we speak of Tyra Cole. With a career that spans more than three decades, this former educator and one-time busy mother, who needed flexibility in her chosen profession, carved out a thriving career by virtue of her desire to make a difference within the real estate industry.
A few months ago, Cole decided to take on a new and difficult challenge within an industry struggling to stay vibrant and profitable. While she earned the well-deserved option to kick back and enjoy her retirement years, she is not one to sit idly by while changes are needed to keep real estate afloat in both the short and long term. She saw her opportunity to make a difference once again and took it!
As the newly appointed Director of Business Development, Keller Williams Realty, for Northern Westchester County, NY, Cole is charged with growing the various parts of this region through successful recruiting, education, performance and customer service training of the sales and management teams. While so many agents are leaving the business for reasons we all know too well, others are not keen on making changes during difficult times. Although real estate was a magnetic career choice when the market was hot, it is not as attractive by half as it once was. These irrefutable challenges beg the questions, why jump back in now, and how will such lofty goals be realized?
Marylyn B. Schwartz: “Tyra, you and I go back to the mid-eighties when we worked together in real estate. Much water has gone under the proverbial bridge since those days. The industry finds itself at a tipping point where success and profitability are intricately linked. Companies are merging with others to achieve economy of scale, closing offices to cut overhead and hunkering down to survive. Others are closing altogether or, in some cases, holding their own quite well; that being the exception by a long shot. What moved you to take on a project, with regional growth as the main thrust, at a time when the common wisdom moves in the other direction?”
Tyra Cole: “The decision was made for me by virtue of what I found out about Keller Williams Realty. You are correct in thinking that I would not have been attracted to a company that was not willing to examine the way they have been doing business. What was/is being done in most places is not working. Doing more of the same had no draw for me. However, I am with a big company that is not focused on the bottom line before everything else. They believe that you take care of the agents and that is what takes care of the bottom line. We embrace high standards from dress code on down. We are not running a company where soccer moms are parking their hats. We are working with and seeking career professionals who understand that they are responsible for their own success. There are no free lunches. We are focused on the entrepreneurial spirit as engendered by qualities such as risk taking, commitment to success, running a Me, Inc. business and looking for his/her company to be a support system rather than a ‘free-lunch’ resource.”
MBS: “That is all well said, and no one can possibly disagree with those qualities representing the best of the best. However, that exceptional person is hardest to find. We are selecting candidates from a smaller pool, and no one wants to trade low-performing agents company to company.”
TC: “When I look back to my nearly 30 years of real estate management, I well remember many tough cycles. While the struggles we face today are weighted on a whole new scale of difficulty, retention and recruitment for me was always about the agents. My team and I were in it together. I felt as though we were a family. All families have struggles. There are days we love each other and days that we can’t stand the sight of each other. When the office is run by a coach and mentor who understands how to handle all inevitable cycles, you thrive. We used to recruit so called ‘part-timers.’ One criterion for building a region to maximum performance is to cull out those who do not understand that this is not a part-time business. I ask everyone I interview, ‘Why do you want to be in real estate?’ If the person brings to the table a cadre of relationships within his/her community as sound reasoning for probable success, I debunk that right away. In bygone days the business was primarily driven by personal relationships. Now, we depend upon our Internet presence for driving traffic and opportunity to agents. While we will always value the personal referral, anyone unwilling to go outside of that pool and prospect the full range of opportunities will fail by our standards. We are not seeking the two-transaction-yearly agent. Neither the company nor that agent will earn enough revenue to thrive at that level of production. We must face the fact that having stringent productivity standards is non-negotiable.”
MBS: “You mentioned to me that you were pleased to see the hours of required continuing education having been raised in NY to 72. It is mind-boggling that there are still states where continuing education is not required. That too is changing; and it is about time! When you must enforce your standards, how do you handle the process? There are owners asking himself/herself how to terminate non-productive agents without creating other challenges in the process.”
TC: “When agents stop attending office meetings and/or training, are earning little if any money and doing nothing to remedy either circumstance, in essence, they terminate themselves. It is up to management to follow through on what the agent started. That is what is done in a traditional office. While I support letting people ‘fire’ themselves if that is what is happening, my focus is to incorporate a variety of ways to increase revenue into our recruiting package. Because it is true that in a successful office everyone is part of the solution and should be part of the gains, we offer agents the opportunity to grow through commissions, profit sharing or an ownership position. While the driven agent is working on increasing commission earnings, he/she can have an eye on growth from other sources. The more effectively the agent works, the more they will benefit and profit from the overall success of the company. That’s real incentive. The benefits and compensation are unstoppable! Our value proposition: unsurpassed training in a learning-based company with a positive mindset. ”
MBS: “You are filled with optimism. That’s a refreshing change. Where are we going over the next couple of years?”
TC: “We’re going to survive. We have much hard work to do, and we need the right people in place to do what needs doing. If we simply embrace the same old paradigms, we’re just working on a go-nowhere treadmill. I had/have no interest in listing and selling, nor do I want to run a traditional region. I enjoy the power of our national brand along with our focus on the agent. God (whomever he or she may be to you,) family and business is what matters. We live those beliefs inherent in all that we do. There simply is no room in real estate today for sellers who want to list and try to get a higher price than the data supports. Buyers who are swimming in debt and have less than good credit will be left out in the cold. And, agents who are not willing to step up to the plate and work diligently, embrace ongoing education and technology, have a powerful desire to succeed and are goal oriented need not apply. What we are going to see is a scaled-down industry where the business-minded person, who joins forces with entrepreneurial companies, will be here for the long haul. Yes, I could have sat back and enjoyed retirement. However, how could I pass up an opportunity to be part of a real estate renaissance? I see the future, and it looks like a lot of fun!”
MBS: “Fun…now that is something we all look forward to experiencing once again!”
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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