Smooth, steady success—it’s what every real estate broker wants. But is it actually attainable? According to five leading brokerage executives, sustainable success is indeed achievable, and during RISMedia’s Real Estate CEO Exchange last month, they shared exactly how.
The event’s closing session, “The CEO Exchange Super Session: Sustainable Success Starts Now,” took place at New York City’s Yale Club on Sept. 17. Moderators RISMedia President & CEO John Featherston and Buffini & Company CEO Dermot Buffini interviewed five of the most powerful brokerage leaders to reveal their strategies for long-term success:
- Diane Ramirez, President, Halstead Property
- Joan Docktor, President, Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Fox & Roach, REALTORS®
- Sherry Chris, President & CEO, Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate
- Fafie Moore, Broker/Owner, Realty Executives Nevada
- Gretchen Pearson, President & Owner Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Drysdale Properties
The sold-out, invitation-only Real Estate CEO Exchange, “Building Sustainable Success,” took a realistic look at the current and future state of the real estate brokerage business, and revealed tactics for securing long-term viability. The event, featuring more than 30 expert speakers from the top real estate firms across the country, ran Sept. 16-17, 2015, at the Yale Club in Manhattan. Those interested in attending RISMedia’s 2016 Real Estate CEO Exchange at the Harvard Club in New York City, may email Randi Vannucchi at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Crux of Success: Agent Productivity
As Dermot Buffini put it, for brokers, “sustainable success is the holy grail.” Buffini began the Super Session with a discussion on agent productivity, a realm Buffini & Company has been entrenched in for 10 years now, successfully coaching agents to significantly increased levels of profitability through the implementation of goal setting, systems, accountability and more. Currently, Buffini & Company coaches and trains more than 27,000 agents who are responsible for a collective 600,000 transactions.
“I have the utmost respect for what you guys try to do every day,” says Buffini, addressing the sold-out audience of nearly 200 brokers and industry executives. “One of the hardest businesses to run is a real estate business. We’ve learned a lot about what to do and what not to do.”
According to Buffini, building successful agents begins with a very basic foundation: implementing systems. Ask an agent, “What are you going to do today to generate business?” and the number-one response you’ll get is, “I don’t know.”
“They’re not really sure. They’re not being led,” explained Buffini. “When we don’t know what to do, we will do anything. Seventy percent of agents are buying leads online because it makes them feel good. About 2.5 percent of those leads close. At the end of the day, it’s not good ROI and not a good use of their energy and time.”
Buffini & Company teaches agents that not all leads are created equal. “There’s a hierarchy to the lead process. When agents have a system, they do very well. According to Warren Buffett, the solution to productivity is training, systems and motivation. We’re preaching the same gospel.”
Implementing systems are mission critical when it comes to sustainable success. As Buffini explained, while agents come away from events put on by his brother—Buffini & Company, Chairman & Founder Brian Buffini—they are highly motivated and ready to go. However, three days later, many have already forgotten what they learned.
“That’s why systems are important,” explained Buffini. “At events, agents want to get fired up, they want a shot in the arm. But at the end of the day, we’re keeping the motivation going through coaching.”
To that end, Buffini & Company offers special training programs for managers—so that brokers and their leadership teams can systemize coaching and accountability within their respective firms. “Pick a system. Lean towards one that aligns with your philosophy. Train to that system. Make your agents’ success your highest priority. That way you’ll have an army of people out there doing business for your company.”
The Wisdom that Leads to Success
Buffini’s presentation was followed by a Q&A session with the panel’s five power brokers. Each real estate veteran shared their philosophy on what it takes to build sustainable success:
Thinking One Step Ahead, All the Time
Diane Ramirez attributes much of the success she enjoys today—Halstead Property grew from its original goal of three storefront offices in Manhattan to its current size of nearly three dozen offices with 1,200 agents throughout the tristate area—to the lessons she learned as an agent. “I learned a lot as an agent that helped me develop my style as a leader,” she explained. “I’ve learned to think like I’m in a chess game. When I would go out with customers, I knew that every step I took would lead to the next step, which would lead to them eventually buying a property. It’s very important—in every aspect of the business—to be forward thinking. Whether it’s company expansion or technology, you always have to think about where your next step is.”
Ramirez also places a heavy emphasis on training within her firm. “We call our training ‘empowerment’,” she says. “We look for those agents who are trying to get to the next level. We’ll help them improve their game.”
Have a Vision and Get Buy-in
According to Joan Docktor—whose firm boasts more than 60 offices and 4,000 sales associates in the tristate area of Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware—success requires that everyone share the same vision. “In order to have a sustainable company, you need a very clear vision and you need to have people buy into that vision or it’s useless,” says Docktor. “You also need to hire great leaders and then get out of their way and let them execute. We have been operational for 120 years. Our vision has been to be number one in every market we serve and to get there, we have to realize that the consumer comes first. Our company also envisioned controlling all parts of the sale and we’ve done that through our financial services firm. That helped sustain our growth and get us through the hard times. Really, what the consumer wants is one-stop shopping. That’s what’s brought us to where we are.”
“We really think business is relational,” added Docktor. “A lot of agents think it’s transactional. We know that 80 percent of an agent’s business comes from relationships. We try to make everything else seamless for agents so they can focus on building relationships.”
Reach Outside Your Comfort Zone
Sherry Chris believes achieving sustainable success in any area requires looking outside of yourself. “In our industry, we like to hire the mirror image of ourselves. We feel comfortable with people who are just like us,” she explained. “But I hired a team of young people who are smarter than me and challenge me every day. My responsibility is to set the vision. The job of these folks is to push the envelope.
“Structure your companies not just for today, but for the future,” continued Chris. “Survey young consumers. We’ve surveyed millennials—we’ve even surveyed teenagers. Building your company today with a strong eye towards the future will help you tremendously.”
Chris also emphasized the need to adapt your company structure for the next generation. “We often create silos—the servicing team, the training team, etc. Younger people don’t want silos. They love to collaborate.”
The coaching process is also critical for brokers, says Chris. “I have a personal and a business coach. Some people think, when they’ve been in in real estate for 31 years like me, why would you need a coach? We all need a coach. We need help in determining how we can be the best.”
Disrupt before You’re Disrupted
According to Fafie Moore—whose firm has grown since its opening in 1989 to become one of the most productive real estate firms in the state of Nevada—sustaining a successful firm requires that brokers never lose their enthusiasm. “We have to wake up,” says Moore. “If we’re not excited, the rest of the group won’t be excited. We have to be up every day and be ready to win the day.”
More importantly, it requires that brokers continue to upend their model—before an outside influence forces you to do so. “You have to disrupt your business and find ways to innovate,” she explained. “We need to do that, not wait for somebody else to come and cause a problem. We’re trying to figure out how someone might come in and disrupt our apple cart. We need to be our own disruptor because that creates more excitement. When you’re out on the edge, you’re a little bit more excited.”
Let the Rainmakers Make Rain
Success for Gretchen Pearson means liberating the rainmakers. When she started the company 10 years ago—which is now the largest female-owned company in California with 900 agents in 30 offices located throughout the Bay area, Sacramento and the Central Valley—Pearson had no agents ready to go and no systems in place. “We wanted to attract rainmakers, and rainmakers are not good at paperwork and details—why would I want them to be?” she explained. “So when an agent takes a listing, we do all the marketing—that way rainmakers know that their value and time is important.
“We ask agents to define their success,” Pearson continued. “We see agents as our customers and partners. They communicate to us what’s important. Our mission is to support the American dream. This is the only business where we can wear a cape. There are some glass ceilings, but we can blow them out.”