Culture is the primary driver for what attracts and keeps top real estate sales professionals. It’s an organization’s “why”—saying who they are, then living up to that ideal. The role as brokers and managers is not to tell agents, clients and customers what to do, but to remind them who they are and how they can live their story. From there, it’s meeting their personalized real estate needs and delivering memorable moments along every step of the way.
Here, Brenda Mandel and Tony Geraci, broker/owners at CENTURY 21 HomeStar in Solon, Ohio, discuss how culture drives growth.
How would you describe your culture at CENTURY 21 HomeStar?
Tony Geraci: We’re a big, small company. We have over 400 relentless sales professionals in our family, but our culture is individualized for each agent. That means we can be very hands-on and connected, or hands-off. We make it a priority to know them as people first, and then provide them with the tools and support they need to succeed in this business. We keep it 100 percent for our agents and they value and appreciate that approach.
Brenda Mandel: It’s important as a leader to know that each agent that we have here is at a different phase in their careers. We are not a one-stop shop where every sales professional must do the same thing. If necessary, we will help them figure out what they need and personalize the support and services based on that one-on-one we have each agent.
Personalization is critically important in today’s digital, mobile society we all operate and live in. With that said, what would you consider to be your “why”? Why are you doing what you do?
BM: Even after 20 years, we still wake up every day and love coming to work. We love our jobs. We love our ever-changing business. We love helping our agents get to that next level. It’s exciting for us and more importantly, it’s exciting for them.
TG: Brenda and I are the only two owners and we run this office every day. My “why” is to help make our team’s experiences, and their clients’, as well, the best they can be. Period. So, if an agent wants me to hold their hand, I will. If they desire space to do their business themselves, I’m hands-off. As you can see, my “why” is my agents.
Let’s dig a bit deeper. I’m an agent out in the field in Cleveland and I’m also closing a deal with another client in Solon. My Solon client is having an issue with an inspector, but I can’t leave Cleveland. Is this an example of where you would jump in and provide support?
TG: Definitely. Our mindset is to be proactive. If something doesn’t go well for our client, we’re going to get the call, “I want to talk to a broker or a manager.” We don’t ever want it to get that far. Remember, what separates us is that Brenda and I are the only two owners and we actually run the office. While we don’t sell anymore, we are licensed and ready to help our team of agents seven days a week, 24 hours a day.
BM: With scenarios like that, I think the best help that we’ve given our agents is to train them that situations like your example can and will happen, and how to plan for that by managing their time.
If I were thinking about joining your company, I would like the fact that I’m allowed to do what I want to do on an individual level but know that I have a team at my disposal to get the work done. Is that fair to say?
BM: It’s fair to say, yes. I think that that’s kind of what we always call ourselves. We have five people that act as your team and help you through whatever it is that you need. We tell our people, especially our teams, don’t spend extra money getting support staff. It’s 24/7 for both of us.
TG: In fact, agents we recruit come in and think they need to be on a team to get support for this and that—basically, it’s everything that our office is already doing, like mentorship, coaching, support and training. We’re here for them. The same level of support holds true for our teams as well. That’s another differentiator for us. Our business model allows team leaders to save costs and utilize the support we already have within the office.
Let’s talk about the tech products, apps, services and shortcuts that come to market to support us professionally and personally. It seems that they all center around speed and convenience. How do you drive speed and convenience and help people get time back in their day?
TG: We have the tech our people need to deliver extraordinary experiences. The foundation to driving speed and convenience and getting time back to our busy professionals comes from communications. Based on personal preferences, we leverage traditional phone calls and one-on-one conversations, as well as social media, texts, messaging and website chat support. We provide all the necessary channels for clients, customers and agents to connect with each other, and with us. Our belief is that to move fast with agents and customer support, you need to be open, and available, to communicate in the way your sphere wants to communicate.
Can you share an idea around how that happens in real life and what you’re doing to address exactly that?
BM: We’re proud to always be a little bit ahead of the curve. Our new director of Agent Experience, Julie Mandel, is an excellent example of that. She is responsible for regular, ongoing communications—mostly phone calls—with our agents to find out what their needs are, the tools they’re using, challenges/concerns, and how we can help them achieve their growth goals.
TG: We’re leveling the playing field with support. Everyone gets the same quality of support and communication, and Julie is at the forefront of this strategy. She ensures that our agents get the same support, in the same time, at the same speed and in the same quality no matter if they are new or if they close 100 deals a year. That’s our culture, and our agents welcome the opportunities and the ability to work as they choose to.
BM: As leaders, we take a proactive approach. We don’t sit by and wait to react. We constantly evaluate what we offer and what the competition is offering and make decisions that we feel our best for our agents. Take listings as an example. Julie and the team provide a checklist to each agent of all the ways we can help market the property. Or if they’re just not sure how to do it, we will have them book a one-on-one, so we can go through a few of their listings and show them exactly how to maximize all the marketing programs we have with just a few clicks to get all that information uploaded. And, if an agent is too busy to handle any or all these elements, we offer them the services of a full-time listing coordinator.
Speaking of agents, who is the ideal candidate when recruiting sales professionals?
TG: On the one hand, I’m like any other broker who would tell you that they are looking for someone who is full-time and does more production. I’d rather have someone that does a handful of transactions who deliver extraordinary experiences than agents that sell 100-200 transactions a year but don’t create the memorable moments along the way that clients deserve. I want agents who make clients feel special—like they’re the most important person and transaction that they have. As far as the interview process, I explain to them that they are under no contract or obligation to stay with us. Our independent contract agreement does not force an agent to stay. It’s a month-to-month contract. At 30 days’ notice, they can let us go without financial penalties. We don’t keep listings. We don’t keep commissions. We have over 400 happy agents who don’t want to go anywhere else because they feel valued and appreciated. We are proud of the retention rate that we have.
BM: We expect our agents to retain their clients by giving quality service. We feel the same way about serving our agents. We must earn their business every day. That’s our “why,” and a big part of our culture that serves to retain or re-recruit our own agents. Not everybody is looking for the same thing. We’re trying to be relentless and really go after re-recruiting those agents daily.
TG: All of the agents that we’ve recruited have received phone calls from us and other communications as well, like emails inviting them to come over. The director [of Agent Experience] position ensures that this one-on-one, personalized communications continues when they do, eventually, join our family. We didn’t want that to just drop off the planet once they came here.
Do you stress to your agents that they offer the same personalization to home buyers and sellers?
TG: We stress the importance in our training, and as mentors and coaches. Of course, there’s that fine line of giving them the space to do what they want with their own clients and not step on their toes. We’re going to encourage them to personalize the experience and get more business and referrals.
BM: We hope that they do much more and that they follow our lead, but they’re independent contractors.
Do you have one piece of advice for someone new coming into this game?
BM: First, listen. Second, start a CRM before you get too busy with letters and drip campaigns. Third, get financial software to track expenses and income.
TG: Most agents who are starting in real estate are not starting it full-time. They have another job. The No. 1 thing I say to them is “Whatever you want to make in real estate for your living, make sure you make it in the first year.” That’s No. 1. Don’t give up your day job until you’ve tried real estate. Second, you’ve got to talk about real estate to every single person that you’ve ever known. Have a database and notes of every single time you talk to them. When are you going to talk to them next? What are you going to talk to them about? Build that database every day.
Finally, can you tell us a little bit more about what brings you the most joy in your life?
TG: I keep my life very simple. I have three hobbies: spending time with family and friends; maintain a healthy lifestyle; and real estate. My day starts at 5:30 when I go to the gym in the morning, and afterwards the office. At night, it’s quality time with my fiancé and my family. What can I say? I love being a broker and helping our agents.
BM: Family—they’re everything to me. We get together and still have game days and dinners on a regular basis. We work to stay as close as possible because we’re all so busy in life. That’s where the greatest joy comes from. I’m also big animal activist and volunteer with the Summit County Humane Society and Marilyn’s Voice.