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(Above, L to R) Desirée Patno, Women in the Housing and Real Estate Ecosystem (NAWRB)/Desirée Patno Enterprises, Inc.; Julie Vanderblue, The Higgins Group/Vanderblue Associates; Andrew Smith, Peabody & Smith Realty; Sheryl Simon, Benoit Mizner Simon & Co.; and Matthew O’Connor, Terrie O’Connor REALTORS®, discuss “How Independent Firms Are Prospering in Today’s Market” at RISMedia’s 2019 Real Estate CEO Exchange. (Credit: Korin Krossber of PlanOmatic)

In an environment where acquisition announcements seem to be a daily occurrence, a thriving contingent of real estate brokers continue to buck the trend: meet the independents.

During RISMedia’s Real Estate CEO Exchange last month—which gathered more than 325 brokers and top executives at the New York Marriott Marquis—a panel of top independent brokerages gathered to discuss why they choose to go solo during the session, “Independently Healthy: How Independent Firms Are Prospering in Today’s Market.”

Moderator RISMedia Executive Vice President Darryl MacPherson started the session by posing a simple yet charged question: Why go it alone in today’s challenging real estate market?

“Independence compels creativity and creativity brings passion,” said Julie Vanderblue, president of Fairfield County, Conn.-based The Higgins Group and CEO of the leading agent team Vanderblue Associates. “There is a box with the big brands, and I say to my team, there cannot be a box. If we’re involved in the choices we make, we’re going to be more passionate and more successful. Also, with the brands, how do you protect the experience (agents and consumers) are going to have? When you’re independent, you can protect the experience.”

Desirée Patno, president and CEO of Women in the Housing and Real Estate Ecosystem (NAWRB)/Desiree Patno Enterprises, Inc., worked for Coldwell Banker before running her own independent brokerage. She offered several reasons why she finds the latter more advantageous.

“If you leave a large company, the company gets your clientele,” she explained. “I make sure the book of business I do now is mine and only mine. It’s not always about the money; it’s about the value you bring.”

“When you’re with a large company, it’s easy to get lost,” agreed Sheryl Simon, principal at Boston-area firm Benoit Mizner Simon & Co. “You’re promoting the brand rather than the brokers. With my own company, I was able to empower agents and clients.”

While panelists underscored the many reasons for remaining independent, they also admitted to periodically exploring opportunities with franchises.

“I get knocks on the door all the time,” said Matthew O’Connor, COO and director of Relocation for New Jersey-based Terrie O’Connor REALTORS®. “But I never heard a sales pitch that compelled me enough to make it worthwhile. We provide everything provided by the brands; our name is well-established. Being independent is not a mission…it’s not a religion. It’s just who we’ve been from the beginning. So I take the phone calls and the lunches (from the brands) to see if there is some value, but I’ve never found the value to exceed the additional friction that would come with it.”

Desirée Patno, Women in the Housing and Real Estate Ecosystem (NAWRB)/Desirée Patno Enterprises, Inc., at the CEO Exchange (Credit: Korin Krossber of PlanOmatic)

Without the support of a franchise brand, many independents look to become part of a network in order to tap into resources. Andrew Smith, broker/owner of New Hampshire-based Peabody & Smith Realty, for example, leans into the benefits he receives through Leading Real Estate Companies of the World®.

“We’ve got pretty good marketshare, but the challenge is always to increase that marketshare and the bottom line,” he explained. “Being members of LeadingRE provides us with a good backbone.”

MacPherson asked panelists to hone in on their unique value proposition as independents, the key to success for any real estate brokerage in today’s competitive environment.

Simon pointed to her firm’s ability to stand out as community leaders, and as brokers, to be able to connect with and mentor agents on a personal level. O’Connor echoed that sentiment.

“Technology is a leveler more than a differentiator—everyone has access,” he explained. “What makes the difference is culture, the way we take care of our people and relationships.”

Vanderblue described it as the “battle between artificial intelligence and human intelligence.”

“You have to recruit the right agents and differentiate yourself,” she explained. “What are you doing that nobody else is doing? Each agent has to create their own change. (New models) coming in is a good thing; it’s making us stronger.”

For Smith, his firm’s value proposition is all about connecting with consumers. “We’ve put together bite-sized packages for agents to present to consumers,” he explained. “The consumer has so much confusion about data; we need to become the trusted advisor so we can provide tools and information to help them understand what all this data means.”

Patno emphasized the importance of doing something no one else is doing…a luxury independent firms can take advantage of thanks to their flexibility.

“Find what’s going to make you different,” she advised, “whether it’s leasing properties for the government or partnering with the Small Business Administration to work with businesses coming into the community. Think outside the box when you talk about your independence.”

For CEO Exchange continuing coverage, visit

Maria Patterson is RISMedia’s executive editor. Email her your real estate news ideas at