Real Estate

Building A Team Is A Delicate Balancing Act. Here’s Where To Start

April is Teams Month here at Inman. Adding nuance on top of our weekly Teams Beat email newsletter, we’ll serve up top insights from the best team leaders across the country as we dig deeper into what it takes to build a team, scale it, and even leave one.

In the evolution of real estate, the image of the solo agent has given way to the rise of collaborative teams. Over the past decade, teams have emerged as pivotal players in our industry, reshaping traditional business models and challenging conventional perceptions.

I recall the initial skepticism surrounding team formation just a decade ago. The median year of team establishment, 2014, marked a pivotal moment when agents grappled with the merits of why anyone would want to form a team or be on one.

The transition wasn’t merely a shift in operational dynamics; it required a recalibration of industry practices and public perception. I remember when our local MLS finally introduced a team feature, and the prestigious top producer awards expanded to include team categories.

Today, teams have become the cornerstone of success for many agents. By dividing tasks and responsibilities, teams alleviate burdens and enhance efficiency.

I’ve long advocated for specialization in real estate; expertise enhances client service and guards against burnout. Teams take this principle further, assembling individuals to tackle specific aspects of transactions, from listing admins, marketing managers, transaction coordinators, buyers agents, listing agents, leasing agents, showing agents, and field inspectors to install lockboxes or put up signs, and the list goes on. 

However, the decision to establish a team demands careful consideration. Critical junctures include knowing when the time is right and effectively executing the process.

Recognizing the need

The impetus for team formation often arises when agents find themselves overwhelmed. Yet, discerning the right kind of overwhelm is key in the life of a real estate agent.

Many of us have been running since the start and “overwhelmed” could be as silly of a word as “vacation.” Identifying the difference between being super busy and ready to increase your business model can take some serious soul-seeking.

Before expanding, agents must confront hard truths about their business and assess their readiness to delegate tasks they’ve always handled.

Systematizing operations

Central to team building is the establishment of robust systems and processes. Agents must treat their endeavor as the business it is, meticulously documenting operational procedures to guide team members. From listing appointments to closing procedures, clarity and consistency are paramount. 

You are writing a step-by-step guide on how you run your business.

  • How do you conduct your listing appointment?
  • What are the steps throughout your marketing campaigns?
  • Do you have a flow chart for the transaction, and how exactly do you involve yourself?
  • What’s your closing procedure?
  • Who sends the gifts, and what are they?
  • Who orders the lockboxes off and the signs down?

These guides will detail everything that your team needs to know. 

Utilizing shared platforms like Google Drive or Microsoft OneDrive fosters collaboration and team access. Also, remember to analyze the cost you may incur for extra storage space or team email addresses. 

Create folders for each “department” within your team and then create “how to” operation manuals about how each job is performed. Consider going above and beyond with your explanations and including instructional videos with screen sharing.

How I list a property in the MLS differs significantly from how another agent lists a property. Much of that has to do with increased due diligence with facts and figures, so there may be many more steps involved in your manual than another. 

Remember also to include any notes on your preferred style and personality. We usually prefer our team to mirror our own style.

For example, some agents prefer a very soft touch in email with detailed information. Other agents prefer to get to the point. Do you want your team to mirror these actions? Would you be upset if you’re very detailed and your team member shoots off a two-sentence explanation? Including this within the training materials is helpful for them and the person you seek to fill the role. 

Cultivating culture

Beyond operational efficiency, successful teams cultivate a distinct culture aligned with their brand values. It may sound cheesy, but articulating core values and expectations fosters cohesion and ensures alignment with the services provided. This extends to hiring practices, where candidates’ receptiveness to cultural nuances is a litmus test for compatibility.

Consider creating a list of core values. List five, seven, or even 10 standards by which you live and do business. Examples are easily Googleable if you are lacking inspiration. Google’s core value used to be “Don’t be evil.” Admittedly, that may be a little intense for a real estate team.  

Consider any other items you may find important to convey to your team. Do you have preferred charities you’d like your team to participate in? Are there any rules you want your team to follow? These could even include dress code or how people answer the phone.

It may initially feel micro-managerial, but you’re building something that is an extension of yourself. If you don’t wear shorts and flip-flops in the office daily, it may be essential to define that this is not a team trait. 

Recruitment strategies

Building an effective team hinges on identifying individuals whose strengths complement the team’s needs. I’ve seen it surprise many team builders, but not everyone loves being listing agents or buyer’s representatives.

Top producers ask me one of the first questions: “Who will I find to do any of this?” When you love the business as much as some of us do, it’s hard to imagine that someone would only want to input listing criteria or coordinate the transaction paperwork, but they are out there and in droves. 

This falls under that lifelong rule about doing what you’re good at and finding other talented people to pick up where you lack. Put out the feelers within your brokerage to see if anyone is interested in transitioning into a team role — place ads on Indeed.com and ZipRecruiter.

Conducting thorough interviews and outlining role expectations are essential to securing the right talent.

Navigating compensation

The transition to a team model requires careful consideration of compensation structures. Team leaders must evaluate their financial capacity and chart out coinciding roles. This is another way to decide how ready you are for a team.

If you haven’t yet paid an admin or assistant to help with your business, it might not be time to start a fuller-functioning team. Until you get comfortable paying an assistant, you may not be ready to pay anyone else conducting admin work for you, which is a big step for some of us. 

It’s also OK to start small. Evaluate what roles would best help grow the business initially. Ensure you’ve created a business plan specifically for you and your team (not just your business plan). Focus on potential commission-based roles first, like a listing and transaction coordinator. 

Finally, and possibly the least favorite part, is considering the business end of paying people who now work for you. You may be paying people who are not independent contractors. This throws you into the realm of worker’s comp, taxes and insurance.

Consult with a financial adviser, tax professional and attorney to ensure you have everything ready for this type of business. Your team members should be signing contracts and providing you with more information than you may realize is required. 

Managing challenges

While the allure of team synergy is undeniable, challenges inevitably arise. Poor planning and interpersonal dynamics can undermine team cohesion and productivity. Mitigating such risks requires a commitment to ongoing communication, conflict resolution and a shared commitment to the team’s success.

The other big problem is our own big egos. Business owners are often dominant personalities who have held themselves accountable for a long time. We have run our business to our standards, and we know that it all fails when we fail.

Bringing people into this equation is a tough one. If you’ve never managed people, prepare for a life lesson and many surprises. This is also why selling someone on your culture is so important.

People who love where they work will treat it with more respect. They are likely to want to protect you and grow the business. Remember that you are building a team and what that word means. You will run into some rocky times if you hire people who “just” want jobs or do not feel they are a critical part of the team. 

I’m sorry to tell you that becoming a team leader means you are no longer a solo real estate agent. You are a real estate agent with bits and pieces of an office manager, human resources department and payroll all thrown into one. 

I’ve run damage control for some teams that look like a story from Days of Our Lives. Unplanned and unmanaged people, who also don’t get along with each other, can completely distract from the whole point of growing a business. If it’s not done right, it turns into a nightmare. 

When in doubt, read Patrick Lencioni’s The Five Dysfunctions of a Team and consider starting again. Don’t lose hope. We learn from our mistakes and can still build something better that will work.

Like almost everything in business, the biggest sacrifice when building a good team is the time it takes to create the structure. But if you do that, it can be worth it — for your brand, clients and bank account. 

Zak Shellhammer is a broker, coach and consultant. Connect with him on LinkedIn and Instagram

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