By Riki Markowitz
As a real estate broker in Texas, consider yourself exceptionally lucky. It’s one of the top paying careers you could have, especially in Central Texas. And if you’ve just recently passed your real estate license exam, you may well be on your way to making the list of Austin top earners, too. But first, you have some work to do – namely, find a broker to work with.
How to choose an agency
Choosing a brokerage to join is a little like picking a college. Do you want a small firm that provides hands-on experience? Or do you prefer a large firm that offers comprehensive educational programming, technical support and business development? Maybe something in between? Successful brokers that we’ve spoken to suggest reaching out to several different agencies and setting up an interview. Jennifer Archambeault, a broker/owner at Urban Provision REALTORS, says, “Choosing a broker boils down to what the broker gives you in terms of value.”
It may sound simple, but in reality, many agents get overwhelmed with the options. There are about as many different agency models as there are brokerages. According to Lisa Jacobson, branch manager at Coldwell Banker, “You will be bombarded with brokers giving their sales pitch and everyone telling you how great you are.” She explains that new licensees are bound to be confused this early in their career because—like everything else—you don’t know what you don’t know.
You’ve probably heard of the large ones—Keller Williams, RE/MAX, and Coldwell Banker, just to name a few. For the most part, they aim to create a dynamic culture for agents interested in growing a business. Diane Johnson, a broker and team leader at Keller Williams says, “We tend to attract entrepreneurial agents who want to own their own business and run it as they see fit.” At Johnson’s office, there are 17 staff members who work on an in-house educational curriculum, a coaching program, providing access to technology tools and much more. “We’ve been ranked the number-one training company in the world,” says Johnson, “and we look for learning-based agents, top performers, and those who immerse themselves in education in order to be better at their business.” Johnson and her team describe their office as a “productivity-rich environment.”
Coldwell Banker has been around for a century, so there’s a level of trust, says Lisa Jacobson, vice president of sales. Because of the company’s legacy, newer agents feel they’re in good hands. Jacobson’s goal is to allow REALTORS to concentrate on doing what they got into this business to do: complete transactions. “I check every contract. Nothing goes in and out of this office without my approval.” There’s also someone onsite responsible for marketing and listings. “We’re a one-stop shop. We include everything for agents, whether they’re new or experienced,” says Jacobson. “We don’t expect them to come in here and buy their cards and their signs.” The idea is to make it a little easier for independent contractors to get their business running.
RE/MAX 1 is a franchise co-owned by Tammy Kress, who is also a managing broker. “It’s all about empowerment for the agent,” says Kress. “We want to teach them how to maximize their efforts, create a business they can call their own and eventually scale it up to the type of brokerage they want.” RE/MAX 1 does take on newer agents, but the majority of their current contractors have been licensed for more than 10 years.
Corey Casper, director of agent development at RE/MAX 1, says he specifically looks for people who want to grow their business. “Our focus at this office is mastery of the sales business game,” says Casper. “Because when they grow and continue to learn, we can have a collaborative work environment where we can all learn from each other.”
Many REALTORS aren’t interested in the bells and whistles offered by the larger companies. Those agents look instead to hang their license in a small brokerage like UrbanSpace, located downtown. Simon Cawley, vice president of residential brokerage at UrbanSpace says the agency has a slightly different model. They’re the exclusive sales agent for the Independent—soon to be the tallest skyscraper in Austin. “We’re not just selling it,” says Cawley. “We go in at inception of the project and work with the developers on unit floor plans and across a whole range of criteria.” It turns out that you don’t need a large company for this type of project-based model. UrbanSpace has 15 brokers and six are on the sales team for the Independent.
While UrbanSpace does take on agents with very little experience, people need to be prepared to learn by pounding the pavement rather than attending classroom lectures and seminars. “Agents at UrbanSpace must have a lot of ambition in terms of getting up to speed on the downtown residential market.” That means getting out of the office, walking the buildings, understanding the market, shadowing people and working on transactions.
A more typical small agency model is where a roster of agents work under the supervision of a managing broker, and sometimes an associate-broker is on-site, too. These agencies don’t have classes or large, swanky offices with conference rooms, computer rooms and coffee bars. When working with a small brokerage, you will have a more intimate working relationship with your broker and coworkers.
Because boutique brokerages don’t offer all the extras that you can opt-in to at their larger competitors, it’s even more important to have the type of relationship with your broker that works with your personality. “Sometimes I’m a therapist, sometimes a mentor, coach or someone they call to bounce an idea off of,” says Archambealt. “The biggest thing to look for, though, is a broker who provides quality to their agents. They have to have some skin in the game.”
Commission split and fees
All agencies have some type of commission split and some offer profit sharing and increased commissions for high earners. Various other perks, such as classes, desks, and important technical platforms like DocuSign, are available for free at a limit, and then an opt-in fee. That’s why it’s so important that you feel your brokerage is providing value that is at least equal to your financial investment. For large agencies, you get education, training, and tools; at small agencies it’s the one-on-one relationships and autonomy. Other benefits to consider are the lead-sharing models, social media and marketing expertise.
Making a decision
You may be tempted to simply choose the brokerage with the most liberal commission split, but that’s not the best way to choose a brokerage when kickstarting your career. On the one hand, if you want rookie training and business development, you’re a good candidate for the large-agency model. If you are a self-starter who learns best by doing, a small agency is where you would thrive.
So after all that hard work—simply choosing a broker—you may be wondering why you don’t just get your broker’s license. After all, it is the only real estate designation that consumers recognize, according to Champions School of Real Estate. But first, you need 48 months of agent experience before you can even take your broker’s exam. So while you’re counting down the days, make the most out of your time by crafting the best professional real estate agent persona for yourself that you can. RL