8 Broker Breaking Points

What behavior will you simply not tolerate from sales associates? Brokers offer eight situations in which they say it’s time to cut ties.

January 10, 2013

Jean Crosby doesn’t do "diva duty."

In other words, she won’t tolerate top producers who expect special treatment or belittle others.

Crosby, CRB, CRS, managing broker at Prudential Crosby Starck, REALTORS®, in Rockford, Ill., is one of many brokers who’ve developed ground rules they assiduously enforce by booting salespeople who refuse to abide by them. Here, brokers reveal eight behaviors that will trigger the equivalent of a pink slip to sales associates.

1. Constant complaining. "I just don't know what in the world sales associates who bad-mouth others are thinking," says Sue Cartun, CRS, GRI, designated broker, operations manager, and partner at the six-office Keller Williams Southern Arizona based in Tucson. "Everybody has an off day. But when you have an Eeyore-type salesperson who's bringing everybody else in the office down by complaining about the company, the office, or other salespeople, you’re just trying to put that round peg in a square hole."

Don't get Cartun wrong. She doesn’t show salespeople the door at the first sign of negativity. She initiates a conversation to identify why they may be struggling and whether there’s any way to reverse it. "Maybe they’re going through a personal thing," she explains. "If you're a good broker, you see if you can help salespeople work through those issues. But if that's not possible, you have to protect the office."

2. Drawing too much flack. When Erica Ramus, CRS, president of Ramus Realty Group in Pottsville, Pa., first began hearing complaints about a 10-year veteran she’d recently affiliated, she chalked it up to others' inability to deal with the salesperson’s strong, confident personality. But the complaints kept coming, and every time Ramus broached the issue, the salesperson got defensive.

Ramus knew the person had to go when another salesperson, one with an impeccable reputation, told Ramus she hoped she never had to work with that person again. "This other associate is one of the most pleasant, professional salespeople I’ve ever worked with," says Ramus. "When she called to complain about this person's behavior—not returning phone calls, not producing documents in a timely manner, and blatantly lying—I knew I had to cut the person loose. I care about transactions and our numbers. But I care more about our company’s reputation."

3. Dancing perilously close to, and crossing, ethical rules. Brad Smith, broker-owner of the Denver-based HomeSmart Realty Group of Colorado, doesn’t tolerate any action that's dishonest or skirts rules. Because he has 700 salespeople, Smith says he has a higher than typical number of incidents—about one a month—that lead to a salesperson’s departure from his firm.

A typical example is a procuring cause or commission issue that looks shady but is hard to prove as improper. Say a listing agent holds an open house, and a buyer attends, saying he’s not represented by another salesperson. When the buyer later makes an offer, a salesperson steps forward and says, "This buyer’s my nephew, and I was representing him; he just forgot to disclose that." Or a salesperson simply inserts herself into the transaction by submitting a contract for the property on the buyer's behalf.

Listing agents often don’t want to file an ethics complaint and go through an arbitration hearing if they're already earning the listing side of the transaction, Smith says. So they'll drop their objections to the other salesperson’s questionable action. That doesn’t mean Smith isn’t paying attention, however. Associates who are prone to such behaviors will eventually face a "you've got to go" discussion.

4. Performing in a disappearing act. Salespeople sometimes need to turn off their phone and recharge their personal batteries. Ramus gets that. But when one of her salespeople started disappearing for days, sometimes weeks, with no communication, she reached her limit. "Nobody—other salespeople, clients, lenders—could find this person when necessary," she explains. "This happened repeatedly for months. I tried to get it into her head that she could go away but that I wanted to have all client information so I could pick up the slack."

Do you have salespeople occasionally go incommunicado? Ramus suggests initiating a conversation to tease out why they haven’t responded to calls, texts, or e-mails. Maybe there's a sick child. Maybe a message truly got trapped in voicemail hell.

With Ramus's associate, though, the talk didn't solve the problem. "It was happening over and over again, and there was an excuse every time," Ramus says. "This salesperson had so many good qualities, but this problem was just overwhelming."

When a transaction fell through due to a communication lapse, the problem came to a head. "I had to decide whether to keep the salesperson and maybe tarnish the company’s reputation or let her go," she says. "She had quite a few listings, but I released every one and just asked her to leave."

5. Cultural mismatch. Sometimes, salespeople are just not the right fit for your company. The last time Chappy Adams, president and owner of the 500-agent Illustrated Properties in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., had to ask a sales associate to leave, it was because the salesperson was disrespectful to practically everybody else at the company.

"It was mainly that the salesperson was rude to other sales associates, not respectful of their time, loud and boisterous, and always wanting to be the center of attention, taking time away from administrative staff and managers," Adams explains. "We moved him to another branch office to see there was a different fit; branches can have different personalities. But after a while, this person was so difficult that it just didn't make sense to have him stay on."

Crosby has a similar rule, banishing salespeople who too often disrupt an otherwise well-functioning team. "If, every time there’s a spat in the office, they are in the middle of it, that means they’re serial pot-stirrers," she says. "Those people are very disruptive. Gone!"

6. Challenging commission splits. When salespeople start publicly making a fuss about commissions, Cartun won't tolerate it. Her firm has a strict commission schedule that applies to everybody, so she won't engage in a negotiation with salespeople who think they deserve more than their peers. That would lead to a crazy-quilt compensation system where salespeople would always be demanding higher splits, she says, and it would generate negativity in the office.

"You'd have someone say to another salesperson, 'This is my deal; what’s yours?' " Cartun explains. "The other sales associate might say, ‘I’ve got a much better deal than that, but I can’t tell you what it is because I promised I wouldn't.' It's not worth it. Everybody has the same deal, everybody knows everybody has the same deal, and everybody’s much happier."

7. Repeating mistakes. When salespeople make an honest mistake, Smith gives them a second chance. "But I don’t give a third chance," he says.

Case in point: Perhaps a salesperson unintentionally missed a deadline in a contract, and it cost the buyers their earnest money. Smith will have the salesperson reimburse the buyers for their loss and move on. "But if it happens again, that salesperson will be gone," says Smith. "That’s the kind of mistake that shouldn’t happen more than once."

Cartun has a similar policy. There's a conversation explaining the proper procedure, and then there’s a farewell conversation. "For example, our policy is that earnest money deposits need to be made out to the brokerage or an escrow company," she explains. "If a salesperson instead has the deposit made out to cash, that’s extremely dangerous; it can be cashed by anyone. It’s not about the salesperson. It's not about me. It's about the risk to the organization and all the other licensees following the rules and doing the right thing."

8. Top producers who are more trouble than they're worth. Top salespeople who think they're better than everybody else can be a huge drain on an office. "Maybe they're belligerent to staff or other salespeople in the office," explains Jean Crosby of Prudential Crosby Starck. "If I can help them correct their behavior, they can stay. If they don't understand where their behavior is inappropriate, they've got to go."

Greg Herb, ABR, CRB, broker-owner of Herb Real Estate Inc. in Gilbertsville, Pa., says he's quicker to dump a troublesome top producer because it usually boosts everyone else’s productivity.

"When a top-producing salesperson is creating issues for an office, a lot of times when the decision is made to part company, there’s an amazing residual effect,” Herb says. "Afterward, you'll hear other salespeople say it's a big relief or you’ll hear about issues you hadn't heard about before.”

If you think a top producer is a problem," he says, "assume there are probably more issues you haven’t even heard about because salespeople have been afraid to speak up."

freelance writer

G.M. Filisko is a Chicago area freelance and former editor for REALTOR® Magazine.