Creating a buzz for your brokerage.

January 1, 2007

When you were a kid, there was probably a house in your neighborhood that had a reputation among local children as being cool. The kids loved playing there because the parents welcomed and nurtured all the kids who came over.

Real estate companies are no different. Some brokers have created the cool company to which associates are drawn because associates know they’ll be nurtured and their business will grow. Because sales associates seek these brokers out, the brokers tend to spend less money and effort on recruiting.

Brokers and industry experts generally agree that what gives a brokerage magnetic attraction is more than just enticements such as a high commission split or cutting-edge technology, although those are important. Instead, brokers create a buzz around their company by exuding leadership and creating a culture that fosters productivity.

Start at the top

To get buzz going, you have to be a broker who’s recognized as a change agent, says Cliff Perotti, CRB, e-PRO®, president and CEO of, a consulting and training company in Corte Madera, Calif. Associates will go to a company with strong leadership because they’ll learn more and make more money, he says.

“When you talk about creating a buzz around your company, you’re really talking about a buzz around the broker,” says Perotti. “Brokers are the drop of water in a calm lake that creates a ripple of excitement.”

That means “you need to go from ‘I’m a real estate broker or manager’ to ‘I run a recruiting organization,’ ” says Perotti.

You also need to change how you allocate your time. “Most brokers spend 90 percent of their time putting out fires,” says Perotti. “They’re not being inspirational.” Building recruiting cachet, he says, “doesn’t come from doing the things brokers have been doing for years. It comes from building a culture in the company that attracts associates.”

Clarity and attraction

Perotti has developed rules to teach brokers how to be leaders and build the recruiting organization he describes. He teaches these rules as part of a curriculum he developed for the Council of Residential Brokers. Among the rules is the law of clarity, which means that you must make decisions with a clear view of where you want your company to go. Another is the law of attraction. “Your company will attract associates who share the same values and behaviors of your current associates,” he says. “If you have mediocre people, you’ll attract mediocre people.”

Perotti believes many companies have lost their value proposition. “Today, brokers believe their value is the programs and commission splits they offer. But associates are looking for leadership. Brokers who’ve lost a vision for where they’re going and the fire in their belly have a very difficult time attracting [quality] associates.”

Vision and culture are key

The reason that associates are drawn to brokers who lead is because good leaders set a vision, project values, and build a team, says Jack O'Connor, CRB, broker of Prestige Real Estate Group LLC in Denver.

“Firms that attract associates send a very clear message to the marketplace that these are our core beliefs and values, and this is our culture,” he says.

“Most real estate companies haven’t developed a culture; they’ve developed a model,” says O’Connor. “But brokers are obligated to create a culture to which people want to come. If you have core values and people understand them, people who have the same values and want that culture will be attracted to you.”

“It’s about your management team, strategy, and vision,” says Mike Pappas, CCIM, CRB, president of The Keyes Co. in Miami. “You need to know who your company is; bring in high-quality, entrepreneurial managers; and listen to and get involved with your associates. You need to create esprit de corps, because if your associates are happy, they’ll recruit for you.”

In 2005 The Keyes Co. affiliated 100 people from other firms, Pappas says. The company is the 64th largest residential brokerage in the United States, with nearly 2,100 associates in 32 offices in south Florida, according to REALTOR® Magazine’s 2006 Top 100 Companies survey.

Show them you care

Brokers who focus only on the perks they offer associates rather than what their company stands for are making a mistake, O’Connor and Pappas say. “You need to have cutting-edge programs, but do you also have synergy [between associates and between leadership and associates]?” asks Pappas.

“We’re communal people,” Pappas adds. “Associates won’t care how much you know and can teach them until they know how much you care.”

Pappas says his executives show they care in many ways. “We do roundtables with microphones at each of our 32 offices every summer,” he says. “We do a survey at each office asking associates to tell us what they think about their manager. We’re listening, and they see us trying and caring, so they trust us.” In addition, when associates receive community awards, the company’s top executives show support by attending the ceremonies.

That communal feeling is one of the draws of F.C. Tucker/OBR, REALTORS®, in Bloomington, Ind., says Cathy Arnett, the company’s sales manager.

“We make ourselves known as the company that works well together,” says Arnett. “Associates who are at companies where they don’t feel included are looking for that. They see that we’re out in the community in groups all the time—on home tours, at brokers’ open houses. It’s pretty apparent that we’re a team here.”

Walking the walk

O’Connor at Prestige has published his company’s core values—teamwork, a desire to attract the best, a belief in the company culture and in one another, a passion for real estate, and trust in its leaders—on wallet-sized cards to make them concrete for his sales associates.

“Every broker and every staff person has one,” says O’Connor, “and every person we talk to gets one. We provide it to clients and put it in every information packet about our company.”

Prestige’s associates also give the card to other companies’ associates. For instance, when other companies’ associates ask Prestige associates how they like working for the company, Prestige associates can give them a card and explain the company’s core values. O’Connor says he often gets messages from his associates like this: “Mary Jones asked me about Prestige, and I gave her one of our cards. You may want to follow up with a phone call.”

O’Connor stresses that associates don’t get a bonus for reporting such contacts. “Being paid to be part of the team isn’t part of our culture,” he says.

The result? In just three months in late 2006, nine associates who closed more than 300 transactions in the past year moved from 100 percent companies to O’Connor’s brokerage. “Our success has been built upon the fact that we know what we stand for,” he says.

Consulting helps

Rich Rector, president of Intero Real Estate Services’ Arizona operation, based in Scottsdale, calls hands-on business consulting for sales associates key. Intero was ranked the 23rd largest residential real estate company by sales volume in REALTOR® Magazine’s 2006 Top 100 Companies survey.

“The most important things that build buzz are providing associate support and business consulting that allow the broker to partner with associates, build their business, and help them have a better quality of life,” says Rector.

When Rector talks about consulting with associates, he’s referring to his firm’s mission of helping associates establish goals and a strategic business plan, providing weekly and quarterly coaching and monitoring to help associates stay on track with their plan, and suggesting marketing ideas based on associates’ goals and plans.

Rector sees the company’s consultative model as part of its culture. “You need to create an environment where associates feel like their broker is contributing to their growth by helping them build business and develop skills. Then they have more time and more balance in their life, and they accomplish their income goals.”

Whatever method you choose to make your company the brokerage to be, now’s the time to make it happen, says Perotti. “Brokers are tired and beat up,” he says. “They’ve had a hell of a couple of years, and they’re going into a softening marketplace. The time to get serious about becoming leaders and not just broker managers is now.”

A different take: Production says it all

Although many brokers advocate that company culture and visionary leadership attract recruits, Carol Johnson has a different view of what makes associates seek out certain brokers. She applauds intangibles such as good leadership, but says those aren’t the most important factors in creating a buzz around your company.

“You can have somebody who’s a great leader, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it translates into business for the company,” says Johnson, a recruiting consultant and head of, an online recruiting center based in Schaumburg, Ill. “These leaders are loved and respected, but what brings associates to their company is the volume the company generates.”

There’s a simple name for what draws associates, says Johnson. “It’s called production. Your associates are listing and selling more houses than other people. Associates know who beat them out of a listing, who’s got the most listings on the MLS tour, and who’s bringing them offers.”

The best way to increase productivity is to cull from the bottom. “It’s great to have a few superstars, but you’ll be most successful if you increase per-associate productivity, where the bulk of the associates have a sustainable living and can do better than a greeter at Wal-Mart,” she says. “If you have low producers, train them or get rid of them. It’s a disgrace to our industry that we’ve recruited so many non-productive associates.”

Johnson says productivity is the best path to building a buzz around your company because it’s easy to measure. “You either have listings and sales or you don’t,” she says.

freelance writer

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