Companies to Watch: Family First Real Estate Group

Saying "yes" to slow growth: Customer service strategy relies on trusted veterans.

October 1, 2007

Three years ago, Jerry Webb was sitting on top of a mortgage bank nearing $1 billion in annual volume with hundreds of loan originators operating out of 76 offices in 24 states.

Today he sits on top of a much more modest operation, Family First Real Estate Group, with a dozen sales associates. The brokerage is based in Spokane, Wash., with offices in Vancouver, Wash., and Portland, Ore.

It’s a change he initiated in 2005 to decompress from the rigors of running a large company.

And although he has little inclination to grow his two-year-old brokerage into a colossus to rival his mortgage company, which he sold to partners in 2004, he’s building his brokerage around the same strategy that worked so well for him on the mortgage side:

  • Carefully selecting who generates business for his company, and
  • Letting those in this elite group keep 100 percent of their commissions.

Nothing new in this model, but in Webb’s hands, the secret sauce is in resisting the temptation to say yes to the people knocking on his door to join.

“There are a lot of salespeople out there who do good volume, but they’re not necessarily good practitioners,” he says. “Not to speak badly of anyone, but I’m really picky about that, because what clients feel about an associate at the end of the transaction is what they feel about my company. If at the end of the transaction they’re not happy with the way they’re represented, that’s a bad reflection on me. Instead of telling one person or nobody about their good experience, they’re going to tell 20 or 30 about their bad experience.”

Webb’s office assistant surveys clients after each closing to gauge their satisfaction level. The most revealing answers of clients are whether they would use their agent again and would refer their best friend to the associate.

Webb believes the dozen associates he’s brought on board — all industry veterans who brought with them their own book of clients — are panning out the way he anticipated: The average satisfaction rating of their clients is 96 out of 100 possible on his survey, he says.

Webb charges his associates a flat per-transaction fee. Although it averages $400, it varies, with the amount based on associates’ volume; the more they produce, the less they’re charged.

Average production as of mid-2007 for each associate was two closings a month, a performance that’s held steady even as the market has cooled.

Associates primarily work out of their homes and pay their own freight on marketing. Webb pays for company branding, which includes a spread in the local newspaper and spots on the local cable real estate TV channel.

For Webb, his intention to grow slowly will be put to the test. He spent eight months beginning in 2006 going back and forth with another broker about joining forces. In the end, he opted not to do it. Saying no, he says, “is not the typical business model.” But for a broker who’s already built one successful business around that idea, it’s his model of growth.