Erica Christoffer is a multimedia journalist and contributing writer and editor for REALTOR® Magazine. She can be reached at email@example.com.
Making People More Than Numbers
Learn how an Austin, Texas–based broker found remarkable success by putting her clients, agents, and volunteer work first.
August 29, 2017
Carol Dochen doesn’t need to recruit agents. They come to her. She helped one client buy two houses—and now that woman is Dochen’s top producer. Another one of her agents is a former staff person at a local nonprofit where Dochen volunteered who said, “I’m coming to work for you.”
Dochen has a long, respected career in the Austin, Texas, residential real estate market. She’s been working in the industry for 35 years and has owned her own boutique brokerage, Carol Dochen, REALTORS®, since 1992. Her home sales volume in the last 15 years alone is more than $250 million.
But Dochen’s sales success isn’t the real reason people are drawn to her. It’s her work ethic that sets her apart. “I feel like I won the lottery working for and learning from Carol,” says Dana Epstein, GRI, who’s one of Dochen’s agents. She joined Dochen’s team in 2013 after meeting her through volunteer work. “I thought, ‘Wow, that’s someone I would like to be like one day—knowledgeable, generous, and kind,’” Epstein says. “She was willing to take a chance on me, and I will be forever grateful.”
Because agents seek her out, Dochen can be more selective in whom she hires, choosing only those who will work well with her team. Her office operates as a cohesive unit, and she wants to keep it that way. Dochen has a dozen agents and four staff members. She also sells real estate herself. Growth isn’t as important to her as quality.
“If people are sick or go out of town, we pick up the slack and run with it,” she says. If an agent has a broker open with wine and cheese, they all attend for the comradery. They feel comfortable asking one another questions, have regular get-togethers, and find success without high-pressure sales goals. Their office sales volume was $62.3 million in 2015 and $66.2 million in 2016, and they’re on track to surpass that this year, with $57.8 million sold as of mid-August.
“We have office meetings to talk through things we are seeing, learn from each other, and learn from other professionals in the field to help us better serve our clients,” Epstein says. “She models incredible ethical behavior, which is important for new agents like me, since there are not always handwritten rules on how to approach the day-to-day operations in this field.”
Dochen was originally in PR and advertising, but she reevaluated what she wanted to do with her life after caring for her mother-in-law, who had lung cancer and eventually passed away in 1981. “I didn’t want to just sell widgets and work for somebody else’s bottom line. I wanted to help people,” she says.
Dochen worked for Austin broker Irene Smith for nearly 10 years before setting out on her own. When she started her company, she worked out of her house. Her mother, Beatrice Kabler, took out stacks of books from the library on how to run a business, and they spent that summer reading.
For several years, she was a one-woman shop. Then she hired an unlicensed assistant, Jean Olson, who handled transaction management and bookkeeping. Olson worked with Dochen for 21 years. Dochen recalls going into a client’s home with Olson and wiping down the cabinets with Scott’s Liquid Gold. “That’s the type of people we are,” Dochen says. “I’ve had loyal clients because I treat everybody like they’re my family. I take care of people, and if I make a mistake, I own up to it. My word is my bond.”
Epstein says that Dochen makes sure every transaction is done correctly and smoothly. “She is very thorough when it comes to getting the job done for our sellers and buyers, and even after the transaction is completed,” Epstein says. “I feel like I got to learn from the best in the business, not just about real estate, but about how to be a good person in life as well.”
That work ethic has carried over in her service on the Austin Board of REALTORS® for 12 years and the Texas Association of REALTORS® for three years. “The only way to make a difference in the world is to get involved,” Dochen says. Every year since 2011, she has been named a Platinum Top 50, a local real estate award for outstanding sales, education, industry participation, and civic leadership. She was also named 2017 Broker of the Year and has received numerous other accolades for work and volunteerism.
“I’m not the type of person who thinks, ‘Oh, how much money did I make?’” Dochen says. “I try to take care of people; that’s what I do.” And she takes care of more than her team and clients. She gives back to the community in a multitude of ways.
In addition to donating a portion of her sales to Habitat for Humanity—a practice she’s kept up for more than 20 years—and working her usual weekly route for Meals on Wheels, one organization she’s especially passionate about is Women’s Storybook Project of Texas. The nonprofit connects children with their incarcerated mothers by recording the women reading books to them. Volunteers like Dochen bring in an assortment of age-appropriate books, and the moms select one and read it aloud while they audio record it. The children receive both the recording on CD and the book. “It’s powerful. We get letters back from the caretakers about how the child listens to it every night,” Dochen says. She’s also involved with Refugee Services of Texas, securing apartments, buying groceries, and hauling donated furniture in her old Suburban to help immigrant families get settled.
“I’m really a social worker at heart,” says Dochen, who takes such a can-do approach in every aspect of her life. Just last week, she showed houses to a couple with a 3-year-old and listed a home for a woman in her 80s. “I’d be a better manager if I let go of sales, but I just love what I do,” she says. “When we make people happy and we help them create a home or transition away from one, we create an emotional bond. I love the emotional bond.”