Diamond in the Rough

In economically hard-hit Southeast Michigan, broker-owner Joe Kadaf excels at keeping a full pipeline of sales and attracting productive recruits.

June 1, 2011

Joe Kadaf

Broker-owner, RE/MAX Leading Edge
Dearborn Heights, Mich., www.remaxle.com

A brief history: 14 years in the real estate business;  licensed as a broker in 2008
2010 gross sales: $87 million on 2,197 transaction sides
2009 gross sales: $112 million on 3,731 transaction sides
Number of offices: 1
Number of sales associates: 35

Hey, I Could Do That!

My real estate career came about after I bought my first house in 1997. I was working for an auto parts manufacturer doing quality control. My real ­estate agent, who was with Century 21, was the top producer in the area. He sold hundreds of houses a year. I thought to myself, “I could do that.”

My agent said his brokerage had a good training program, and I went for it. For awhile I worked part-time in real estate and kept my other job. But when I went full time into real estate, I made more ­money in six months than I was making in two years in quality control. After three years I switched to RE/MAX because of its 100 percent commission structure [at the time].

Seizing Opportunity

By 2006 I had reached what RE/MAX calls the "­Diamond Level, " which is $1 million or more in annual commissions. I bought the brokerage two years later because the owner was unable to stay in business and the building went into foreclosure. I didn’t want to switch to a new office, so I became a broker in order to run the company. To me, it seemed like a natural progression. I thought of it as a challenge to try to create something different and special. I bought the 8,000-square-foot building for $675,000 and renamed the company RE/MAX Leading Edge. In one year, we became the top RE/MAX office in Michigan, and in 2010, we were named the No. 1 RE/MAX office nationwide for transaction sides.

Well-Planned Recruiting

Six of the 18 agents who previously worked there stayed on with me. I’ve focused a lot on recruiting and we’re up to 35 agents. We take only salespeople with a minimum of four years of experience, so our recruits can hit the ground running. I do a lot of research about agent productivity before I pursue ­people. I am so certain about who I want to recruit that I have nameplates and business cards made up before I take them to lunch to meet them. If all goes well, I take them back to the office, and they can see the space set up with their name and they’re very flattered. It usually works out well. Once they’re working with us, we offer an array of concierge services at no additional fee—for example, we provide a courier service for their documents and order the required city inspections for their listings.

Appearance Matters

My $300,000 renovation of the office building was part of my recruiting strategy. We sandblasted the brick, expanded the lobby, added granite tile, and created a new parking lot, as well as planting ­flowers and trees in the neighborhood. I think that helps attract good people. If you want to be the best, why not look the best? We won a beautification award from the city last year.

It Pays to Know the Banks

Dearborn Heights is in a particularly hard-hit part of the country. Unemployment is more than 25 percent. About 85 percent of our business involves foreclosures or short sales. I got involved with distressed sales in 2007 just as conventional sales were waning. A lot of it was trial-and-error at first. But I made a point of flying out to banks all over the country—Texas, California, New York—to introduce myself. I got myself known before many others, which helped me get the business. I’m very persistent. I just kept calling and calling.

Keep on Selling

I love doing it all—selling and managing. I have detailed systems in place to keep the office running smoothly. We have created relationships with the local municipalities that require presale inspections so we get those done very efficiently. We do a lot of dual agency transactions, which keeps our numbers so high. We just learned Real Trends ranked us as having the highest number of transactions per agent—86—in the country.

Wendy Cole

Wendy Cole is the former managing editor of REALTOR® Magazine.