Erica Christoffer is a multimedia journalist and contributing editor with REALTOR® Magazine.
Building Value for Agents Through Technology
A New Jersey–based broker-owner is dealing with disruption by doubling down on his agents.
September 10, 2018
Company: Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Signature Properties
Sea Girt, N.J.
Opened brokerage: 2011
Number of offices: 3 offices covering the eastern Monmouth County shore
Number of agents: 101
2017 sales volume: $178 million
2017 sides: 366
2018 projected sales volume: $238 million
2018 projected sides: 477
My intense expertise in internet marketing has influenced how I run my brokerage and the value we offer our agents. Here in New Jersey, we’re seeing disruption in the structure of some brokerages, especially in how they compensate agents. If you break down what my company offers in terms of lead generation technology and support, agents might find that they’re going to be at a 65 to 70 percent split with us as opposed to another brokerage offering 75 to 80 percent to start. That’s because some business models with a more lucrative split for the agents are less about per-agent investment and those offices might not have much support for their agents.
As a result, what we’ve focused on is offering more value and investment on a per-agent basis, especially through digital lead generation methods. It’s difficult for many agents out there to make this kind of investment in themselves, so I believe it’s important as a company to be willing to commit tens of thousands of dollars per month to generate these leads for them.
Digital Marketing’s Strength
In 2002, IDX feeds from MLS listings became available. I saw a huge opportunity in real estate to put listings on company websites to drive clients en masse and respond directly to inquiries. Talk about a disruption in the industry—at that time no brokers were doing it. This was before Zillow and other portals. That same year, I created the Weichert Lead Network, an internet marketing and lead generation company exclusively for the for the Weichert Real Estate franchise, which was doing between 600 and 700 closed leads a month. Then in 2005, I created and served as president of realestate.com, a national online brokerage owned by LendingTree, before launching my current brokerage in 2011 as a RE/MAX franchisee. I moved over to Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices in 2016 because I was pleasantly surprised by the tools and systems they offer.
I’ve seen the value in unattached buyers and sellers—a huge percent of internet inquiries out there aren’t connected to an agent yet. If an agent needs more opportunity beyond their sphere or they don’t like cold calling, internet marketing is a critical component, and you have to be prepared to immediately engage with that client in newer ways like texting.
Finding Systems That Work
Many brokers feel that the tools they’re provided for the 6 percent franchise fee is everything they need. I never looked at it like that. Although I’m consistently embracing what BHHS has to offer, there are things based on my skill set that I can provide to my agents. For example, our internet and lead generation platform is proprietary and isn’t something the brand offers. We do lead generation from our own website, paid search, and some organic search, but rely heavily on lead partners like realtor.com®, Zillow, and Trulia. We started out in 2011 with full-time employees responding to lead inquiries with texts, emails, and phone calls. It worked relatively well.
But consumers have become much more accustomed to receiving immediate answers, and that provided challenging because they wanted to speak with a listing agent right away. As instantaneous communication and consumer urgency disrupted the industry, I started searching for an automated system that offers leads immediately to the agents. What I found were a lot of CRMs that focus on the back-end flow of the leads and follow-ups. Then I discovered Lead Assign, an artificial intelligence–based lead distribution system, which isn’t a real estate–specific solution. When a lead comes in, the platform will ping an agent with a text or email, and if the person doesn’t respond within a three-minute time window, the lead will bounce to the another agent. The hierarchy of the agents chosen by the system is set by an algorithm based on tags you create. We use ZIP code tags, and we also prioritize agents who’ve gone the longest without a lead offer.
Rolling Out New Tech
We start with announcement emails, then we create training sessions to meet agents’ needs, The Lead Assign program, for example, is a privilege for agents not a right, so the agents have to be committed to it. For those interested in a more detailed training on anything we offer, we’ll do deep dive sessions. We’re big on one-on-one communication; for some agents, change is scary. We’re huge believers in training—we offer both internally developed training and BHHS training in our resource center. We’ll bring in subject-matter experts and try to make it easy for agents to focus on the things that matter most, which is converting sales. We built our own custom, interactive listing presentation where we also talk about how we interact with others in the real estate community because it’s likely going to be another agent or broker who brings that buyer. We’ve also customized the app BHHS offers for all of our agents because we believe that’s important. Through all of our tactics, we try to reinforce the importance of good service and a need for urgency.
More Support, More Business
We’re not afraid of disruption. I’ve had the chance to be mentored by (former General Electric CEO) Jack Welch and brilliant minds at IAC, the parent company of LendingTree, which also owns match.com, and previously owned the Home Shopping Network and Ticketmaster. I knew that by walking away from my comfort zone that I’d be in a position to do what I want and open my own brokerage. Now seven years later, at 51, I do it because I love it. We explain to agents that we’re here to support them and guide them through change. Agents should focus on the biggest 1099, not the best split. We’re trying to bring as much to the table as we can to help our agents be as successful as they possibly can be. I love seeing things blossom and being part of something that’s driven by passion but also fulfilling a need.
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