G.M. Filisko is a Chicago area freelance and former editor for REALTOR® Magazine.
Why I Left My Broker
Salespeople speak candidly about why they switched companies. Their insights get to the heart of a critical industry challenge: agent retention.
May 13, 2015
Brokers say it all the time: Sales associates don't leave a company because of money. It may be a factor, but money alone doesn’t drive them away.
So what does? We asked sales associates—some of whom had been at their previous brokerage for many years—to talk with us candidly about why they switched companies. Two main themes emerged: First, agents don't begrudge their broker’s profits—unless they perceive that those profits come at their personal expense. Second, just like buyers and sellers, salespeople need to feel that their success truly matters to their broker. If owners and managers are unable to convey that they care about an agent as a person (not just as a profit center), they have little reason to expect that agent’s allegiance.
The agents who spoke with us didn't want to be fully identified because of the sensitivity of the subject. But their comments offer lessons for brokers seeking a better handle on agent retention.
Jim: Location Still Matters
I’ve been at five companies over the past decade. I've been with my current company for more than a year and was at my previous company for three years. I was at three different companies before then.
One of the companies was persnickety with fees. There was a monthly desk fee and a transaction fee. If I did at least one transaction in a month, the desk fee was waived. But if I did three transactions one month and none the next month, the broker still wanted the desk fee the second month. Another top salesperson there wanted the broker to wire a commission payment to him. The company was busting his chops over the $30 wire fee. The agent even offered to share the cost based on his commission split, which meant the company would pay only 20 percent of $30. That broker was penny-wise and pound-foolish.
I left another company to join one that I thought had a better location. I’m a great believer in floor time. So I've always looked to be at the location with the best walk-in traffic. I was at a company for three years in an area with a lot of restaurants and people walking by. But the walk-in traffic wasn’t what I expected. People would stop and look at the listings in the window, and you'd try to chat them up but get no good leads. The demographics of the walk-in traffic didn’t match the demographics of the properties we sold. There was also no parking in front. A good location has both foot traffic and vehicle parking so people driving by can see the "real estate" sign and pull right in.
My message to brokers: Don't put your profitability ahead of ours. A fee here and there is OK. When salespeople feel assaulted by fees, that's a problem. Also, location still matters. And the amenities that go with the location, like nearby parking, matter, too.
Michael: Looking for a Partner
I was with my former company in Atlanta for seven years and was relatively happy—comfortably numb might be a good description.
My former broker decided to affiliate with a national brand, and we ended up going through sign and branding changes. The culture also became different. The communication felt less like a family and more corporate. That put a burr in my saddle.
It didn't feel like there was a lot of broker support in the office, and I'd end up being called on by the newbies to be the de facto broker. I thought, I’m just being a surrogate daddy because I happen to be in the office regularly. I'm never going to have the business that really excites me. There were businesspeople in the company building their empire but they were not helping me build mine.
Then I heard another broker talk about how you can control your own business. Instead of having to do more work because of decisions made above me, I could go to a company that would help me take more control of my business. My new broker got me to focus on being a businessperson, like how to determine if incorporating benefited me, how to set aside money for taxes, and how to run my business with QuickBooks and other tools.
My message to brokers: I'd affiliate with any broker focused on how to help me make smarter business decisions.
Vanessa: Culture Is Key
I've been a real estate salesperson for more than 15 years and was with one company for 13 years. Two years ago, my husband and I relocated from one southern state to another.
I affiliated with a large independent in my new home state, but I realized early on I needed to switch companies because I felt so out of place. I didn't go to the biggest university in this state. I didn’t belong to a major sorority, and my granddaddy didn’t go to school with anybody in this city. Because I was new to the market, people assumed I was new to the business and treated me like a rookie. They’d say things about my sales skills and split hairs like, "We don’t call it earnest money here; we call it a trust." It was a very isolating culture. I didn't want to be known as an agent who jumps from one broker to another, so I gave it a year. But I had only five transactions in that time.
One of those transactions involved a listing agent at my current company, the local office of a national franchise. The deal started to head south, and the agent on the other side was out of the country. I went straight to her broker and enjoyed my interaction with him. That's when I started believing my new company would be a better fit. We closed to everybody’s satisfaction, and then he asked me to lunch.
I knew he was going to recruit me. But I didn't make a decision right away. I wanted to give my broker the respect he deserved and let him know I wasnt happy. We had a good conversation. He’s a great broker and he tried his best. It just wasn’t a culture fit.
Besides my current broker, I had two others recruit me. If my decision had just been about money, I’d have gone to one of the others. I guarantee I could have made more money. However, my current broker reminded me of the people where I used to live—his mindset and his philosophy. It has all worked out for the best. In my first four months with my current company, I had three closed transactions and three scheduled-to-close transactions, surpassing my sales for all of last year.
My message to brokers: Money comes and goes. I had to find a broker I felt like I could grow with.
Jean: Don’t Wing It
I was with a very small mom-and-pop shop in a New York suburb for 10 years before I affiliated with my current broker. What triggered me to begin looking was the day I was stung by a bee. I was in the ER panicked because nobody at the company was free to cover the open house I’d advertised for the next day.
But it was more than that. The broker didn't have office meetings, which was a big thing to me. They're a good place to brainstorm, bounce around ideas, and build camaraderie. And there weren’t a lot of policies. The same troubling situation would happen over and over. If you'd worked with a buyer previously and the buyer later called the office, the buyer would be directed to you. That's unless the buyer happened to call in when one of the broker's favored agents was working floor time. Then the broker would say the person doing floor time gets to claim all buyers who call in.
Also, my former broker was a selling broker. I lost business because of prospects I'd generated who didn’t understand how the business worked and called in without asking for me. I’m sure some of them thought their business somehow also benefited me. I once paid for a Google ad and later realized I wasn’t getting any leads. I believe my broker was taking all those leads.
My message to brokers: Policies, systems, and meetings are important; salespeople need information they can rely on. Also, I didn’t know how much it bothered me that my broker was competing with me until I realized I didn’t have to worry about it anymore.
Jarod: It’s Not About Money
I was at another brokerage for two years, and I've been with my current one for a year. I didn’t feel like I was getting any attention at my previous company. I'd get help if I needed a transactional or procedural question answered. But I felt like nobody was there for me when it came to how to get more business.
When I'd reach out for help, the response would be, "We'd be happy to have another salesperson coach you if you give her 10 percent of all new business for the next year.” However, they wouldn’t tell me what would be provided for that fee. It also bothered me that if I'd planted a seed with a friend or family member a year earlier and those people did business with me in the next year, that other salesperson would get 10 percent of that business, too.
My decision to leave was clinched when I crossed paths on a transaction with the owner of my current company, which is part of a national brand. He recruited me, and we had a good meeting. The second meeting was all about: "This is how we’ll grow your business." It felt like a real plan and not just a recruiting meeting. I excelled quickly here and became a branch manager. Now I'm helping others excel here, too.
My message to brokers: It's all about the people. If I switched companies again, I'd want to know whether the person recruiting me was the same person I'd work with if I needed help. I want to be where my broker has a vested interest in growing my business.