3 Brokers: Hanging With Competitors

Local rivals discuss the value of collaboration, lessons from disruption, and the need to find the right home for agents.
Samone Ekholm, Long Doan, Claire Killen (left to right)

© Daniel Petermann

The broker-owners (left to right): Samone Ekholm | Broker-owner: 8 years | Licensed: 17 years | Number of agents: 75 | Keller Williams Premier Realty South Suburban, Apple Valley, Minn | weare.kw.com. Long Doan | Broker-owner: 10 years | Licensed: 12 years (mortgage broker-owner for 15 years prior) | Number of agents: 350+ | Realty Group Inc., Coon Rapids, Minn. | realtygroupmn.com. Claire Killen, ABR, SFR | Broker-owner: 9 years | Licensed: 16 years | Number of agents: 3 | Emerald Real Estate, Edina, Minn. | emerald-realestate.com

From three corners of the Twin Cities market, brokers Long Doan, Samone Ekholm, and Claire Killen gathered on a chilly afternoon at Edwards Dessert Kitchen in Minneapolis to talk shop. Although they had never met before, the three real estate veterans bonded over their shared values, including their tenacious work ethic and strong relationships with peers. While undoubtedly they are competitors, all three see networking as an opportunity to learn best practices, solve problems, and call out unethical business dealings in their common market. Here are highlights from their conversation in this second in a series of broker conversations around the country.

Collaboration vs. Competition

Claire: We need collaboration to maintain professionalism in the industry. There are disruptors coming in like the iBuyer movement, and we need to talk about that together. I network at local association events but also at national and international real estate events. I take in those different perspectives from different markets. But locally, I want to know what other agents’ and brokers’ approaches are.

Long: I look at you [both] more as peers than competitors. In our industry, you eventually become my partner in a transaction. At the end of the day, we’re giving our clients an experience. I always look up the agent on the other side of the deal so that I know whether I should put on my partnership hat or mentorship hat. We want to make sure all clients have the right experience.

Claire: We don’t want to let the other side down, either. We want all clients to see that we go above and beyond. We’re together on that.

Samone: And you never know when you’re going to run into an agent again. Yes, we’re competitors in that we own different brokerages, but honestly, one of my agents might join your brokerage one day and vice versa. We do business where we live. You want to make sure you’re doing the best you can and modeling that for the agents on the other side of the table and at your company.

Promoting Competence

Samone: How do we, as brokers, teach our agents to put their clients before their commission—especially the agents who aren’t the top producers?

Long: I tell them that one bad experience with an agent affects us all. We’re constantly out there defending our commission to clients who say, “Why am I paying you X percent when my last agent didn’t do anything?” I feel like I’m always fixing someone else’s problem.

Samone: When I was first licensed, I didn’t know anything. I was, a week out of school, negotiating in a multiple offer [situation]. I remember delivering the offer and sweating because I’d never done it before. New agents need someone to mentor or train them. We’re very training-focused when we bring new people into an office.

Long: I’ll add that it doesn’t always matter how long you’ve been licensed; it’s more about your experience level. I had a transaction with an agent who’d been licensed 25 years, but she only does about one transaction a year. She told me, “Long, I don’t have to do that,” on something that was pretty serious. I don’t care how long you’ve been licensed, if you’re using the wrong agency disclosure form or something like that, it’s hurting the business.

Claire: Sometimes I think the technology we have is making people lazy. With e-signatures, for example, agents don’t always go through everything with clients. I’ll say to my customers, “I’ll send it to you electronically, but can I go over it with you first?” I’m particular—sometimes to a fault—but always to the benefit of my clients.

Learning From Disruption

Long: We have more competitors coming in from outside the industry, and our consumers’ behavior is changing. We have to figure out how to raise the standard. We require agents do eight transactions or more a year to sell independently—if they do less than eight, they have to agree to be on a team or work with a mentor. We also don’t take part-timers.

Claire: I agree with you, but there can be a shift in the other direction, too. We need to provide an experience above and beyond what our clients can get online. Taxi drivers were disrupted because their service was terrible, and someone saw an opportunity [for a ride-sharing app]. Now we’re in the middle of change in real estate. How we respond to that is going to affect the direction of our industry.