Big or Small: What it Takes to Run a Successful Brokerage

Running a brokerage is a goal for many real estate professionals. Whether it’s a big brokerage with thousands of agents or a boutique firm, it takes time, patience and perseverance to operate one successfully.
African American man talking to business colleagues

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For many real estate agents, starting a brokerage is the dream. Professionals make their way into the business and operate at full steam, gathering knowledge and information from mentors and industry veterans. A brokerage stands out as a sign that an industry professional “made it.”

Real estate agents might view this as the pinnacle of achievement, but they might not fully understand how to run a successful brokerage. After all, even with the counsel of longtime industry professionals, it’s hard to know what it really means to be a broker until one is in the position.

Two real estate brokers reveal what it took to build their brokerages, the mistakes they made, the skills and strengths that helped them make their dreams come true and what they do to keep stress at bay. They say it hasn’t always been easy, but it has been worth the ride.

Gaining Knowledge and Working Hard

Years ago, Jay Marks jumped out of airplanes. He served 10 years as a sergeant and paratrooper in the United States Army. The discipline and work ethic that the army commanded taught him he could do almost anything.

After working as a real estate agent from 1993 to 2016, Marks opened Jay Marks Real Estate in Flower Mound, Texas.

“I spent the first two months being afraid and worried,” he says. “But then I was surprised at how easy it was. I thought to myself, ‘Why didn’t I do this earlier?’”

He might wish he’d opened his own brokerage sooner, but he doesn’t regret the knowledge and friendships he accumulated over his two decades working at other companies. He believes humility helped him grow his bottom line and stay sane through the market’s ups and downs.

“We have worked very hard to establish this business,” he says. “We are very grateful.”

He says “we” when talking about the beginnings of his brokerage because he includes his marketing director Kari Lambert, who has worked with him since 2012.

“Jay has a passion for teaching and inspiring,” she says. “He loves helping agents be creative so they can get offers accepted. Our agents value that he is so accessible as our broker. In other brokerages, it’s not the same case.”

Instilling Teamwork and Collaboration

Marks knows that he and Lambert have been a great match in business, and the partnership exemplifies the symbiotic relationship he fosters in his brokerage. He’s recently hired his fifth and sixth agents to the company.

“Everyone here is a team. We know each other well, and the people (staff and clients) who come here are absolutely supported by all of us,” Marks says.

Marks believes in the power of education and collaborative learning, so he offers trainings and partners with local professionals in adjacent industries—title companies, attorneys and plumbers, for example—to help his team gain insight into all sides of real estate.

“Knowledge is power. We are constantly working, training and getting up to speed,” he adds.

He also knows that to be a good leader he needs to show those who work with him that he cares about them, and they matter both in the business and as people.

“I make them feel loved as I hold them accountable. I got those skills from the army. It taught me about learning, leading, loving and caring,” he says.

Finding Balance Between Work and Home

Lambert admits that Marks had been a workaholic for a long time after starting his brokerage.

“We used to tell Jay he needed a hobby. He would only do real estate,” she says.

Now, he and his wife own a cabin on 2.5 acres. They have a boat, four-wheeler, a garden and grill. They go to the cabin every weekend to stave off stress and get in some quality time.

“We cook out, fish and play with our grandchildren,” he says.

Quality time for Marks means taking the time to nourish himself and spend time with loved ones. He grew up in Oklahoma, so he believes in starting his day with a healthy breakfast of eggs and grapefruit.

“Sometimes, I throw in fried potatoes and bacon. I take a hot shower, eat breakfast and have a really fun conversation with my wife about our day,” he says.

Building a Dream Brokerage in Service to the Agent

Before Harley opened Fathom Holdings in 2010, he noticed agents needed more than fancy logos and a well-known name. They needed better splits, more support and leads. If not leads, then they at least needed the technology that would help them generate and convert more leads into clients.

“There is real value in what a brokerage offers, but it is not worth 30 percent or even 15 percent of the commission on a sale. That inspired me to start Fathom Realty,” he says.

He wanted to build a company that provided all the tools, technology, training and support of the largest traditional brokerage, but at a fixed flat amount that offered the strongest value exchange possible for the agent.

“This concept places more power back into the hands of the agents and gives them a greater ability to invest more into their business, generating more leads and closings, or simply taking home more income to their families,” he adds.

Fathom operates in 38 states with headquarters in Cary, N.C. Under the Fathom umbrella are several real estate related services that Harley runs. First is Fathom Realty, which includes a team of over 9,000 agents. A full-service brokerage offering every available asset to his team, Harley also manages mortgage lending, title, insurance and tech brands under the name.

Bridging Important Training Gaps

To Harley, one of the most surprising aspects of the business was the lack of training for agents, specifically training on how to sell a home.

“You learn about laws and contracts while getting your license and how to access the MLS and hold opens houses from your new brokers,” he says. “But if you want to learn how to sell, then you need to hire a coach which is too expensive for most new agents.”

He said he was personally affected by this lack of knowledge, noting that it created many hurdles for him when he set up his brokerage, especially when it came to helping other agents generate leads.

“I quickly learned that I had to either train each agent on how to sell, which cannot be scaled effectively without a sizable upfront investment, or I had to find ways to streamline my operation and reduce costs in order to make the lower return on investment worthwhile,” he adds. “I went with the latter options, and while it was not ideal, it paid off.”

Leading With Service in Mind

He believes strongly in the principle of servant leadership, a management style steeped in fostering and giving back to community.

“It requires that you place others first and serve their needs with the desire of helping them be their best,” he adds.

In doing so, he says three things happen:

  • People lean into the best versions of themselves, and as a result, the whole organization improves.
  • Serving others creates a deep sense of mutual respect and loyalty, which manifests itself in a strong culture and an improved retention rate of talented people.
  • Your organization grows because your people become evangelists for the company.
“Leadership matters,” Harley comments. “It matters more than people realize. For a brokerage to run well, it requires true servant leaders at every level of the organization, especially at the level that directly serves your agents, as that is where the culture is put into practice.”