At the height of the 2007 real estate crisis, Anthony Askowitz, broker-owner of RE/MAX Advance Realty in Miami, received a phone call from a high-performing agent interested in joining his team.
Askowitz had already invested significant time and energy cultivating an office culture free of negativity, and he knew hiring this agent—no matter how high-performing—could jeopardize that environment. “This decision could have changed the financial course of my office at the time, but the short-term, Band-Aid fix wasn’t worth the long-term consequences,” Askowitz says.
Likewise, Jen Ortman, broker-owner of Berkshire Hathaway Visions Realty in the Chicago suburb of Barrington, Ill., recognized early on that the success of her brokerage depended on the environment she created. “If you surround yourself with people who lack motivation and don’t care, that rubs off.”
Both brokers believe in creating and maintaining a positive, open atmosphere where their agents know they can trust each other and have the opportunity to thrive. Here are tangible tips any broker can implement to create a more positive, cohesive office environment.
Establish a Detailed Vetting Process
Creating office culture starts with hiring like-minded people, which means they should be in the business for similar reasons. Both Askowitz and Ortman, in this case, believe in hiring agents who are in the business full-time and have a desire to produce.
A comprehensive vetting process can help determine if an agent will fit in with the company culture. Ortman starts with a phone call and asks pointed questions about why an agent is in the business and what his or her long-term goals are. She’s also up front about how her office is run. “Only one in 10 prospective agents make it through the phone call process,” she says.
Askowitz prefers face-to-face communication to start. He interviews the agent, and gives the agent a chance to interview him. “We talk about their goals in the first few minutes, and I’m up front about my office’s no-negativity policy,” he says.
Promote Trust Through Open Communication and Teamwork
Ortman reinforces from the beginning that agents are not her employees but contractors in charge of their own success. In essence, she shows that both parties are on equal footing. “We’re here to support, develop, and grow our agents,” she says.
Similarly, both brokers also know that teamwork means success for all involved. “The strength in our company comes from what I call the athlete’s approach,” Askowitz explains. “I hire top producers who are like-minded and positive, and they affect one another.”
In Ortman’s firm, rather than work in separate offices, her agents crowd into the conference room to work together. “All of our agents feel 100 percent comfortable that the other agents in the office are not working against them but with them,” she says.
Nurture Growth Through Education
A robust, goal-oriented group of agents bring a diverse skill set to any brokerage. Agents often excel in a specific area
Askowitz and Ortman believe that when agents share insights on their areas of expertise, the brokerage becomes stronger and any animosity that might exist is lifted. In Askowitz’s office, agents regularly teach classes to help one another hone different skills. In Ortman’s office, ideas are shared at meetings between agents, and questions are encouraged. “If one agent has a great marketing plan and other agents are interested in learning how it works, they talk about it,” she says.
Outside education is just as important. Recently, Askowitz had a professional writer come in and teach his agents how to better tell their story, which helps them relate to their clients on a more personal level.
Cultivate Ethical Practices and Respect for the Business
When agents are held to high ethical standards and encouraged to represent their work in a professional manner, little room is left for negativity. “We represent our clients with honesty and respect, everyone is treated with courtesy, and we train each agent individually on how to deal with each and every offer that might come through on a transaction,” Ortman says.
Askowitz fosters a sense of community through charitable contributions and respect for the industry. “I tell my agents that when they’re out in the field, if they see a For Sale sign hanging in the wind, about to fall to the ground, it doesn’t matter which company the sign belongs to. Fix the sign,” he says. Additionally, all of Askowitz’s agents donate a portion of each transaction to the local children’s hospital.
Both Ortman and Askowitz understand their own conduct and standards set the tone for the agents in their offices. Leading by example—exuding positivity, ethical responsibility, and trust—have helped both brokers build thriving, confident offices. “You have to develop and cultivate the culture of your office and stick to your values no matter what,” Askowitz says.