As we slide into the fourth quarter of the year, a period when many agents will consider whether to leave their current brokerage, a few topics are on brokers’ minds: agent retention, bracing for a market slowdown and optimizing cash flow.
For the past five years, Barb Betts, broker-owner of The RECollective in Long Beach, Calif., has been operating what she calls a “teamerage”—a brokerage that acts as a real estate team. Under the teamerage concept, she and her husband manage 16 agents, two full-time staff members and one part-time employee.
The teamerage model combines the best of what a brokerage and a real estate team have to offer, Betts told brokers at a Sunday session during NAR NXT, The REALTOR® Experience in Orlando, Fla. Agents walk into a full-service experience with the resources and close-knit relationships of a team at their disposal. They also have access to the oversight and guidance of an active and involved broker.
“My agents got to gain independence while keeping all of the benefits of a team. I didn’t make it about me anymore,” Betts said. “So many agents on your teams are tired of it being about you.” The teamerage, she continued, is a solution that allows agents to grow with the broker rather than growing away from the broker.
Betts said the model isn’t just a boon for agents, though. The teamerage design is paying dividends in agent retention, ease of operation and financial returns and fostering a truly symbiotic relationship. The model might just be an option for indie brokers to thrive during the market downturn.
How the Teamerage Model Is Built
Betts said the teamerage model isn’t one that can be thrown together quickly. Processes, support and systems need to be firmly established and enforced in order for it to work. Agents need access to education and training, end-to-end support during the transaction, and a robust marketing structure. With that in mind, Betts’ two full-time staff members and an additional part-time assistant help agents in all aspects of their businesses. “By the time an agent lists a home, they have a complete marketing package ready to go,” she said. “My team creates social media posts, flyers, sends monthly newsletters, assists in the transaction and helps out with events.”
Agents should be completely focused on selling homes, she said, which is one reason she has a staff dedicated to every other aspect of the business. “The brokerage pays for everything for the agents to generate business relationally, and I teach, coach and mentor them on how to work a database,” Betts said, noting that neither she nor her agents buy leads, door knock or cold call. This method can be costly to the broker, she allows. Paying the costs for full-time staff, marketing materials and systems like a CRM for agents, a Slack channel for companywide communication, and planning tools is a heavy lift, but she’s found that the cost is worth it.
Full-time Staff Changes the Game
With three dedicated staff members, Betts says her agents can focus completely on selling real estate, and she can focus on running a brokerage without having to worry about whether things are in order. It also means agent retention is high. “Staff support is crucial in a teamerage, because all I want my agents to do is go build relationships and sell houses,” Betts said. “A team cannot afford a highly paid director of operations, but my brokerage can, and it makes a difference.”
Her agents know that staff members are at their disposal for everything from marketing to transaction assistance. Agents are trained to use the staff to their advantage, which streamlines business practices and provides oversight. In return, staffers are highly trained in compliance, marketing and day-to-day operations, giving Betts confidence that her business can run smoothly without her direct supervision when she’s needed elsewhere.
There are clear-cut boundaries, though, so agents do not misuse or abuse staff time. Staff members also understand that Betts, as the broker, is their point of contact. “Agents are provided a list of everything staff will do for them. My staff has clear boundaries on what they can and cannot do—and when they don’t know, they come back to me to ask,” she said.
Betts says all communication is done through the web app Slack. She has it set up so that agents can ask questions, track transaction progress and ask for staff members to assist with any number of issues. “I have my agents so trained to use Slack that they don’t communicate with me any other way,” Betts said.
Using the app for all communications gives Betts unparalleled access to what her agents and staff are doing, which streamlines compliance and allows her to jump in when needed. “When the Department of Real Estate here in California wants to know something specific, it’s all documented right there in Slack,” she said. “If something goes awry with a transaction or there’s an emergency situation with an agent and I need to jump in, I just have one of my staff add me to the Slack channel and I can jump in right where the agent left off.”
Betts uses Brokermint for making commission payments to agents. “You need to have a way to track commissions and ensure you’re paying your team members correctly. In my teamerage, we have a graduated commissions-based structure, and again, this is where team compliance is done well because my agents don’t have to be in Brokermint at all. My staffer provides full agent support.”Betts noted that the teamerage model does have a few hangups. It’s not easily scalable because she’s so hands-on as a broker, and the team model means that culture is of utmost importance. If someone doesn’t fit the culture, they have to go—no questions asked, she said. Still, she’s found that the most common hangups indie brokers face seem to be solved through the teamerage model, as long as boundaries, systems and processes are clear, followable and adhered to by all involved.