Ty and Carmen Williams have a mantra: “Take care of people, and they’ll take care of you.” That belief system attracted clients and agents alike to their fledgling brokerage, R.J. Williams and Company in Fort Worth, Texas, which grew to more than 60 agents in three years.
Yet despite their company’s tremendous growth, it was challenging for them to keep up with the demand of the buyers and sellers in their market. In 2019, Fort Worth became the 13th largest city in the United States, edging out San Francisco and Columbus, Ohio. That’s why they began to envision partnering with other brokers and taking a three-pronged approach to real estate.
They teamed up with former oil and gas landsman Will Northern, who switched fields in 2010 and fell into the world of zoning and commercial real estate as he helped energy companies with assemblages in the Barnett Shale area around Fort Worth. His brokerage, Northern Realty Group, eventually grew to a 50–50 split of residential and commercial sales; the firm also had a successful property management component.
Rounding out the group is former George W. Bush administration official Michael Crain, a property management expert. Despite having vowed that they’d never move back to Fort Worth, Crain and his wife altered course when they realized that the city’s recent breakneck growth and down-home values made it an ideal place to relaunch professionally and personally. After returning to Texas, Crain got his real estate license in 2015.
The merger has resulted in Williams Northern Crain (WNC), which opened its doors October 1, 2019. The new brokerage aims to be a one-stop shop for locals who need help buying and selling in both residential and commercial real estate, as well as fulfilling property management needs.
“With the growth in Fort Worth, it just makes sense to be everything we can be to all our clients,” Crain says. “We have people moving into Fort Worth every day and they need houses, they want to set up businesses, and they want to build wealth through investment properties.”
Agents as Specialists in Their Field
While the company will offer a trio of services, the agents will each specialize in one area—residential, overseen by Ty Williams; commercial, with Northern at the helm; or property management, led by Crain. “We want our agents to have extreme competence in their chosen specialty,” says Northern. “We want them to choose a path and practice to perfect. So, each agent has to hang their license with one specific practice of real estate.”
The benefit of the three-in-one setup will emerge when agents originate deals outside their specialty. For example, it’s not uncommon for a residential agent to be asked to take on a commercial deal for a friend or past client, says Northern. From there, two paths typically emerge: the agent agrees but may end up working out of their depth; alternatively, the agent may refer the business out because they don’t feel comfortable taking it on. In either case, both the agent and client lose.
At WNC, the residential agent would be paired up with a commercial mentor who walks them through the mechanics of the deal. The residential agent would feel supported and confident throughout and—importantly—they would keep and build on the original relationship that led to the transaction, explains Northern.
Over time, the founders believe this cross-pollination model will strengthen all three sides of the business. It will also provide transparency for agents who are considering a switch in specialties. The transition to commercial real estate can be especially costly, says Crain, and it’s helpful for residential agents to gain a window into the capital and connections that may be needed to successfully make the switch.
Mentors as Leaders and Brand Champions
The mentorship program will extend beyond single cross-specialty transactions. The identified mentors within each specialty will also work to train and support junior agents in the long-term.
“We’re trying to bring the average up in the industry, by giving [our agents] a true coaching and mentorship program where they actually have a partner in the business,” says Williams.
The key to the success of the mentorship program is to look at leadership potential and not just sales numbers, adds Williams. “Mentors need to be great trainers and great leaders, not just great salespeople.” To ensure each mentor is up to the task, they’ll be asked to complete double the minimum education hours required annually by their association.
Selecting these types of go-to agents as mentors has also benefited the company as it worked under cloak and dagger to make the change to WNC. Aside from a small advisory council of mentors, most agents from the original brokerages were not aware of the merger in advance of the Oct. 1 launch date.
In addition to working as internal, post-launch brand champions, the mentors helped with myriad logistical details during the transition, from updating signs and email signatures to buyer representation agreements and listing agreements.
Challenges and a Glimpse Ahead
The founders admit that the development of the mentorship program and the secrecy behind the merger have been the two most stressful parts of developing the new model.
Despite the stress, Crain is confident that the firm’s branding and model will better serve agents and clients alike. “I know that this will be a better product, place, and brokerage for our agents. What we’re placing in front of them is going to help them get more properties and more sales,” says Crain.
A Peek into the Company’s Systems and Tools
The founders agree that their distinctive business model means there is no one-size-fits-all platform to serve their needs. Still, they have identified the tools that best satisfy the needs of their agent specialists.
1. WNC agents are each given a Kunversion CRM account, with a lead generation website, relationship management tools, and an app to help them manage their businesses on the go.
2. For tracking transactions and commission disbursement, the company chose Back Agent for its ease of use and the guidance it offers new and experienced agents. Mentors will use the step-by-step processes to help newer agents understand how contracts are developed and completed, says Williams.
3. Agents have been provided secure, encrypted email addresses. In order to help ensure that agents don’t default to Gmail or other less secure options, agents must include this professional email address on their business cards, says Williams.
4. Appfolio is the chosen software for the property management arm of the company. The product offers transparent but customized portals for property owners and managers, explains Northern.