- Broker-owners who interact with clients regularly have a better handle on changes happening in the industry.
- Align with the right agents that can help build a company culture.
- Real estate isn’t about you; it’s always about the people you serve.
Even before the pandemic hit, circumstances around me were changing that forced me to change my career path. In 2018, a year before I opened my brokerage, I lost my grandmother, who was my inspiration. Around the same time, the real estate company I was with decided not to renew the building lease where I had my office. This made me think deeply about what I wanted for my future. I looked at a few companies that were trying to recruit me, but I didn’t want to make a lateral move; I wanted to make a move up. I studied the business models of various brokerages. Then, when it was time for me to launch my company, knowing everyone else’s systems, even those in other states, helped.
I wanted to create a brokerage that’s successful for the long term, even after I’m no longer a part of it. I considered not using my own name when I was choosing the name of my company, but some women in my life were actually hurt by that. Then I realized it’s about all the people who can see themselves in you and being able to show them that they can change their situation. I grew up in Houston in a working-class family without a silver spoon, but you don’t have to have a glamorous life to come into this business and build something successful.
Ebby Halliday is someone I looked up to. She built one of the most successful real estate companies in the country during a time when women didn’t do that. People need to see that you can be a woman, a person of color, and come from anywhere, but it doesn’t mean you’re “less than.” You can still make it. And when you see the name Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Tiffany Curry & Co., REALTORS®, everyone sees the person behind the brand, too.
The Only Constant in Real Estate
Real estate is constantly changing—the industry is different than when I started 15 years ago. It’s different than it was five years ago. And it has even changed since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. But one thing is constant: Real estate is never about you. It’s always about the people you serve. The tasks and solutions will evolve and progress; my company is ready to adapt, but I always come from a service mindset.
"One thing is constant: Real estate is never about you. It’s always about the people you serve. The tasks and solutions will evolve and progress; my company is ready to adapt, but I always come from a service mindset."
I look at other industries for inspiration. Take Apple, for instance—all their stores are collaborative and attractive and make you feel like you want to be there. Our agents deliver an Apple experience to their clients. I look at Facebook—there’s something there you can’t get from Instagram: It’s community, which I, too, strive to create among my agents. And I look at Amazon, the granddaddy of them all. Nowadays, all you see are Prime trucks on the road, and Amazon’s buying retail space to handle exchanges. They’ve diversified with Prime Music and Prime Video. They’re looking toward the horizon, and so am I.
Her Four Pillars
I launched my brokerage with a focus on four real estate pillars: sports and entertainment, global relocation, residential sales and development, and commercial. I want to offer an experience for clients as well as agents.
Sports and entertainment is an exclusive department, and the people who represent our brand are agents with high integrity. Houston is becoming another Atlanta with its growing film production business, and more celebrities are deciding to buy second homes here. We also help stars looking for short-term housing while they’re on location, and we serve Houston’s major sports teams.
Most international buyers relocating to Houston are from China, but they’re coming from many other countries, too. Our office, which we just opened in January, is located in the Galleria business district of Houston, an international hub with a luxury real estate market that’s attractive to buyers from across the world.
I was first drawn to real estate when I was in college, and I wanted to learn the development side of the business. I’m now seeing that goal come to fruition. I recently started working on plans to start building our first tiny home development this summer. We’re looking for land for the first phase of the project. We’re starting out small to test the reception. Tiny homes offer affordability for people being priced out of the city, especially millennials and older Gen Zs, veterans, people who can’t afford condos with association fees, and people who no longer have children at home but don’t want to move to a 55+ community. We’re going to bring a mix of people into these developments, making it a diverse, dynamic community, which will lead to less-segmented neighborhoods.
I’m also looking to expand our commercial business in two ways: by attracting business owners who want to work with other woman-owned companies and by educating owners on how they can get Small Business Administration loans to buy their own property. There’s a lot of talk about how wealth is built through real estate on the residential side. I want to teach people how they can own both their business and the location of their business— how an auto mechanic can own their own shop, or an entrepreneur can open a small hotel on a property that they buy. COVID-19 has shown us the importance of owning your own space. It gives people more options to work out an agreement or deferment if they’re impacted by challenging times.
Connecting With Clients
Just this morning, I showed houses to a former client’s mother-in-law who’s a REALTOR® relocating from another state. That’s a big deal when an agent rusts you like that. I believe broker-owners still have to get out there a few times a year; otherwise you get out of touch. If you’re not interacting with consumers and going through the motions of the transaction, then you’re not going to see the changes happening in the industry.
Some new things we’re doing at my company include recording listing presentations ahead of time and sending clients the video to review. This is where we educate them on the process, so that when the agents do their live virtual listing appointment with the sellers, it’s more of a conversation and an opportunity for the agent to listen to the clients instead of talking the entire time.
I also wanted to connect with clients through a shared passion: animals. So, I created FURever My Home, a company program where we support animal rescues and help connect clients who are interested in adopting a pet with a local shelter.
Building a Cohesive Culture
Like most of the country, my agents and I worked remotely after March 2020, due to the pandemic. I started the company in a small, open-concept 1,100-square-foot office to save money and build the company without debt. Transitioning from being an agent to owning a brokerage, I waited for the company to become profitable before taking on a higher rent. My philosophy is to operate with a monthly profit instead of debt. We moved into our new luxury office in January. We have a three-year lease that frees us to purchase land and build a facility within three years.
In the beginning, our firm was blooming. I had caller after caller seeking to join the company. We had a big uptick in agents. Things, however, didn't turn out as I’d planned. I didn't want the company to fail; therefore, I had to make tough decisions. I let more than half of our sales agents go. Companies must be aligned with the right people to succeed. For 2021, the vision is to add 12 teams and 30 individual agents who want to be part of a growing company. I want to go as far as I can with the success of our company. It’s not easy being a woman of color operating a company of this magnitude, but I am determined to reach my goals.
Training is a huge aspect of our culture. Our office includes a huge training facility with state-of-the-art equipment that agents can access. It’s a futuristic space with touch screens, high-tech virtual equipment, a collaboration area, and a modern kitchen with a hangout area and coffee bar. We offer training on everything from social media and lead generation to how to market the lifestyle a property offers, and I bring in experts from around the country. We also cross-train our agents so they learn aspects of all four pillars of our business. And we provide individual websites for all of our agents, helping them add value. I’m proud to say we made it through our first year in the black with an average sales production of $4.35 million per agent.
Raised by YPN
Early on in my career, I became heavily involved in the [National Association of REALTORS®] Young Professionals Network. I didn’t know anyone in real estate, and the successful agents at the company where I started were at different points in their lives. The 2008 recession hit, and everyone I knew in my sphere was going back to school for another degree or moving back home. They weren’t buying houses.
YPN is where I found people who encouraged me and were in similar situations. I was also able to meet young agents who had been killing it in the business since they were 18. They inspired me to keep going.
"I believe broker-owners still have to get out there a few times a year; otherwise you get out of touch."
I continued to be a full-time agent, even during the hard times, and I credit YPN for helping me do that. People who had the same struggles I had taught me how to survive, how to find business, and how to build my database and leverage social media. It became a referral network from different markets, and those referrals kept me in the business. If I didn’t have YPN, I would have left real estate. Being involved in the Houston Association of REALTORS®, the Texas Association of REALTORS®, and the National Association of REALTORS® made me feel like I was part of something, made me a better real estate professional. Now I’m here opening doors for new people as the first woman to own a BHHS brokerage in Houston and the first African American sole broker-owner of a BHHS franchise worldwide. For me, it’s a responsibility because I know what it takes to make it.