Maura Neill, ABR, CRS, had reached the brink. The award-winning team leader considers her brokers to be friends whom she “adores.” Yet Neill, who founded the Buy Sell Live Atlanta team in 2013, nearly left her brokerage earlier this year to join another company. She and her brokers had gone back and forth on an issue that left her exasperated and thinking about other options. The conflict boiled down to money and how much Neill was required to pay the brokerage to bring her mother onto her team.
Team leaders say they’re increasingly bumping heads with broker-owners over how each will maximize profitability and operate efficiently. A policy that increases revenue for a brokerage—such as charging a full desk fee for every team member, regardless of that person’s role—may stifle a team’s growth. Or a practice a team leader prefers—such as a company award system that recognizes each team member, not just the team—may not fit with the brokerage’s culture or budget.
Fear of the unknown may contribute to the problem. “I’ve noticed that companies look at adding new members to teams with a lot of trepidation,” says Sasha Farmer, CRS, GRI, owner of The Sasha Farmer Team at Montague, Miller & Co., REALTORS®, in Charlottesville, Va. “I haven’t found many companies comfortable with the team structure because it’s not easy to figure out.”
In some cases, team leaders will approach their brokers directly, as Neill did, to ask for shifts in policies or practices. But success is hardly guaranteed. And it may leave brokers worrying that a productive team could pack up and join a competitor at any point.
To reduce the chances of a sudden departure, brokers need to open the lines of conversation, proactively raising topics that team leaders may be hesitant to raise but are surely thinking about and discussing with their peers.
“It’s not that brokers need to give away the farm,” Neill says. “But this is real estate. Everything’s negotiable.”
It Is About the Money
Disputes over fees are common. In Neill’s case, her brokers had a simple policy that applied to everyone; they charged a monthly desk fee for every licensed person at the company.
Neill didn’t question the policy until her mother retired from teaching and got a license to become Neill’s part-time, nonselling assistant. The brokers’ position: Neill’s mother was licensed and subject to the fee charged for all licensees. Neill’s position: Her mother had no intention of selling; she’d only be an extra set of hands to complete paperwork, meet an agent at a showing to open the lockbox, and so on. She felt the fee, nearly $600, was unreasonable.
Neill offered to sign an agreement specifying the tasks her mother would and wouldn’t do and consenting to pay the full fee if her mother expanded her role. Ultimately, the issue was resolved, but Neill calls the initial standoff a “huge frustration.”
Desk fees aren’t the only money issue that can arise. In other cases, there are challenges over the split each team member will earn, says Brian Copeland, CRS, GRI, coaching consultant and team leader at the Nashville and Beyond Team at Village Real Estate.
Copeland sees both sides. If the company recruits an agent who then joins a team within the brokerage, he sees a justification for the brokerage setting the fee. However, if a team leader brings in someone from outside the industry and carries the weight of training that agent, the team leader may be justified in asking for a lower fee, Copeland says. That may hurt the broker’s bottom line, he acknowledges, but it’s a matter of fair play. “Team leaders and brokers need to work hand in hand.”
Reinventing the Wheel
Frustration can also stem from the legal and operational complexities of launching a team. Team leaders say brokers are sometimes less than helpful in the face of important decisions, such as whether to make team members employees or independent contractors or whether contract templates are available for team leaders to customize.
When Alyce Dailey started The Dailey Group, now at Keller Williams Gateway in Baltimore, she had many questions about how to structure and build her team. She says her previous broker didn’t know the answers to some of those questions. Other teams at the company were also trying to feel their way through the issues. That forced Dailey to begin researching the topics on her own. “We went outside our brokerage so much,” Dailey says. “We were all re-creating the wheel, and it felt really silly.”
What’s Your Role? Ask
Brokers sometimes assume a team leader would prefer that they not “meddle” in team relationships. That may be a faulty assumption.
“I’m not a broker, and I don’t want to be one,” says Justin Havre, leader of Justin Havre & Associates at RE/MAX First Calgary in Canada. “My broker pops into our team meetings and asks if we have questions. He says to my team members, ‘If you ever have a question, call me.’ He’s constantly interacting with my agents. He’s even come with us when we’ve done team events, like white-water rafting.”
Farmer recommends that brokers, at the very least, test the presumption that team leaders want to keep them at arm’s length. Ask team leaders, “Who do you want your team to call with concerns about a transaction or questions regarding marketing?” Also talk about how involved you should be in their team members’ training, business planning, and goal-setting—and whether you have a role in holding team members accountable for meeting their goals.
Who Gets Recognized?
Brokers may inadvertently be causing frustration by the way they dole out kudos. To avoid hurt feelings, talk with team leaders to find out how the current sales award system is working for them. There can be hurt feelings about “how they’re recognized on social media and in advertising,” Copeland says. “Some brokerages list John Smith as the number one salesperson. But he’s got five people working for him. They’re not mentioned, and they say, ‘What gives?’ ”
When Havre broached that topic and didn’t feel heard, it triggered his departure to a new company. He says his former broker told team leaders they couldn’t invite their entire team to the company’s recognition events; Havre could bring just three of his 20 team members to the luncheon and only one to the dinner. Havre asked the company to reconsider. “Essentially I was told not to stare a gift horse in the mouth,” he recalls.
Disagreements over technology systems might be trickier to resolve. Brokers should be aware of how current systems and tools are working at the team level. At his previous company, Gary Ashton was required to use the company’s transaction management system, though he wasn’t a fan. “As the leader of the team, I had to adhere to what somebody else thought was best for us,” says Ashton, founder of The Ashton Real Estate Group of RE/MAX Advantage in Nashville.
It falls to team leaders to raise many of these policy issues, Copeland says, though he hopes brokers will meet them halfway. “When a team member or leader gives you a suggestion, please be open to it. Just because you’ve done something for 10 or 15 years, it doesn’t mean changing it will affect your bottom line.”