Should You Join A Real Estate Team? Dueling Perspectives...

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Teams, groups, collectives — whatever you call them, they make “traditional agents” reach for that second glass of wine, and before it’s drained, we’re wondering why we’re surprised another transaction went south: “If teams are so damn good, why aren’t they any good?”

As agents, we should be extremely supportive of one another. In fact, two of my favorite agents in my local market lead teams, and they are some of the savviest agents and client-centric businesses around. That said, it is evident that they are not the norm.

We need to constantly take a hard look at how we do things, why we do them and where we can improve. I have dealt with a plethora of teams and collected immense feedback from agents/brokerages, and it is undeniable that we experience consistent issues specifically related to the team model.

Doesn’t every model have its own issues? Yes. But these new issues don’t absolve the problems of traditional agency, they append new problems on top of what is already there.

What’s in a team?

First, let’s define what I mean by “team.”

“A real estate team is a group of agents working under a common brand with segmented skill sets and responsibilities.”

Specifically, let’s visualize a team leader, with multiple buyer’s agents underneath him or her, along with a support staff of listing coordinators, contract coordinators, etc.

Here’s my concern with the team model: I don’t believe it was birthed by asking how we can best serve our clients, nor has it flourished and produced better agents under its popularity.

Rather, it is a product of how we as agents can do more business, earn more commissions and control our own people without becoming principal brokers.

Debunking myths

Let’s explore three myths associated with teams:

  • Teams are specialized in their roles.
  • Agents advance under the mentorship of their team leader.
  • Because the team works together, they implement better systems.

Specialization

Teams are a specialized group of agents, so they say.

For example, a buyer’s agent works with only buyers. Because I work with buyers and sellers, I know both sides to this real estate coin.

As a result, my skills as a listing agent are sharpened against the blade of my skills working with buyers. Are my offer-writing skills better because I also understand the mind of sellers? Yes.

Knowing this, would I ever hire someone to help me buy a house who had never actually sold a house? No.

When teams say specialization, what we experience is limitation. The one thing teams are specialized in is finding themselves in conflicts-of-interest with clients exponentially more often than traditional agents, but that is an article for another day.

Finally, administrative help is obviously very important, but when contract coordinators try to negotiate inspection repairs on a property they have never even been to, I have a problem.

Until there are scratch-and-sniff inspection reports, how will they understand the mildewy funk in the basement? Or understand the gravity of repairing the fence when Cujo lives next door?

More than just the house, real estate is context and lifestyle. As such, there is no substitute for a quality agent shepherding his or her client through every step, coffee-to-close.

More than just the house, real estate is context and lifestyle.

Advancement

One thing’s true about real estate: It’s easy to get a license and difficult to make a career.

I fear the team model attracts new agents because it helps them get busy fast — growing someone else’s business.

They often start as buyer’s agents — the bottom of the pyramid — with opportunity to advance over time to learn other skills and maybe, someday, start a team of their own. Except this rarely happens.

Are all the buyer’s agents from three years ago the team leaders crushing it today? No. Why? Where are they?

Most of them fizzled out, mainly because it is difficult to split your commission more than once, all while not learning how to be anything other than a buyer’s agent.

By nature, the system’s design restricts the advancement of new agents, though maybe not intentionally.

Much like network marketing companies, new recruits are introduced to a high-energy team, work their asses off, realize only the person at the top makes a lot of money and eventually fade away.

Why don’t we just leave the pyramid scheme to makeup and vitamin companies?

If people don’t automatically trust you, and subsequently you’re forced to rely on a team leader people actually do trust, you are in the wrong business.

Trust trumps everything. Your skills will improve in time. So in the meantime, get a mentor from your office. No one willing to mentor you? You’re at the wrong office.

If you are the trustworthy, hardworking agent who started a team, when someone calls you to help them buy a house, and you say, “Let me introduce you to my buyer’s agent over here,” how does that make the customer feel?

After all, they wanted to work with you. They trust you. They didn’t call your buyer’s agent, but you.

But since you only work with sellers — because who has ever heard of a team leader specializing in buyers — this is what your model does.

It’s the same reason we don’t switch mechanics, dentists, etc. Don’t make consumers switch agents. Take business you’re qualified for, and refer out what you are not.

Systems

If there is one constant thread of grumbling in the real estate community regarding teams, it’s bad systems.

Who is the representative? Who am I negotiating with? Who’s in charge? Who am I supposed to be talking to? Why does this agent I’ve never heard of want to make sure he or she is listed on the paperwork?

These are the sort of questions and comments I see in threads all the time.

Don’t get me wrong! I and other “traditional agents” are all for well-run teams, but as my favorite agent “on the street” in Tacoma, Washington, has said, the mythical well-run team is a unicorn in our industry.

Bad agents will be bad agents whether they are on teams or not, but at least we knew who we were dealing with before. Now we have too many cooks in the kitchen.

Final thoughts

Are teams the evolutionary result of a stagnant industry desperately needing change? I hope not.

Rather, I hope we’re in the middle of an evolutionary shift where we learn new things, try new things and push ourselves to something new. But this can’t be it.

Team leaders sometimes resemble the guy at the gym who loudly asks how much you can bench, while also skipping leg day each week.

To be the fittest agent, you can’t neglect half of the market. Working your triceps will help your biceps grow stronger, so working with sellers will strengthen your skills with buyers — and vice versa.

To the buyer’s agents who are closing 50 transactions a year and splitting their commission twice: Why not do half of those transactions for a year, splitting your commission once, and implement a strategy to grow your listings the coming year?

Lose the pyramid and false impression of mentorship, advancement and a fruitful career under this model. We’ve seen what teams can do; I’m not impressed, and my glass is more than half empty.

Read Charlie Peterson's full article on Inman.com.