By Dan Provost
Barbara O’Connor has spent most of her 20-year real estate career at Baird & Warner. Today, though, she is the managing broker at the Lincoln Square office of Chicago’s Dream Town Realty, a position she’s held since May. In between, for about a year and a half, O’Connor worked at Koenig & Strey Real Living Real Estate. Moving from one brokerage to another is never an easy process.
It’s especially difficult for agents who’ve spent most of their careers at one brokerage.
Moving to a new office requires agents to learn a whole new set of procedures and master new office politics. But for a mostly one-brokerage veteran to make two moves in less than two years? That’s certainly a challenge, too.
But O’Connor said that her moves were painless. She also said that making the switch to her current brokerage has provided her with all the benefits – for example, the chance to manage an office – for which she had hoped.
There’s a simple reason for this: O’Connor planned both of her moves carefully.
“You can’t move from one brokerage to another on the fly,” O’Connor said. “A lot of thought has to be put into how you transition your business without missing a beat. When you have a large business with a lot of clients, you have to determine how you can leave a company and make sure that your clients are going to follow you.”
This sounds simple, but it’s the key to making the switch from one brokerage to another a smooth one. Those agents who plan carefully and make sure to study the rules of both their soon-to-be former brokerage and their new real estate firm will find that moving to a new company needn’t be an overly stressful experience.
Making the tough decisions
Betty Cunningham spent nearly 10 years as a real estateagent working with RE/MAX Northern Illinois. However,in 2010, she made the tough decision to move her business to the Schaumburg office of Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage.
There was a serious reason behind this move: the economy.
“Given the economy, the move was a smart decision business-wise,” Cunningham said. “When you work with RE/MAX, you have a monthly bill that you have to pay. Whether you sell any houses or not, you still pay that bill. I have the mindset that I don’t want to owe anybody anything. That way I can sleep at night. I didn’t want to leave RE/MAX. I love RE/MAX. But I couldn’t afford to be there in this economy.”
The reason behind Cunningham’s move strictly was about the survival of her real estate business, and not for trivial reasons. That’s important. When agents move from one brokerage to another for the right reasons, it makes the transition an easier one to make. That’s because agents know that real rewards, usually financial, are waiting for them once they set up shop at their new offices.
Cunningham also chose her new real estate brokerage carefully. She chose Coldwell Banker for several reasons. First, she actually worked at the Schaumburg office of Coldwell Banker once before, having logged time there from 1995 to 2000.
Secondly, and more importantly, she knew that Coldwell Banker was large enough to provide her with the advantages she needed in today’s challenging residential real estate market.
This includes the brokerage’s busy marketing department. Cunningham can access a wealth of printed and online marketing tools, everything from newsletters to email blasts to brochures, now that she’s at Coldwell Banker.
And all of these marketing materials are available to agents free of charge.
“I am quite happy with Coldwell Banker,” Cunningham said. “They have some really phenomenal tools for agents. If you don’t use them, you’re silly. They have marketing gurus here who are top-notch. They go beyond the call of duty.”
Despite her past experience with Coldwell Banker, Cunningham was careful not to jump back to the brokerage without first doing her research. And this is a key to making a successful transition, too; rushing from one brokerage to another without doing homework can leave agents with a serious case of career remorse.
Before making her move back to Coldwell Banker, Cunningham interviewed with several other real estate brokerages. Her goal was to find the best company for her with the least amount of frustration.
Keeping the Clients
No real estate agents want to move to new brokerages only to find that many of their clients have stayed behind with their old brokerage.
For Cunningham, that didn’t happen. The vast majority of her clients have followed her to Coldwell Banker. But the work to prevent a mass defection of clients took place over a long career – one that’s stretched for two decades, in Cunnigham’s case.
Agents who’ve served their clients well during their careers will find that the majority of their clients will follow them as they move to a new brokerage. Those that haven’t? They might lose more than a few.
“I’ve been selling for 20 years,” Cunningham said. “My clients don’t care what real estate company’s name is behind me. They want to know what I can do for them. When I move, they want to know if I’m still going to be able to provide them with the same service I’ve always given them. When I tell them that I will, then they’re more than happy to come with me.”
It’s important, too, for agents to let their clients know that they have moved to a new brokerage. There’s no guarantee that agents’ old brokerages will forward this information to past clients who call.
It’s imperative, then, for agents to send out mailers and emails to their client list informing them of their move to a new brokerage.
But what about those agents who have active listings with one brokerage? What happens to those listings when these agents transition to a new real estate firm?
That’s a tricky question, and one of the most important that agents have to consider when making a move to a new firm. After all, agents who have to leave listings behind can lose a significant amount of potential dollars.
Unfortunately, it’s a question that doesn’t come with only one answer. The fate of agents’ listings depends on what kind of contracts these agents signed with their soon-to-be ex-brokerages.
In most instances, listings are the property of the brokerages for which agents work. This means that agents, when they move to a new brokerage, will have to leave their listings behind.
However, agents can prevent this from happening when they first join with a new brokerage. It is at this time that agents can negotiate different clauses in their contracts. Agents might be able to convince their new brokerages to include language in their contracts that allows them to take their listings with them when they move from one brokerage to another. Of course, to make this happen, agents may have to be willing to pay some financial penalty in the form of providing a portion of the commission once the listing sells to their former brokerage house.
This points out another important step that agents need to take before moving to a new brokerage: they have to make sure that they’ve carefully read both the contracts and policies at their current brokerages and those at the real estate firm that they plan on joining.
This, says Dream Town’s O’Connor, can prevent agents from experiencing any unexpected surprises in the future. “What is the policy of the company?” O’Connor asks. “You need to read your contract when joining companies.
You need to read their manuals. You need to know what your contract reads with your current company so that you know what kind of dollars are being left behind due to an agreement that you signed, possibly many, many years ago. I’ve seen people who are leaving and they never go back to that contract. Then they realize that they have to give money back. That adds stress moving forward.”
O’Connor also emphasizes the need for agents to always provide top service to their clients. This will make any transition easier because agents’ clients will then be more likely to follow them to their new brokerages. And any transition is easier when agents can rely on a steady stream of business, and the dollars that stream brings, when they set up shop in a new office.
That reservoir of business, at least, is what has helped O’Connor following both her moves to Koenig & Strey and to her current position at Dream Town.
“You want your clients to be so happy working with you that you are not going to miss a beat of business or lose any of your business when you move to a new brokerage,” she said. “Customer service is something that everybody should always be doing to the max. But those agents who are contemplating leaving a company really need to focus on customer service. They need to know that once they leave their brokerage house that they are going to have business following them. If they’ve done a great job, it should be seamless as far as people following. If they’ve done a lousy job, they are giving their clients an opportunity to no longer use them and stay with their old company.”
Study Your Own Career
Making a successful transition to a new brokerage also requires agents to take a close look at their own careers. Just ask Mike Wallace.
Wallace now sells real estate with Lemont’s Realty Executives Elite. He moved to this office in February of last year after having worked at both a Coldwell Banker office and then with a small independent firm.
That small firm eventually had to file for bankruptcy protection because of the country’s dismal economy. Wallace and his partner, fellow real estate agent Michael Ciaccia, had plans to go into business for themselves. The agents even found an office in Lemont that they thought would make a good home for their fledgling real estate business.
John Budz, the broker/owner of Realty Executives Elite, was the listing agent on the office that Wallace was considering. He sat down with Wallace and Ciaccia and asked them the big question: did they really want to start a new real estate business in today’s challenging market?
The two agents decided that a better move would be to set up shop at Realty Executives Elite.
“We had to look at our careers and where we were at,” Wallace said. “Given the economy, this move made sense.”
The Realty Executives office had a lot to offer Wallace. The office has a strong market presence in Lemont, the town that Wallace serves. A professional staff at the office handles appointments and scheduling. This same staff answers phone calls and relays messages.
“It’s a professional office,” Wallace said. “I’ve worked at some offices where you’re afraid to bring in your clients. It’s not like that here.”
Before moving to Realty Executives, Wallace took a careful look at his own career. He was a seasoned real estate agent. He didn’t need someone to hold his hand as he learned the business. What he needed was a company with name recognition in the area and a strong support staff.
“We had already built our business plan,” Wallace said of the research that he and Ciaccia had done before making the move. “We knew what our expenses were going to be. We knew what revenues we needed to bring in to keep the business going. We decided that instead of reinventing the wheel, we’d go to Realty Executives. We know the format here would work with our expense and revenue figures. This move allowed us to have our own business but also be part of a larger organization that is doing very well. Everything that we were thinking that we needed to do was already here for us.” C.A.