Game changer: Agents at fee-based Charles Rutenberg Realty retain more commissions

by Melanie Kalmar

(Sponsored Post)

In 2010, when the real estate market was in the depths of its own depression, Charles Rutenberg Realty landed a spot on the Chicago Tribune’s list of 100 best places to work. Three years later, it made history as the first real estate company to rank #1 on that list. The irony was agents don’t physically work out of the brokerage’s Naperville headquarters; they work remotely and wouldn’t have it any other way. They run their own race, without the pressure to meet production goals or compete in sales contests.

Without the push to close a large number of deals, agents can work at their own pace and focus on the quality of service they provide rather than the quantity. Time and again, this relaxed approach has proven to generate referrals and repeat business: the lifeblood of the company. But it’s only part of the equation; the other half has to do with how agents are compensated.

Agents pay a small fee per transaction, which gives them the ability to take home more money per deal than if they paid the company a percentage of their commissions, which is common practice at other firms.

“When we started this company in 2004, we wanted to create a company that was as good, if not better than, any other company out there,” says Ray Zabielski, designated managing broker at Charles Rutenberg Realty in Naperville. “But one where the agent could retain their commission while the company gets a small fee; small enough that the agent didn’t think about it but large enough that we could run the agency successfully.”

There is no sign-on fee nor exit-fee. Agents pay $35 a month to be part of Charles Rutenberg Realty and in return, the company provides them with the infrastructure they need to work remotely and accomplish their goals: an electronic document management system; errors and omissions insurance; a virtual tour of all their listings; and an online support network in AgentsShare.com, a vehicle for agents to research historical questions and answers, as well as post and respond to inquiries. Unlike a message board, where nobody oversees content, Zabielski reviews and approves every question and answer before it’s viewed online by anyone. 

By far, a big draw for agents is compensation. Agents pay a flat fee of $325 upon closing a sale, regardless of the commission amount. If they wish, higher producing agents can opt for the plan where many of the transactions are only charged $50 each. For any non-sale activity, such as home rental, lease or referral and consulting fees, the agent pays the brokerage 10% of their total commission but it’s capped at $325. “Agents can do as much business as they want to do,” Zabielski says. “That’s not what we track; it’s how they do business that’s important to us. Agents must run their business in a moral, legal and ethical manner and never jeopardize the reputation of the company.”

It’s interesting to note that the fees have stayed the same since 2004, when Zabielski started the business. “It’s more valuable to demonstrate consistency,” he says. “Agents are the lifeblood of the company; they cannot be taken for granted and charged out of existence.”

It’s proven to be a winning formula. “I found out I had excellent agents who really liked the company,” Zabielski explained. Sherman Tidwell is one of them. Tidwell initially joined the company to retain more of his commissions but stayed on because of Zabielski. “His input into my transactions has given me a better understanding of real estate and helped me become a lot more successful,” Tidwell says. He admits leaving for a short time, to work for another brokerage with a similar structure, but it turned out the only similarity was the amount he paid per transaction. “There were a lot of hidden fees,” Tidwell recalled. “You don’t have that issue with Charles Rutenberg Realty. Everything is up front.” Yale Zimmerman echoed Tidwell’s sentiments and described the office staff as extremely knowledgeable and helpful. “On the one hand, they give help when needed,” Zimmerman says. “But on the other hand, they never micro-manage.”

The results speak for themselves. In 2020, Charles Rutenberg was ranked 3rd highest producing real estate office in the Chicago area by MRED, behind Keller Williams Infinity and Redfin. For the past five years, the company has also earned a client satisfaction rating of 4.89 on a 5.0 scale, based on surveys conducted by Quality Service Certification, an outside, third-party that posts the results on its web site www.ratedagent.com. Even more impressive, in 2017 and 2018 Charles Rutenberg Realty was one of 5 large companies nationally with the highest client satisfaction ratings of all companies participating in those surveys.

Looking to expand his team, Zabielski says the ideal candidate is an experienced agent who wants to build their business remotely in a high-quality manner focusing on client satisfaction. To learn more, visit www.CharlesRutenbergRealty.com.

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