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Real Estate

Fly Solo Article

NOTE: This piece for The Residential Specialist could have been a simple pros and cons discussion (with lots of boring data) about how real estate salesmen can make the most money—operating independently versus working with a support team. As I interviewed the Realtors, however, I realized that personalities were the real issue. So I tried to capture the experiences and traits of people on both sides as I developed the story, concluding with “pick what’s right for you.” Playing off the flight metaphor was fun, and I scoured the Internet to find Stevie Ray Vaughn lyrics to tie it all together. Liftoff!  

Should You Solo Or Fly with a Flock?

Four top Realtors size up the pros and cons of working with a team or operating on their own


By Randy Heuston

Speaking of flying, listen to O.J. Davis Jr.; he flew fighter jets for the U.S. Air Force. Now flying high in real estate he is, as it were, pilot, air traffic controller, ground crew, baggage handler and ticket agent for Kenwood Realty in Fort Walton Beach, Fla. He’s convinced “people buy from a person more than a company.” What’s more, he’s surprised more Realtors don’t eject from teams once they’ve gained experience.

“I shake my head at the number of assistants on some teams and think about all the mouths to feed,” O.J. says. “My gross income jumped by $100,000 from when I worked for another broker,” which he did for 12 years.  

For a bird of a different feather meet David Raesz. Oh, don’t assume he’s any less independent than O.J. Davis. Before real estate David sold a nightclub, which booked the likes of Texas blues legend Stevie Ray Vaughan; then he ran off to Colorado “to become a ski bum.” When he tumbled back to Austin and signed up with Keller Williams—now the country’s fifth-largest residential real estate firm—he did it at his mother’s urging and against his will. “I cut the long hair, lost the earrings and sold the pickup. I took the training thinking I would go it alone once I learned enough.” And, he did for a couple of years… until the market hit an air pocket. Bummed again.

David limped back to Keller Williams where he quickly learned “to stop shooting from the hip and start staying on task toward a vision.” Today he leads a squadron-sized team that includes an administrator, client care manager, lead listing partner, listing agent, marketing person, support runner, lead buyer partner and three buyer agents. He insists they fly in tight formation….

Factors in your decision. Evidently, then, what determines whether you should solo or fly with a flock involves more than whether you like independence. Who doesn’t? Rather the decision turns on your entire personality, your relevant knowledge and business skills, and ultimately what you want out of life. Pros and cons of team vs. solo? Well, one Realtor’s pro is another’s con.

Judith Cohen has soloed for 23 years since “burning out as a school teacher.” Today she works out of Smythe, Cramer Co. in greater Cleveland, “meeting your real estate needs in town, across town and out of town.” Judy believes she might net more money with a team but admits, “I don’t want the responsibility or pressure of having to earn enough to pay a team. As a solo contractor, I have control over my expenses.”

Judy also wonders how long teams last. “I can think of only one partnership that’s had lasting success. Usually animosity sets in—the feeling one member is doing more than another. A great friendship ends in a horrible breakup….”

O.J. Davis, though, contends he provides better service by being the single contact with his clients. “I market myself as the boss; my customers will be dealing directly with the boss. I’m a perfectionist and pay a lot of attention to follow-up and detail. I know my clients are getting the best possible care.”

What’s your personality type? The former fighter pilot hits a key factor when he mentions perfectionism: If you’re a perfectionist, you may be better off working alone, other things being equal. Judy Cohen puts it this way, “To have a team one must be willing to determine exactly what responsibility each member will have and strike the balance between giving them guidance and letting them do their jobs. You can’t micro-manage; that means giving up control.”

According to the popular DISC profiling system, referred to by some of those interviewed, the perfectionist falls under the C category. He or she is strong on numbers and details, and doesn’t mind working alone. If you’re a C and self-motivated, consider taking off on your own… but at the right time. After you’ve learned the intricacies of the real estate business and have established a reputation for integrity in your market, then repeat business and referrals can keep you airborne.

On the other hand, an effective team leader, usually in the D or I category, is gregarious, not overly sensitive, and willing to delegate responsibilities not just tasks. Delegation must be exercised in a “success culture” of common values, strict standards and a clear vision. Strategies and goals must be sharply focused and reinforced every bit as much as in a corporate environment….

What do you want out of life? Perhaps the bottom-line is which flight path enables you—given your unique personality and experiences—to organize life the way you want it. Do you love the work itself or what it can bring? Whether alone or with a team, many would agree with Judy Cohen: “The need to grow can become insatiable if you let it. What’s the point of being the biggest, the best or the superlative of anything if you can’t enjoy the fruits of your labor?”

O.J. says, “I take off the middle of each day to row a scull with my wife in one of our local bayous; I take off Friday afternoons to go flying with my wife. At five o’clock I turn off my phone and become my wife’s husband.”

Long story short: If you are naturally people-oriented with well-developed management skills, you may soar with a flock. If you’re self-contained and have the diverse skills and discipline to do it all, flying solo may be for you. Either way, if you’re determined to succeed in this great profession, you can spread your wings and fly, in the words of that Texas blues legend, “high, high, high, way up in the sky…. Let the good times roll.”

The team business may be pressured more significantly, too, when the market suddenly heads south. On the other hand, if a solo agent gets sick, nobody’s there to keep the business going.

David Raesz offers this rule of thumb: “A team member normally should make you twice the cost of having them with you. When it’s evident they aren’t, realize you’ve made a bad hire; the rule is hire slowly, fire quickly.”    

Can I Shed Some of This Stress?

Independent agents like the satisfaction of “doing it my way” and being accountable only to their customers. They view working with a team as adding stress because more things are out of their control.

In contrast, successful team leaders argue that stress is actually less because each member does what they’re good at it, reducing frustration levels all around. In some cases, the team atmosphere produces a schedule and processes that reduce the unexpected that sometimes shoots down the solo agent.

In either case, stress is largely determined by the ability to solve problems and get along with people at every interaction.

Judy Cohen, the former school teacher who knows a thing or two about stress, offers these tips: “A transaction will go much smoother when you can establish a good rapport with the other agent. We agents are most helpful when we keep clients calm and work to find solutions rather than pointing fingers. Besides, you’re more likely to be face-to-face on a regular basis with the other agent, or someone in his or her office, than with your client once a transaction has closed.”

Hang On, Let Me Check My PDA

You’ll need to use instruments if you intend to fly solo.

O.J. Davis is a self-described computer geek who once operated high-tech weapons systems in a cockpit. He says, “I strive to be at the leading edge of technology. I update my computer hardware and software every winter. I have both a desktop and a laptop; I take the laptop at home in the evenings and on weekends.”

Both he and Judy Cohen use PDA’s (personal digital assistants) or electronic organizers. Judy describes hers as “my control central; I’m lost without it. I keep my database on it and the basic details of all transactions.” O.J. syncs his with Top Producer and the MLS daily.

Both rely heavily on cell phones. As O.J. puts it, “I am on floor duty all day, whether in or out of the office.”

Note to Self: Answer These Questions

If you’re considering going solo, do you…

  • Have adequate knowledge and experience?
  • Feel comfortable working alone?
  • Demonstrate personal discipline and organization?
  • Use and keep current with information technology?
  • Already have a good reputation in your market?

If you’re thinking about hiring a team, do you…

  • Enjoy working with people and watching them succeed?
  • Know how to delegate and manage, not micro-manage?
  • Have a system like profit-sharing to adequately compensate your team?
  • Feel comfortable concentrating on one aspect of the business?
  • Avoid distractions with people around and stay focused?

So, the summary question is: Do you truly know yourself?

Do You Have Any Idea What Time It Is?

You’ll need solid time management for either solo or team.

David Raesz says, “You must follow rituals every day. We have the 11 o’clock rule, that no incoming calls are accepted till 11 a.m., and a lead must be generated each day; everything else takes a back seat until then.”

Judy Cohen feels personal time must be protected. “If you make a date with a family member, or are scheduled for personal activity, that’s an appointment. Keep it! If a client wants to do something then, simply say you already have an appointment; give them two other times to choose. You don’t have to explain or make excuses.”




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