Build a Winning Real Estate Team

By Chris Stroisch
REALTOR® Elizabeth Ballis resisted the idea of hiring someone to work for her for more than a decade but eventually, she like many other agents, had to decide whether it was time to build her business by building a team.
“I was in business for 11 years when my husband coaxed me into hiring my first assistant to move forward,” said Ballis, an agent with Coldwell Banker in downtown Chicago, who has worked in the real estate industry since 1980. “The idea of having an assistant or a partner and having to delegate was really hard. I never really wanted to manage people.”
Once you’ve decided to build a team, how do you go about putting your plan in action? Several Illinois REALTORS® share their strategies for putting together the right real estate team that will work for you.
Despite Ballis’ initial resistance, her business grew 30 percent the first year she had a team member on staff. Plus, having someone to help clients with open houses and paperwork allowed Ballis to get involved with activities outside of the office.
“It gave me the luxury to do so much more knowing that someone was there to help me,” Ballis said. “By having a partner, you have the opportunity to go to meetings with the (local) association and get to know other people. It also gives you the opportunity to give back in different ways and to get to know other agents.”
After two years as an agent, REALTOR® Missy Jerfita realized she could not manage all of the paperwork and do everything she wanted to do for her clients.
“I realized early on you can’t manage every detail and give 110 percent,” said Jerfita, a 12-year agent with KoenigRubloff Realty Group in Chicago. 
“There was a point in my career where I was so stretched I hired an assistant to handle all of the paperwork and phones,” Jerfita said. “Then, I hit another point in my career when I couldn’t give all my clients 110 percent and get back all the leads I was receiving, so I hired my first buyer’s agent.”
Jerfita’s team now consists of three buyer’s agents, an assistant and Jerfita as the seller’s agent. 
REALTOR® Amanda Wycoff, an agent for Coldwell Banker in Bloomington, found herself in the similar situation of trying to find better work-life balance.
“I got to a point where I was on track to close about a house a week, 60 houses that year,” Wycoff said. “I was booked three weeks out with appointments and didn’t have time to spend with my buyers. I had zero time to show my buyers around and really zero time for a life.”
Wycoff hired REALTOR® Julie Duncan, who was already an agent in central Illinois and who served on a real estate committee Wycoff chaired.
Duncan initially helped Wycoff with open houses and eventually became the buyer’s agent. As a team, the two sold 100 houses in 2013. 
“Once we joined as a team, we increased our volume by 70 percent,” Duncan said. 
The two, deemed “Team Wycoff” by Duncan, now have an office assistant who is in the process of getting a real estate license. Once that happens, the assistant will eventually handle open houses and assist buyers.

Questions to ask before hiring someone

Before hiring someone or creating a team, agents need to ask themselves a series of questions to determine whether it would be a better business strategy for them to remain solo, according to Lori Cox, a co-author of the NAR Short Sale and Foreclosure Certification (SFR) and frequent instructor for the National Association of REALTORS®, who has worked in the real estate industry since 1987.
“Are the reasons because there is an overflow of business? Or, is the goal to have an unlicensed transaction and marketing specialist that will handle the unlicensed activities, such as social networking and transaction paperwork? Is the purpose to have a better quality real estate experience for each represented client? Is the goal to have quality time available to enjoy life outside of real estate?” Cox asked.
“None of these reasons are right or wrong,” she said. “The reasons, though, should assist in developing the right group of individuals to achieve the desired goals. Once reasons have been determined, interviewing and hiring strategies can then be implemented to be certain the team is being successfully formed.”

Drawbacks of a team

Hiring additional agents or licensed staff can lead to business growth and more time spent outside of the office while others focus on particular client groups, marketing initiatives and office work. However, building a team can have drawbacks. 
“When people hire you as their agent, they expect you to never have a life. They want to know you have a partner, but they want to deal with you all of the time,” Ballis said. “If you want your business to grow, though, you can’t have one person trying to do everything and trying to accommodate every client.”
Other drawbacks can occur if there are any missteps during the hiring process where failure to hire the right person can cost time, money and relationships. 
“I had a little misstep because I hired someone who just wasn’t a good fit,” Ballis said. “When you start over, it’s hard because you lose some of the relationships you built during that time.”
To avoid this drawback, Jerfita recommends hiring agents on a trial basis. “One of the biggest lessons I learned is hiring the right people for the right position,”Jerfita said. “When hiring I would give a three month trial period to make sure it’s the right fit. If it’s not a fit, don’t drag out the process of talking with the agent and parting ways. The wrong fit will cause double the work and bad customer service.”

Building the right team

Finding a team of people to work for you can be easy but finding the right team members who have similar personalities as your own and who share your goals and objectives can be a lengthy process.
“When you hire someone, you have to know what their goals are,” Ballis said. “If you need to be away, you need to make sure you have the right people who are going to step up and be available.”
Ballis recommends finding agents or licensed staff members who have similar personalities, a strong work ethic and strengths that complement your weaknesses. Also, look for newer agents within your real estate group and find ways to partner with them.
“Have them help you with open houses and showings; have them shadow you,” Ballis said. “Once you find someone who can work well with you, give them more and more responsibilities.”
If you hire an existing agent who already has plenty of business, consider consolidating their listings with your own to make them feel like a partner, Ballis said. The key is to establish goals and standards that all team players share and believe are important to good business. 
“Any benefits of having a team need to be benefits that all team players enjoy,” Cox said. “When the team functions as a unit with the same standards, the team benefits from the synergy and, in the end, the team provides a better quality experience for all clients because the team believes in themselves and instinctively wants the experience to be unlike other real estate transactions that clients may have experienced in the past.”
Having clearly defined roles in the beginning can make the difference between having a long-lasting, successful team where everyone feels like they are a partner and a weak team where everyone is out for themselves.
“Some teams aren’t as successful as they could be because they don’t have clearly defined roles,” Duncan said.
“Make sure you hash it out at the very beginning and decide who is doing what. Roles need to be defined so one person doesn’t feel like they are doing more work than the other.”
Similar to defining roles and responsibilities, compensation should be clearly defined at the beginning of a partnership.
“Put it very clearly in writing, so there are no discrepancies, what kind of split you’re going to do,” Wycoff said. “Make sure it is very clear and very thought out. It takes the guess work and the unknown out of the situation.”
Wycoff also recommends meeting with team members on annual business to determine if the compensation is fair and to ask if anything needs to be adjusted. 
“You want them to feel like they are a part of the team,” she said.

Determining the team size and makeup

“I’m always one to say ‘start slow’,” Cox said. “Trying to go from a solo agent to a team of many players is too big of a change all at once.”
Plus, there is no one size fits all when it comes to creating the perfectly-sized real estate team. The size depends on the goals of the agent who wants to create a team in the first place. 
“Look inside yourself and analyze your daily work habits and growth opportunities,” Cox said. “Ask yourself what has been the key to your current system and where you see yourself in 90 days, 180 days, a year from now, three to five years from now. Look to that future picture of your success and establish your team based upon where you see yourself in the future.”
Cox warns that agents face challenges when they try to expand too quickly.
“Begin with a second member of the team, master the tasks, see success and then take a step back to determine what the next step should be,” Cox said. 
Agents also face pitfalls when they fail to be the team leader.
“The biggest reason I see teams fail is because there is a lack of a team leader to create the environment for team success,” Cox said. “If there is a team leader who is ego-centered and who only established the team to grow their own business rather than develop a highly-efficient team, it is a recipe for less-than-steller results.”
Team leaders are encouraged to genuinely strive to develop team members. People who do not feel valued or nurtured are likely to quit.
“Communication and respect for each team member is paramount to long-term success,” Cox said. “Without set
goals and systems to effectively manage the business, the team doesn’t grow; team players get frustrated and leave when a better opportunity comes along.”
Bottom line: start slow and decide why you want to create a team in the first place.
About the writer: Chris Stroisch has been a freelance writer for daily and weekly newspapers, business magazines and not-forprofit publications for nearly a decade. He can be reached at
Breakout Text: 

  • Start slowly and ask yourself why you want to create a team in the first place.
  • Look for team members with similar personalities as your own and who share your same goals and objectives.
  • Hire one team member at a time.
  • Set clear goals and objectives at the very beginning.
  • Be the team leader.