The No. 1 mistake real estate brokers make when it comes to retiring agents is not helping them structure their business, so they have something of value when they’re heading out the door, says Chuck Boles, who sold his practice years ago and now helps brokerage leaders build agent succession programs.
With margin compression and market competition, keeping the market share of a retiring agent is more important today than ever. Real estate brokerage leaders, such as those at Long & Foster, put together programs that help agents structure their business and then coach them on the sale when they’re ready to move on. “It’s really about transferring trust from one agent to another,” says Richard Fino, vice president of agent success at Long & Foster Real Estate in Virginia.
Long & Foster started its agent succession program in 2018. “We spent a long time researching the concept,” says Fino. The Long & Foster program “helps both sides, whether you’re looking to sell you business to someone else.” They have about 100 agents signed up for the program, and they are all in different stages of the process. “We’ve completed about 16 or 17 [sales] so far.”
However, long before any agent is ready to sell their book of business, Fino says they work with them to structure their business to build value. Boles says that’s the most important part of the process — the program you build to help agents at the start of their career with you. “So, an agent will walk out the door because they’re burned out, and they never learned how to get out of the business,” says Boles. “That’s why it’s so important to create a continuity growth strategy with agents.”
“When you ask agents what their No. 1 reason for getting into real estate, most will say to make money. Wrong. It’s about developing an asset that’s portable at the end of your career that you can convert to an annuity,” he says. That means developing a coaching program that starts with business fundamentals.
Steve Murray, senior advisor to RealTrends, knows a thing or two about selling a team or a brokerage. The concept is the same. “How real estate professionals structure their business from the get-go, so it’s worth as much as possible later, is vital.” He says that the No. 1 way to do that is to build or maintain a complete customer database and “have targeted communication with those customers.”
That database, says Boles, is what the broker can use to help the agent determine the value of their business. “Brokers can charge a coaching fee to person a one-on-one annual valuation update for agents and offer them a clear plan to grow their business.” Year to year, these valuation updates will show just how much growth has happened and encourage agents to build on their success, he notes.
Fino says that because they are teaching their agents how to set up a business with the end in mind —even if that end is years down the road — they are finding that younger agents are selling. “Many of these agents want to sell to a larger team because they feel there’s a higher probability that it’s [the business] going to succeed. It’s harder to double your business on your own,” he says.
Long & Foster offers a business foundations course where “we talk about how to go from a mindset of having a career to owning a business,” says Fino. He notes that all agents learn the mindset when they start with the company through the Business Foundations class. “Our goal is to have people coming in day one, and launch with the mindset that they are creating a business that someday they’ll sell.” From there, agents can join the Succession Plan at any time, even if they don’t plan to sell anytime soon. Through the program, agents learn about business planning, business valuation and more.”
The first part of a successful agent succession plan, says Boles, is starting with the end in mind, no matter when that “end” will be. And, that means helping agents and teams to structure their businesses from the beginning in a way that will be worth something later.
In Part 2, we’ll discuss how to value an agent’s book of business. There is no set formula for this and both Boles and Fino have different practices.