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Jackson Hole team leader on hiring agents with drive

Co-founder Collin Vaughn discusses the importance of trust and building rapport

Despite growing up in the real estate industry, Collin Vaughn, a founding member of the Huff/Vaughn/Sassi team based out of Jackson Hole Sotheby’s International Realty, originally wanted to be a doctor.

“I was headed in a totally different direction,” he said. “I was heading toward medicine, but I decided I didn’t like that for the long-term. I could do a surgery, but I didn’t have the best bedside manner, so I looked for something else and ended up getting into finance and real estate.”

Vaughn’s decision to change his path has certainly paid off. In 2021, his team closed 115.13 transaction sides for a total sales volume of $375.87 million, earning the Huff/Vaughn/Sassi team a spot on the 2022 RealTrends America’s Best in the medium-sized team category.

RealTrends recently caught up with Vaughn to discuss the importance of trust and building rapport.

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Brooklee Han: Can you tell me a little bit about how you got into real estate?

Collin Vaughn: My father was a real estate attorney and I got into commercial real estate while I was in college out in Salt Lake City. After college I returned home and got involved in residential and commercial real estate. Doing commercial real estate in college was very informative and helpful, I built up my knowledge and it helped me find out what I did and didn’t want to do.

BH: From there, how did you go about starting to build your team?

Vaughn: I obviously started out as an individual agent. I was on the younger side, around 22 or 23, and I quickly saw that this was one of those businesses where the more energy, the more coverage, the more money you have to spend, the better.

In terms of getting listings and marketing homes, if you go away on vacation and you already have people you’ve mutually agreed to work with, that’s another advantage. So, I softly partnered with a couple of different people in 2005. I quickly realized this is something I wanted to get involved in. So, we put a group together. I wasn’t leading it, but we came together to sell a chunk of a Four Seasons.

I got a taste for it through this experience and partnered with a couple of people to start our own team. We ran that for a couple of years with our own assistants and marketing, and then I partnered with another group. Now, we have a team of six — eight if you include assistants.

There is definitely strength in numbers, and we’ve got a really powerful and aggressive group that has had a lot of success.

BH: A lot of experienced agents I speak with advise newer agents to join a team when they start out, as it provides them with some built in mentorship. How does your team work to develop the next generation of agents?

Vaughn: There is nothing like getting a real estate license and then just having to show up to work the next day. You basically know nothing about the business. Two of the agents we have brought on recently as partners were our assistants for years. We trained them and they are doing very well. They have training, support and marketing dollars through us, and it lets them make mistakes and learn. Plus, there is all this knowledge that has been passed down from all of us. It has been a very successful model for us.

BH: How has your team evolved since you founded it four years ago?

Vaughn: We started with just four partners, and we have brought in a few new ones over the years. Our model is to bring people on while we are training them, so we are helping them, but they are also helping you with open houses, marketing or whatever needs to be done. Then, at some point, when they are ready, they can go out on their own, and we bring them on as partners.

BH: How is work divided in your team? Are there any structures you have in place?

Vaughn: So, I have a finance degree and so does one of the other members, so we run the team’s finances and the bookkeeping. Then, we have another two or three members who run the marketing side depending on how big the project is. We also have new projects, business plans and marketing for future projects. Those agents figure out what we can do better and what we can create. They also look at what is working in other markets to see how we can adjust it to our market.

BH: Can you tell me a bit about the makeup of your team?

Vaughn: One of our agents is my mother-in-law. She has been in the industry for 40 years and is a fabulous saleswoman. My wife is also involved. She was more into political science, but she realized that [real estate] is something she would be good at. Whether she wanted to or not, real estate is something she has been involved in since she was a little kid, just being around her mom.

She has easily transitioned into the business and stepped into the community. She just gets people. Some of our other agents have been involved in the business for quite a while, so we have a lot of years in the group.

BH: As you have built your team over the years, what are some of the biggest challenges you have faced?

Vaughn: I think the most important thing is to pick solid people — people that you trust and respect — because every deal is different. When you’re working together, everybody needs to feel that they are a part of it and will be recognized for their work.

Trust is key. You are doing very large transactions and you must trust your team. If you are going out of town and have a $30 million transaction that needs to be taken care of, you better fully trust them.

You also have to figure out the holes in your team, whether it is in marketing, bookkeeping or finding photographers and videographers. Whenever you bring someone new in, it is a challenge because you have to build that rapport and that trust.

BH: How has being part of a team changed your business?

Vaughn: I think one thing being part of a team does is that is shows each member what they are good at and maybe not so good at, but since you are part of a group, there are people there that can help you. They can bring you up to speed on a lot of stuff that maybe, if you are by yourself, you wouldn’t have help with. Whether it is marketing or listing presentations, there is always a group to help you to move forward.

BH: Teams have become more and more popular over the past several years. Why do you think that is?

Vaughn: I think it is taking off because as the business is more competitive than in the past. You have all these other players like the iBuyers and Redfin. You have all that competition, and going out there and hanging your shingle and trying to work off of it isn’t going to work. With a team you have several agents with assistants working under them competing for the same listing, and you just can’t compete against that.

Also, as a team, we can have a huge marketing budget and still make a decent amount of money each year. Plus, with the team model, if you want to go on vacation, or you aren’t as knowledgeable about something a buyer is interested in, you have somebody on the team that can help. If everybody works together and looks out for everyone’s interests, it works really well.

BH: We have talked a lot about the advantages to being part of a team, but what are some of the disadvantages?

Vaughn: When you are part of a team, everybody is in a different cycle in their life and there are times when you have to help the other people on your team, and you have to give them some of your time and energy. And then having to take the time to build that rapport and build that trust to the point where you feel comfortable trusting them with hundreds of thousands of dollars, that can take a lot out of you. So, sometimes people will need more from you when you are at your most tired and that can be hard.

BH: Why do you feel real estate is a good career option?

Vaughn: I think it is a really good career option for somebody that is very sharp, a Type A personality and driven. Having that drive and understanding enables you to step into a conversation or a group and be able to knowledgeably engage in the discussion.

Through that you can create connections and those are very critical. Anybody can go out and get their real estate license, it is one of the easiest things you can go out and do, but that doesn’t mean you can go out the next day and do a $60 million deal.

I think it is really important for someone to have self-confidence, be knowledgeable about the area and the industry and be able to read people. I also feel some sort of understanding of finance is also very important.

BH: What is your best piece of advice for a new team or an agent looking to start a team?

Vaughn: Trust is key. It is like a marriage. You are going to put this thing together, and you are going to spend a ton of time, money, and energy on it. It is a commitment, and you want to make sure it is the right person you are doing it with and that you aren’t just doing it to do it. Just like a marriage, getting a divorce from a team, if you will, is a big deal and brings negative energy. So, I would say make sure you are doing it with the right people and for the right reasons.