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Mega team leader reveals game-changing system for scaling

Team leader Chris Suarez discusses the importance of partnership while building and executing a real estate team.

After Chris Suarez’s second major move forced him to restart his real estate business for the third time, he thought that there had to be a better way to do things.

“The problem with real estate is that it is handcuffed to a location, as opposed to a business model where you can continue your business regardless of where you are,” said Suarez, co-founder and co-CEO of PLACE.com, a full-service real estate technology platform.

This realization inspired him to start his real estate team, PLACE. Since starting his team in Portland, Oregon in 2008, PLACE has expanded into over 100 different markets nationwide. In 2021, PLACE’s 777 team members closed 9,011 transaction sides, generating $3.863 billion in sales volume, making it the No. 1 ranked mega team according to 2022 RealTrends + Tom Ferry The Thousand rankings.

RealTrends recently caught up with Suarez to discuss the role of partnership in real estate and how he created his mega team.

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Brooklee Han: Before we dive into talking about your team, can you tell me a bit about how you got into the real estate industry?

Chris Suarez: It’s been about 24 years now for me in the industry. I kind of fell into it in college. I wanted to go into real estate law, and I was interning with a real estate attorney. I met a lot of real estate agents and they inspired me to enter the field. I started selling real estate in New York, and I built up a good business, but then I moved to Eugene, Oregon and then, a few years later, I ended up moving to Portland. With each move I had to rebuild my business.

BH: How did all of these moves inform your current approach to your business?

Suarez: We look at ourselves more as a real estate platform. We have localized teams on the ground in over 100 markets being run by incredible leaders, but they are on the ground there not because we have assigned them, but because they love their location. So, with the model, the base location of the team, does not restrict its overall size or the ability for the business to grow. I developed this perspective due to my history of moving and having to rebuild my business.

BH: Can you tell me a bit about how you started to build your team?

Suarez: I was about a decade into the industry before I really started to build out my team. After restarting my business for the third time, I refocused on the systems, tools, models, and people needed to be successful in real estate. When I first started my team, it looked like a normal team and, like others, it was linked with a place, as the name was PDX Property Group. Eventually, I saw that I had limited my potential growth by linking the name to the local airport code.

About five years after starting my team locally, I realized it was going to take technology to help expand the reach. So, I partnered with Ben Kinney, and we launched PLACE, a real estate team platform. When I partnered with Ben, his team was The Ben Kinney team, so we did a complete rebrand and got rid of any reference to our names or location.

BH: A lot of real estate teams have used technology to rapidly expand. How is PLACE’s approach different?

Suarez: Most real estate teams go out and source the technology, but we built our own platform out of our proprietary technology and run all of our teams off of that. It has been the secret to our growth and success.

BH: Obviously with your team spread across 100 different metros there is some division in the team by metro area, but are there any other ways in which the team is structured?

Suarez: Some of the local teams have their own divisions and we have specific luxury teams in the luxury markets we are in like the Bay Area, Miami, or New York, but we don’t go around saying one agent is going to work with buyers and another with sellers. We believe that the growth and development of an agent is best served when they understand the entire transaction for the entire life cycle of the homeowner.

BH: What are some of the biggest challenges you have faced as you have built your team?

Suarez: For us, something we have had to work on is developing patience with our agents and getting them to commit to becoming better consultants over time, while also getting them into production quickly. We make sure we are partnering with people that see and play a long-term game because if we are playing the long game, we are able to and willing to pivot even it what we have been doing for a long time needs to be adjusted.

Another thing I have had to work on is leadership from afar. I live in Washington state, but we have businesses in over 100 different cities. So, we have been working on the ability to communicate well and bring them down a path to their future as real estate agents and business owners. I wouldn’t necessarily say it has been a challenge, but it has been a great learning journey.

BH: How has building your team impacted your business?

Suarez: I think the biggest highlight is the people that we get to work with on a day-to-day basis. Your business will determine the level of talent that you attract. At our business, I am constantly surrounded by people way more brilliant than I am. I would never have had the opportunity to work with these people, if I had not been willing to see my business grow.

The second highlight is partnership. I think our industry idealizes the “solopreneur” — the person who built a business and runs it by themselves, but I feel like we have a lot to gain from partnership. Each one of our locations are our partners, whether things are good or bad we stick together. So, being able to move the needle a bit on how we perceive success has been huge for me. Partnership is not weakness, it is strength.

BH: Being spread out across the country, how does your team function in terms of brokerage affiliation or are you a “teamerage?”

Suarez: We are brokerage agnostic. So, we supply the technology for agents at any platform to develop their own team. We believe that the local agent knows the community the best and should choose where they want to build their business. We believe there are many different great brokerages out there, so we don’t make that choice for our partners.

BH: What are some of the advantages and disadvantages to being part of a team?

Suarez: Partnership is of course a massive advantage. I also think the right team meets you where you are at. So, whether you’re new to the industry and want to launch a career, or maybe you feel stuck in a rut — it doesn’t matter, a team can help you get through that launch phase or that growth phase by eliminating a lot of things that agents don’t like doing, like paperwork, so they can focus on what they are good at. Joining a team allows us to set a clear goal of where we want to grow.

A disadvantage is that you have to work with more people, so if you aren’t a people person, it might be hard to be part of a team. But real estate is a people business, so if you don’t like people, real estate in general might not be the career for you.

BH:  Why do you think real estate is a good career option for someone?

Suarez: I believe that real estate, regardless of what level you play at, allows you to engage in one of the fundamental ways to build community and wealth. Real estate is a wealth determiner for our clients, but it is also a wealth determiner for those of us who succeed in the industry. We are part of the most important transaction of someone’s life, and with that comes an incredible responsibility and an incredible opportunity to educate them on how to build wealth.

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

Suarez: I think you have to understand that we don’t succeed alone, whether that is through a team, or a relationship with a phenomenal brokerage or a mentor. I am a born and raised New Yorker and I think early in my career I took that, “put your head down, work hard and don’t ask for help mentality.” I built a good business with that, but it was not as successful as it could have been. When I realized that there are so many in this industry willing to help and share what they have learned, it opened up a lot of paths, to not only do better, but to create relationships within the industry.

With that in mind, I think we are at a place in the industry where brokerages need to be less competitive and more open to sharing, and to recognize that there are great agents across all platforms that we can learn from and help grow. We have learned from people across all platforms and brokerages, and I had phenomenal mentors in my life as well, who were incredibly valuable to me.

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