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KW team leader on jumpstarting business with a homebuilder relationship

Team lead David Huffaker discusses the importance of building relationships and knowing your value proposition with RealTrends

David Huffaker currently owns a couple of Keller William offices and runs his 18-person eponymous real estate team, The Huffaker Group. Clearly, real estate takes up a lot of Huffaker’s time, so he says it’s funny to look back to when he started working in the industry as a part-time agent.

“After I graduated college, I went to work for some corporations and I didn’t love it,” he said. “I bartended through college to pay my way, but I was trying to think of something that I would just fall in love with. My wife pushed me to go get my real estate license.”

In 2021, Huffaker’s Mt. Juliet, Tennessee-based team closed 655.38 transaction sides, generating $220.25 million in sales volume, making it the No. 1 large-sized team (11-20 agents) in Tennessee by transaction sides in the 2022 RealTrends + Tom Ferry America’s Best rankings.

RealTrends recently caught up with Huffaker to discuss the importance of building relationships and knowing your value proposition.

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Brooklee Han: Can you tell me a bit about how you got started in real estate?

David Huffaker: I got my real estate license in 2004. Growing up, I had a wealthy aunt who lived in Memphis, and we would visit her in the summer. It was a treat because she had a pool and a nice house — a big difference from how we normally lived. She was the first woman Realtor to be the head of the local Realtor board, and there was just a ton of respect for her [in the community.]

After my wife encouraged me to get my license, I worked part-time. At the Keller William’s offices I own, we have some part-time programs. I always try to support that. But once I got into it, I realized that I wanted to do it more full-time, so when I was about 23 or 24, I started working for a national home builder.

I didn’t have any kids, but I was young and married and wanted the stability. I fell in love with new construction. I stuck with it through 2005, 2006 and 2007, which were all really great years to be in new construction. Then, in 2008, I had to decide if I really wanted to stay in real estate. Did I want to do this as a profession, and not just fill out paperwork for a builder.

So, I became a trainer and a coach for the homebuilding company, and I had some success through the recession. Then, around 2012, I decided that I was curious about the resale side of the business. I thought, ‘how hard can it be?’ It turned out to be pretty stinking hard.

In 2013, a local broker was looking to sell her brokerage. I earned my broker’s license in 2010, so I bought it from her. I struggled through that first year. It was not as easy as I thought, and I had to learn a lot about building relationships. In late 2013, I decided to build my team and eventually we moved to Keller Williams.

Being part of Keller Williams has had a huge impact on me and my team. After we moved to Keller Williams, we became one of the fastest teams to break $100 million in sales volume, so it was cool to watch that trajectory. We felt our way forward and got into business with the right people. Overtime, I have found that I enjoy being a business person, as much as I do working with buyers and sellers.

Most recently, we have started building a platform for other teams to build their business and now we are in eight different states and 14 different markets across the country. We are helping other agents build out teams similar to the way we built ours here in middle Tennessee.

BH: You said you had a tough time your first year as a resale agent. What were some of the biggest challenges you faced and how did you overcome them?

Huffaker: Most agents get their license on a credit card and a hope and a prayer, but we had saved up about $50,000 to help make the transition. My wife was a stay-at-home mom with three kids at that point, so we felt like we needed a lot of money to be able to do it.

I remember in April 2013, I walked into the house and said to my wife, ‘If I can’t figure this out in the next 30 days, we are going to have to find other jobs.’ When I started, there were things that I knew were important, like building relationships and working my sphere, but I didn’t start doing that until a bit later.

Thankfully, in April we sold about $1.7 million and that bought us a few more months. The rest of that first year was a little bumpy. I did gravitate back to some new construction builders in the area. They knew my reputation, so I picked up a few listings from builders here and there, and I started growing more relationships. Then, some lenders around town started referring business to me. The thing that really saved me was getting into conversations with people.

The great thing about working for a builder is that you have to get up and go to work whether or not you are going to have something to do. I remember during the recession, sitting in my model home for a week and not seeing a single person. But, I still had to be there eight hours a day.

I started to think things through, because if I was going to be at work all day, I might as well figure out how to do sell some homes. That diligence paid off when things were tough because I would get up every day and talk to people.

In hindsight, this enabled me to do all of that hard work and send all the post cards and do whatever I had to build my business.

I feel like a lot of agents spend way too much time and money deciding on what type of curtains they want in their office or what they want their website to look like. We did a podcast, and we were asked about how we did things early on. My two biggest things were: be prepared to hustle without a whole lot of return initially and have the buy-in and support of your family. My wife has always been a huge supporter and being able to sit down and have a conversation about what it was going to take was huge.

BH: What prompted you to start your real estate team?

Huffaker: In 2017, we started to expand our team nationwide through the platform we had built. But it all started after someone invited me to go to Austin to listen to Gary Keller talk. This was before I was at Keller Williams and the model really drew me in.

I am an anxious person. I worry about my family and providing for them, and the Keller Williams models provide a clear path. It gives me peace of mind so I can focus on the plan and not what potential problems may arise.

It also gave me space to look at what other top people were doing. Teams were becoming popular with a lot of agents. Around then, I partnered with one of the local builders and was running his entire operation around Middle Tennessee. I needed people to do open houses, so I started training some people to do that.

When people go to an open house, only a certain number are there to actively look at buying that specific home. The majority are looking at homes in general and may need an agent, so some of the agents I had at these open houses were getting buyer clients. Things just took off. We ended up creating a new construction division, with agents only working with builders.

From there, I started looking at what other teams were doing, and they had three or four lead sources, so we got intentional around our database. We made sure we were staying in touch and engaging with people. We also saw other successful teams and agents entering what they called a “rebuilding phase,” and we saw quite a few teams and agents completely destroy their business. For us, a big thing has been sticking with what we’re good at, but also using expansion as a way to try new things as we attempt to build out the business in a different market.

BH: As you have built out and expanded your team, what have been some of the biggest challenges you have faced?

Huffaker: Our biggest challenge is finding the right people who share our beliefs, integrity and discipline. The culture of the people on our team is so important. We found that we can enrich someone’s life by sharing our trials and tribulations and finding what works for them as an agent.

For me, the best part is seeing our agents put their kids into the schools they want or buying the house they want. I enjoy teaching them about wealth building — this is such a driving factor for me.

BH: You mentioned that you have a new construction division within your team, but how else in your team structured?

Huffaker: We actually don’t have the new construction business anymore. We parted ways with it in October 2019. My theory is that there are a lot of moving parts in real estate, and we say that we are real estate experts. We provide a better experience because we have a lot of people focused on the one thing they are really good at.

So, if an agent is great at listings, they are a listing agent. If they work well with buyers, they are a buyers’ agent. Now, there are some quirks on the team that once an agent achieves a certain number of sales or has been with the team long enough, they earn the right to do some additional pieces of business.

We recently opened up an investment division and that is doing great. We have some agents who were interested in commercial, so they are doing that.

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

Huffaker: I think it’s two-fold. I think the consumer deserves a better experience [than what they had in past years] and the fact that we think that we can do that alone is narcissistic. There are many parts of a real estate transaction, and we can’t be great at all of them.

Consumers want educated agents. By allowing agents to specialize in an area they excel at, we are providing clients with a better experience and the right tools to help them navigate what can be a stressful time in their lives.

By providing this level of service, our agents are showing that they really deserve their commissions and deserve the splits they are earning.

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

Huffaker:  It has been a chance to step away and be a business owner and develop things from that perspective. At the core of it, I like to provide services to my agents, to make sure that they provide a better experience for the end user, the consumer, than someone else would.

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

Huffaker: I think understanding your value proposition is so important. What are you providing your agents and how does that justify your split? If you are a newer team, you may not be offering as much value yet, but as you build out your value proposition, you may need to go back and look at how your financial arrangement is done.