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REAL Trending Special Edition: Leading Through a Challenging Market

Nov 6, 2020 7:00:00 AM

Josh Team, President, Keller Williams Realty, Texas

Josh shares his views on the new holding company, the digital-first experience, the importance of relationships, and how technology can help you build those relationships. Don't miss this thought-provoking, forward-thinking interview.

 

Tracey Velt:

This is Tracey Velt, Editor of Content for REAL Trends. I'd like to welcome Josh Team, President of Keller Williams Realty in Austin, Texas. Josh comes from a marketing and technology background. And prior to joining Keller Williams, he was chief innovation officer for a marketing services company and vice president of technology for a social media solution provider. Taking the reins as President for Keller in 2019, Team immediately went to work with goals to achieve operational excellence through effectively using proprietary technology and leveraging its global scale to provide top-tier performance for Keller agents and their clients. So welcome, Josh.

Josh Team:

Thank you. Thanks for having me.

Tracey Velt:

Yeah. Well, we'll start, you've got a lot going on with the company right now, a new holding company, KWX. And then a brand new CEO of that holding company and Gary Keller transitioning to Executive Chairman. So tell me a little bit about that and how it impacts the company.

Josh Team:

Yeah. So if you imagine before the announcement, we were about just shy of a dozen different companies, all in the same ecosystem of Keller Williams. But we had our mortgage company. We had our worldwide company. We've got the realty organization. We've got the insurance company. We've got our Keller Offers, et cetera, et cetera. And so Gary was the sole leader of all of those different companies, and that's just not his passion zone. That's not what he loves to do. He likes to be more in the vision setting, the visionary that he is.

Josh Team:

And so what the holding company's goal is to do is to help us scale faster and deliver the growing needs of our agents and their consumers to create the great experience. So instead of us all, having our own finance and our own legal and everything we do differently, all those coming to one operating as one portfolio really to let us focus more of our resources and energy on delivering those key experiences for agents. And Carl's got a lot of experience in helping do that scaled up to help us get there. So that's the why behind the holding company is therefore and our hope is that can help us achieve our goals at a faster rate than we were before.

Tracey Velt:

Okay. Great. And has that changed your focus at all? Or are you still going the same path that you had been?

Josh Team:

Yeah. No real change at all in the focus. In fact, when Gary came back as CEO of KWRI, the realty company, Keller Williams, we had built a plan pretty early on around how I could take that job from him and earn the right to try to have that the opportunity under his vision leadership from day one. And so this has all been part of that plan and part of that journey. And nothing in our plans or goals have changed. We're just trying to get everything organized across all the different entities working as one.

Tracey Velt:

Right. Definitely. Yeah. Well, it's exciting times for sure. And depending on how you look at it, it could be exciting times around the country, too. Although, we do have a lot of things going on that may not be as positive with COVID and the wildfires and hurricanes and civil unrest. So how do you see this unprecedented year impacting how real estate is transacted?

Josh Team:

Well, man, that is a loaded question as you know, and that's because there's so many variables right now. There's so much uncertainty. Right now, as we're doing this, we legitimately have no idea going into next week what the election is going to give us next Tuesday night, and will we even know who the winner is? And there's a lot of speculation we probably won't know.

Josh Team:

And so what does it look like when you've got the fed that doesn't know what the governing policy is going to be, and what impact does that have? What impact does that have to the economy? Will there be more civil unrest around anything that may or may not happen? What's going to happen with the shutdowns around COVID? There's just so much uncertainty right now that I think it's really hard as an organization to basically have your pulse on all of that.

Josh Team:

I will say though, one of the interesting insights we're seeing right now in Q3 and Q4 in real estate as a large, is that there's a lot of suppression in transactions in the end of Q1 and Q2. But we saw almost a rubber band effect where even through all of that, even through everything that happened in 2020, we're seeing a recovery of the transaction volume units. And so all that pent up demand sling-shotted now to Q3 and Q4.

Josh Team:

And so it's going to be interesting as we continue to watch this. And I believe that all the changes that were going to happen to real estate are just getting sped up right now, and all of this uncertainty and all of these disruptive forces are just going to speed up what may have taken four or five or six years. We're just going to see it continue to compress down in a short time period.

Tracey Velt:

Yeah. I definitely agree with that. And what advice do you have for agents who may be feeling a little anxious about everything? What should they focus on?

Josh Team:

Well, right now, growing your... Four or five years ago, we formed a relationship with Google and Facebook and Nextdoor. And so give me a second to answer your question, because I want to-

Tracey Velt:

Sure.

Josh Team:

... explain why I'm making the recommendation I am. We had a hypothesis that there was going to be... Gary, he gets made fun of sometimes because he sees so far down the future that it seems a little silly. But he's been pushing us, Keller Williams, very hard to be thinking about a digital first experience that the agent's driving. And so we immediately, as the largest real estate company, went out and created strategic partnerships with Google, which is largest search engine, and Facebook, which is the largest social platform.

Josh Team:

And we actually meet every year, and we all do research on real estate every year from our different lenses. And we share that, and we come up with strategies and recommendations. And that's why, when all this happened earlier this year, we immediately created an initiative where we took all of our training and content at Keller Williams and put it out in the ethos to try to make it more accessible to all agents. We actually put it on Facebook. We create a Facebook page called Pivot Shift Ahead, and we launched that in the end of Q1 this year. And I think my latest numbers were just about 80,000 agents across all brokerages have joined that. And the reason I'm answering this is because, what we tell everyone in that training, what Facebook confirmed, what Google confirmed, and what our data confirms is, whoever's in control of leads ultimately gets to control their business.

Josh Team:

And as we just saw in Q3, Q4, everything that got compressed in Q1 and Q2 basically just shifted that demand to recently. And so, I believe that's going to continue happening through Q1 of next year. And then whatever happens through the end of this year, because of the things we just mentioned, the pandemic, the election cycle, et cetera, that's going to have impact in 2021.

Josh Team:

So all that's been said, you've got to know a [inaudible 00:08:45]. But here's the really cool part, I think, is as realtors, especially if you're having anxiety about the uncertainty, which is extremely understandable, the people that are touching their database more often will do more transactions and have more business than people that don't. That's just proven time and time again. And right now the world, I think... And this is Josh speaking, but I think the world needs a lot more kindness and love.

Josh Team:

And so if I was a realtor, and I wanted to do something, I would just start calling people in my sphere of influence, in my neighborhood, in my area, and I would just say, "Hey, your name came up in my system. It's crazy times, and I'm just reaching out. I'm just checking on you. How are you doing? How's your family doing? Have you guys been impacted?" And I think just being a good human right now actually aligns with being good business practice, as it typically does. And I think that hitting your database and doing it with kindness and love, I think will pay dividends over the next 6 to 12 months.

Tracey Velt:

Yeah. I agree. I actually talked to an agent the other day who bought those big, huge, happy birthday signs. And she bought like five sets of them, and she goes out every night and puts them up in the yards of some of the people in her database... She has her top people in her database... for their birthdays. And they love it. It's just one small, little thing that you can do to really put a smile on someone's face.

Josh Team:

One-hundred percent, I think that kindness right now goes a long ways.

Tracey Velt:

Yeah. And I think everyone adapting to a virtual market learned quite a few lessons, but I'm sure you've also learned some leadership lessons along the way. So what do you find are your top two lessons learned that can maybe help other brokers or at least maybe inspire them or motivate them?

Josh Team:

Well, any organization, I think, has a duty to take care of its people, first and foremost. And one of the things that Keller Williams does, for instance, is we have our Community Cares program. And so we've given over 300 grants to agents and families, almost $3 million here to date. We've also invested a little over $20 million in doing some of the things I was mentioning earlier, which is how we create more accessible content and value to our associates.

Josh Team:

And so the first and foremost I would say is, anytime the world's in a state it is now, I do think it's incumbent upon all organizations and leaders to figure out how we can take care of our people. And the other component to this is, when we think about what we've learned about everything going virtual and transactions going virtual, I'll tell you what got really interesting to me is, this was a stress test for the industry.

Josh Team:

There's been a lot of speculation around disruptors and clicking to buy a home and all this. And so if you think about it for a second, if you zoom out with me, we were really interested to see what happened when everyone went home, but they kept their jobs. And I'm seeing the people, the homeowners... The service industry really has been hit hard with unemployment, but when you look at homeowners, they haven't been impacted yet very much from the economic perspective. And so you have these homeowners who are still employed that are working from home, and they have all the access to information about real estate on their finger tips. You got the record-low mortgage rates making your buying power better than ever.

Josh Team:

And so you have all these ingredients that you start to imagine there's a path where forming and there are... You're going to see a shift and a change in how people are transacting on real estate. That was a real hypothesis that we'd been talking about for... Ever since I've been in the industry five years ago, that's been a thesis out there. And so this was a perfect storm where all of those things were going to be tested, right? And-

Tracey Velt:

Right.

Josh Team:

... What we're actually seeing is that the agents are being valued at a higher rate than before. We're seeing there's more people using an agent now than before. We're seeing the younger demographics rating the value they're getting from their agents at higher levels. And what's evident to me now than I think was what we were speculating before, is that we talk about the market.

Josh Team:

We talk about real estate as a market on the national level. But the truth is, there is no one market. Every state right now has its own market. What's happening with the shutdowns? What's happening with unemployment and industry in there? What's happening with the political unrest? Every city has its own market, and that goes all the way down to every family has their own market. And when you start layering in these markets of the moment, plus the cities and the families, their individual markets, that's where I think the agent who's belly-to-belly, eye-to-eye, hand-to-hand, they can navigate these families through these insane times are showing up in spades. And that's why I think the data's showing what it is, which is more people are getting more value from agents now than ever before.

Josh Team:

And that fiduciary relationship is actually extremely important. And that's been stress tested because again, there was a lot of speculation going into this which is, is the agent fiduciary value going to be marginalized? And I think that one of my biggest ahas in all this is, no. In fact, the more uncertainty, the more complexity, we're seeing the opposite take place. So that was a real big insight for me at least.

Tracey Velt:

Yeah. Definitely. And just talking to a lot of agents around the country, a lot of them really used the stay-at-home order to be more productive and to clean up their databases and really get in touch with people. And as horrible as the pandemic is, it really, I think, drove home the idea that relationships are everything. And even in a virtual world, you're still able to build those relationships.

Josh Team:

One-hundred percent, and to your point, the agents who lean into that and understand that and figure out ways to stay in connect with their database will win. And the ones that struggled to do that will be challenged.

Tracey Velt:

 I've seen a lot more adoption with technology. And that goes to my next question, which obviously you've rolled out a lot of exciting technology tools for your agents and teams. So what's next? What's next for Keller Williams in that arena?

Josh Team:

Well, I could bore you with a lot of stats. I'll spare you and your audience some of the boring stats, but I will say we've been on a pretty consistent journey for the last several years trying to build the most comprehensive real estate platform in the industry. And we feel pretty confident that we've achieved that. We got about 90,000 agents every month using it. We track about over a million transactions a year that actually go through closing. We've tracked tens of millions of opportunities that start. We generate millions of leads, et cetera, et cetera.

Josh Team:

And so I say all of it to say, we have a pretty strong base foundation now that we can start to do some of the really exciting things. And one of the next themes of our chapter is going to be about community. And what I mean by that is, here's an example. We're talking about leads right now and talking about staying in touch. Well, how does an agent know the best way of staying in touch, especially in COVID? And one of the features we just launched last month was... We call them a smart plan library. And what a smart plan is, to us, it's like an action plan or an automated step of text message, emails, task reminders, phone calls that the system either does for you or reminds you to go do, if you want to do that. And those are called smart plans.

Josh Team:

So we created this feature though that allowed any one of our 169,000 agents to share a library with each other. And then other people can rate it, tag it, review it, and then implement it into their business. And so we went from having just a little over a dozen plans at KWRI, the Keller Williams International that we wrote and said, "Here's what you should do." Now, just in a few weeks, there's almost a thousand smart plans that have been added by other agents that are being tested, rated, reviewed, and edited by the masses. And so now, if you look in our plan and look up COVID, you're going to see a dozen different plans on how agents are doing COVID care follow-up plans. And some of those are in Spanish, and some of those are in English, and some of those are for bicoastal cities who are in a different area, and some of these are in the middle of the country.

Josh Team:

And so the idea is, how does one plus one equal three? And it's really getting into this idea that if we unlock the potential of over 170,000 agents and have them start sharing best practices, then they can start to know how to seize those markets of the moments we were talking about earlier, without having to wait on a few people in Austin, Texas, or someone else to write that, if that makes sense.

Tracey Velt:

Oh, I love that. It's like a mastermind group at the next level, and I love the collaboration of it.

Josh Team:

Yeah. Actually, one of the things we're seeing is people will actually do a mastermind. And they'll say, "Here's the plan I'm using. Here's the plan I'm using," and then people go into the library, and with one click implement that plan into a business. And it's exactly you're saying which is, how do we put into practice what we know is working today? We know this plan's working today. This is a top agent, and I can hit one button, and then I can start implementing that for my business. And that's exactly right.

Josh Team:

And to that same effect, we've got a whole script, role-play, connecting you with other people across the country thing we're working on. So everything we're doing right now is around, now that we've got this base platform of real estate end-to-end transaction platform, how do we start to unlock its potential by creating community on top of it so that? Our best assets are people, and we've got 170,000 and the greatest agents. So how do unlock their potential and let technology scale them?

Tracey Velt:

Yeah. It's that peer-to-peer experience, and it's so important. So I want to shift to the real estate industry in general. So what do you see as your greatest challenge today in business?

Josh Team:

Man, it's a generic answer, but it's just so real. Forecasting is really hard right now. It is extremely challenging to forecast. And the reason that's so important is, with any organization of scale or size, actually any organization, the bigger you are, the more forecasting's important because you deploy capital and people and ideas very early on in a year. So that by the time we get done and that project's over, it might be six, nine months later. And so if your forecast is wrong, then you probably made a wrong decision a long time ago. So it's like playing a very delayed game of Battleship. And so forecasting is really hard right now because there's so much uncertainty.

Tracey Velt:

Yeah. Definitely.

Josh Team:

So what we're doing is, we're forecasting on every different scenario. So we're spending a lot more energy, time, and investment on the front saying what happens in this scenario, happens in that scenario. What happens in this scenario... And I will say, I've got to give credit to Gary here, because we actually ended up doing... I really feel like we supported our people, and that the Keller Williams agents did really well in 2020 compared to some of the other brands.

Josh Team:

And when we look at the why behind that, I think it's because Gary was always pushing us, like I said earlier, to be a digital first organization. And so we built that platform as a base operating system in Keller Cloud, built the strategic partnerships with Google and Facebook and Nextdoor and so many others.

Josh Team:

And so for instance, when things that you couldn't forecast happened such as COVID, we were the second company, I believe behind Redfin, right before Zillow, that created the virtual showings button on our app. We were the first company to completely create an online training catalog for all agents on social media. And we actually had a record attendance of our mega camp, which was a virtual mega camp. And so why I say all that is, even though forecasting is going to be really hard, what that means that we have to do better as a community of all the businesses owners is, we have to adapt quicker to the unforeseen.

Josh Team:

And I think that the organizations that have built in the DNA and the ingredients to be able to pivot quickly and to be able to innovate rapidly in the face of unforeseen circumstances, are the ones that you're seeing taking market share and winning right now. And the ones that may be more challenged in that area are the ones that are struggling. So the greatest challenge today, I think, is forecasting. And the best solution to that is making sure you have an organization that can pivot fast.

Tracey Velt:

Yeah, especially, I think people learned that during COVID or at the beginning of COVID that if you can't pivot, you're going to die, basically. So we'll talk about the flip side of that. Where do you see the most opportunities for brokerage leaders in the coming year?

Josh Team:

Sorry, I didn't mean to get in front of you in my answer there. But that was the answer, the flip side of that, which is I think we've got to make sure you've got an adaptable organization that can pivot quickly. How long does it take you, if you see a new consumer demand, which is we want virtual showings, can you get that from idea to production in less than a month? Can you reimagine your distribution to your agent communities to teach them how to seize the markets at the moment?

Josh Team:

Keller Williams never generated leads for agents, and we just generated our two millionth lead for agents at the average price of $1.87. And Google and Facebook are saying it's some of the best costs they're seeing in the industry and some of the best conversions to transactions.

Josh Team:

And so I say all that, the opportunities are the ones who can take new ideas, get them into production, and get them out and operationalized to their agents and their consumers as fast as possible. Those are the ones that are going to be able to seize the market, because there's so much uncertainty right now. There's so much change happening, and it's the people that can help their agents get the most out of those opportunities that change creates, those are the ones that are going to really prosper. And that's going to come from being able to be very agile in your leadership style and being able to quickly move.

Tracey Velt:

Great.

Josh Team:

To give you a little story on this, I'll just tell you, I remember sitting in a room with Gary just a couple years ago. And we had built this whole plan, we'd been [inaudible 00:26:11] accounts for a couple of years. We're halfway through the journey. And in typical Gary, he's like, "We got to reimagine this. We got imagine this." Like, "What do you mean? We're just..." And there was one thing that he saw that was benign to me. I didn't see it, but he saw it. And he understood that if you continue to play that out becomes a bigger influence into our strategy.

Josh Team:

And so we went back to the drawing board and reimagined it, and albeit he was right, and those things are starting to bear out truth. And so we had anticipated that. So constantly asking that question which is, what are we not seeing? And if something happens that we don't see, how quickly can we pivot? That's the biggest opportunity I think all businesses right now in every category is having, but specifically in real estate.

Tracey Velt:

Yeah. Definitely. Well, thank you so much for joining the REAL Trends podcast. Is there any final words that you have for our listeners?

Josh Team:

Well, I would say for any brokerage leader out there or any franchise organization, the one thing that I think we're all best served to do is just make sure we stay close to our agents. And one of the things I continue to do is ask our agent community, what can we do to be a better partner to you? And I think if we do that, and if every other brokerage and franchise continues to do that, the high level that we all are, then our agents will be served the best. And when our agents are served the best from the data, are consumers then have the best experience. And the best way we can help the industry, and the best way we can help consumers is by helping our agents. And so the more we do that, the more we all win.

Tracey Velt:

Yeah. Great advice. I totally agree. Well, Josh, thank you again so much for joining us and taking time out of your busy schedule to be on the REAL Trends podcast.

Josh Team:

It was my pleasure. Thanks so much for the opportunity. Have a great day.

Tracey Velt:

Thank you.

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