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REAL Trends 500 Podcast: Eden Sunshine, CEO, Realty Executives, Phoenix, Ariz. No. 85 by Transaction Sides

Apr 7, 2020 8:24:38 AM

This is Tracey Velt, Editor in Chief of content for REAL Trends. We're speaking to the top brokers in the country to take a peek at how they've built their businesses. We'll talk about lessons learned, personal passions, and their top strategies for recruiting and retaining productive agents. Today we're speaking with Eden Sunshine, CEO for Realty Executives, Phoenix. Welcome, Eden.

Eden Sunshine:

Hello there. Good morning.

Tracey Velt:

Good morning. So we're going to start at the top. Tell me a little bit about how you got started in the business and ultimately came to be CEO of Realty Executives.

Eden Sunshine:

Well, it's a long story. I'll keep it very brief. I'm actually a business guy. I've been an entrepreneur and a business owner my entire life and I started a coaching and consulting company focused on supporting small and medium sized businesses back in 2000, so it's been 20 years now.

And through that process, about two or three years into my work, I was contacted by a real estate coaching company at an Ottawa Candidate and they asked me to support them and consult them on building their business.

Turns out their client base were restricted to or they had a boutique approach to just working with high production realtors, people that were doing over 750,000 or more in GCI. And in my work with them, they were so pleased with my support of their company, they asked me if I would be interested in working with some of their agents.

Eden Sunshine:

And so I found myself working with some of the top real estate agents in North America and Canada, people that were doing 1 million, 2, 3, 4, 10 million in GCI and really helping build their teams and understand the difference between being a good realtor and being a good leader and manager of a real estate business. Fast forward to 2017.

One of my clients who I worked with back in 2004, 2005 was one of the agents for Realty Executives here in Phoenix and introduced me to the owners of the Realty Executives' brokerage and they asked me to start consulting with them and helping them with the brokerage. And about two months into that engagement, they asked me if I would come and run the business. That's what got me here. Yeah.

Tracey Velt:

Oh, that's wonderful. Well, great.

Eden Sunshine:

So I'm a business guy. I'm not a real estate guy.

Tracey Velt:

Yeah. Yeah. I mean, so obviously, you haven't been involved with Realty Executives since the beginning, but I'm sure you've learned some lessons building a business in general. So what are the two top lessons that you've learned building a business that other brokers can learn from as well?

Eden Sunshine:

Oh my gosh. Two really, really important things, Tracey. Number one, systems are everything. I operate on a principle that the key to success of any business is dependent on the quality of its systems.

And the systems range from how you answer the phones in the business, to how you, in the real estate business specifically, how you do your recruiting, how you hire your team, how you're going to market, how you're going to support in the processing of transactions through your business, everything and anything you do is a system.

And if you want to improve the business, the focal point of the improvement is improving your systems. And then second to that is, and not necessarily secondarily but in addition to it, let's just say that it's equally important, is the culture of your organization. And there's a lot of confusion I find in small business and business in general about what culture means.

Eden Sunshine:

So culture is very specifically not a list of core values that are on a wall, but really the living out of the core values among the people in the organization. So, it's things that differentiate.

Like Nordstrom's, you walk into a Nordstrom's and you know their culture is all about exceeding their customer expectations because it's being lived out by their employees. If you fly a Southwest Airlines flight where their culture is about fun and friendliness, you're going to see evidence in the way that's lived out.

So here at Realty Executives, we're very, very, very focused on building and refining our systems and we never look at individuals and say, "We're having a breakdown in results here because of an individual." We always look at the system as being the source of the problem and then it creates a greater sense of collaboration.

And then we are very, very intentional about mentoring and developing people so that they can be in alignment with our core values and our culture. So we see a very vibrant living culture because it's exhibited in our people's behavior.

Tracey Velt:

No, great advice. I love that. And it kind of goes into the next, which is your aha moment. What was the one aha moment that you had as it pertains to joining the brokerage or growing a business or just deciding to follow your passions?

Eden Sunshine:

Yeah, I would say probably the big aha moment that I had here at Realty Executives took place, we were doing our annual business planning event, and I'm a really, really strong advocate for collaboration.

And through my consulting and coaching business, we do these annual mastermind groups and all this kind of stuff. And so it's all grounded in collaboration. And somebody told me that you're going to find that realtors don't collaborate with each other.

They don't want to share their secret sauce. But during this business planning event, I set the room up in a interactive set up rather than a traditional classroom setting. And I was actually blown away by how willing, at least at this organization, how collaborative and willing people were to share with one another.

And since I've been here, we've really been fostering these opportunities for people to collaborate with one another because that's what they want to do. And at least that's the culture here at Realty Executives. They want to collaborate and they're very, very generous with the information they're willing to share and help each other with.

Tracey Velt:

Yeah, collaboration is so important. I mean, especially since every day agents are working with a competitor to get a transaction closed.

Eden Sunshine:

Yes, exactly. Exactly.

Tracey Velt:

So obviously brokers build their business with a strategic mix of organic growth and then M and A, or mergers and acquisitions. Tell me a little bit about how Realty Executives grew and was there one year that you made a big growth leap?

Eden Sunshine:

Well, actually 2018 was a really, really big year for us. And it was as a result of organic growth, some very, very intentional recruiting strategies and some merger and acquisition.

So it was really a combination of all those things. We were able to do that largely because we looked at our efforts as not being an effort of one or two key people that were focused on recruiting, but it became almost a game for the entire organization, at the time about 50 or so staff and employees here, and everybody understood their role in relationship to the recruiting and retention efforts here. And so we were incredibly dialed in and had, at least since I've been here, that was a very, very stellar year as far as recruiting and growth.

Tracey Velt:

Tell me a little bit about your recruiting strategy or lessons learned trying to figure out the recruiting puzzle.

Eden Sunshine:

So what's really interesting is the wide range of engagement that people have in the real estate and that agents have in the real estate industry. You've got the range of the part-timer that's doing a couple transactions a year and the transaction comes up very organically for them.

Maybe it's a friend or family member or maybe it's something that they're doing for themselves flipping, and they are wildly disengaged. Let's just put it that way. It's just, they've got their license and if something comes up, then they'll go through a transaction.

Eden Sunshine:

And then you've got the other end of the spectrum, the folks that wake up at four o'clock in the morning and this is their life. I'll never forget, I was talking to an agent years ago and I asked the question, how many hours a week do you work? And this gal looks at me and she says, "I work all of them, every hour."

And so you've got this range of engagement among agents in the industry, and even here at Realty Executives. So what I discovered is you couldn't approach them all the same when it came to recruiting because the message for somebody that is knee deep in it and living it hour by hour is going to be very, very different than somebody that is engaged in a periodic transaction.

Eden Sunshine:

So what we did is we've done ultra tight segmenting of the market. We do massive amounts of research on individuals that we're specifically targeting for recruiting efforts. And we know their story because of their history, where they're currently at in the market. We know when they're having an up year or a down year. We know where they're doing their transactions.

We know if they're doing largely listings or working with buyers. We know so much information about them that we can craft our specific message to them. And so they feel like ... and in reality, we're really speaking directly to them in a way that is most meaningful.

We know what the psychographics are for the folks that are the engaged producers and what's most important to them. And that's what's enabled us be most of most effective with our recruiting.

Tracey Velt:

Great strategy. So we're going to move into challenges and opportunities. What do you see as the greatest challenge in the business today?

Eden Sunshine:

Now Phoenix I think is kind of an interesting market, even in comparison to like Tucson. I think one of the biggest challenges that we're looking to deal with and overcome is this internal question. And it's not even so much an internal question. People are asking about the culture of the offices, like the environment.

But we have this virtualization of the business that's been taking place, let's say over the last 10 or 12 years. So you hear this dialogue, we want a culture, we want a place we can go and be a part of and be engaged with other people and participate, kind of that traditional office environment. But then everybody's so comfortable working from home.

Eden Sunshine:

And so, how do we get them to come into the office because they say they want to be part of that culture, but the virtualization and technology has made it so easy for them to not work in an office environment?

And trying to figure out how to respond to that, how to create an environment where people feel connected and they feel like they have this opportunity to collaborate, like we talked about earlier with others, create that environment where they feel like they've got somebody who's got their back but then also understand the dynamic of maybe they don't want to work in an office.

And the other subtle thing that we're noticing around that too is that some people still feel like they want a private office, but we're seeing fewer and fewer people renting private offices.

They want a more collaborative workspace. So also navigating through the dynamic of what are our office environments going to look like in order to accommodate this seeming tug between the virtualization and the desire for people to be around other people.

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Tracey Velt:

Right. Definitely. Yeah. That is a huge challenge, especially in this virtual office environment as well. Yeah. So let's talk about opportunities. Where do you see the greatest opportunity in real estate brokerage?

Eden Sunshine:

I think that there's been a few brokerages have kind of dabbled in and explored this idea of an employee based agent model, but I don't think it necessarily has to be an employee based agent model. But this is a complex business for people. I mean let's face it, being a realtor, you have to be really good at a lot of things if you want to be successful.

You have to be good at marketing. You have to be good at selling. I mean, like getting people to sign a listing agreement with you or a buyer broker agreement or something like that. They have to be good at the contract. They have to navigate and manage the organization side. There's such a wide variety of skills that are required to be really good.

And usually what you find is some of your top agents generally are people that are more sales and marketing oriented and they're not necessarily the organization, the paperwork oriented people. And when they start to get their business large enough, obviously their first step is getting the admin support or transaction coordinator to help them be able to support their business.

Eden Sunshine:

But I think where the opportunity exists is helping agents get into an environment where they can be specialized in what they're really good at. If somebody is really, really good at working with buyers, really get good at that and focus on that. People like working with lead generation, then focus on that and get really good at that.

So in other words, move away from the jack of all trades kind of model and really focusing on specialization. So that's something that we're starting to explore and look at and see how that model might be able to help people be more successful, but it would require creating more of a team oriented concept.

Tracey Velt:

Right. Definitely. Yeah. We're going to switch gears a little and get personal. So tell me what or who inspires you.

Eden Sunshine:

Oh, this is really personal for me because I've been a business owner and I grew up in an entrepreneurial family, and I would consider myself a really, really, really staunch advocate for business owners. And the fact is, Tracey, we and I in our country acknowledge our first responders, military personnel, fire, police, people that take that first line. And quite frankly, I think business owners get overlooked in this.

They are unsung heroes in our society. And having worked with business owners firsthand for 20 years, the risks and what they put out there in hopes of building something of value to a community, but also creating employment, and they're creating jobs. I mean, they're mortgaging or leveraging their homes and they're getting into massive amounts of debt. They're taking a massive amount of risk in order to create opportunities for our society and for a business to grow.

Eden Sunshine:

So my heroes are business owners. And I love, there's a podcast out there called How I built This and the podcaster's Guy Raz. And he interviews business owners, like the founder of Stitch Fix, the founder of ChickaBoom Pop and so on and so forth.

And you listen to their stories and you just go, "They're average people that work really, really hard and in some cases got lucky," but they put themselves out there and they took massive risks and put themselves in massive amount of debt for a particular cause or because of something they were passionate about. So that's who inspires me, anybody that's out there really working at it and trying to make that happen.

Tracey Velt:

Yeah. And I've heard of the podcast. I haven't listened to it though, so I'm going to have to do so, but I've seen some transcripts from it. So, interesting.

Eden Sunshine:

It's really, really inspiring. Yeah. And he always asks the question at the end of the podcast, do you think it was about luck or hard work or skill? And some people say, "It's hard for my ego to accept the idea that luck had a big part of it," but the reality is when you listen to their stories, you realize that because they were in it, something happened.

The luck appeared for them because they were in the fight, they were engaged and the luck and the opportunity to present it itself. So, yeah, it's great. It's a great podcast. Yeah.

Tracey Velt:

Yeah. And I've found, I've been interviewing brokers and business owners for, gosh, 20 years now. And I find that this next question, there's always something that has happened in childhood or teenage, some type of experience, positive or negative, that shapes the person they are today. What was your experience?

Eden Sunshine:

One of the things, my dad taught me a lesson. My dad was an entrepreneur as well. And he made a comment to me years ago. He said, "When you start and build a business, always focus on building it to sell it." Now I want to say something, I want to make a little disclaimer.

If you're one of our Realty Executive agents and you're listening to that, we're not building this business to sell it, but when you focus on that, it shifts your mindset to how do I create a business of sustainable value, not a business that's dependent on me as the primary character.

And by the way, I see this in brokerages largely, it's a people-driven, it's almost a celebrity driven type business. Who's the DB of that brokerage? Who's the primary person? And it's like they move from place to place, people move from place to place because they're following that person because the business hasn't created the value. It's the individuals. And I'm not discounting the importance of individuals creating value.

Eden Sunshine:

But the lesson I learned was that when you think about building a business for the purpose of selling it, you shift your mindset to creating this business of sustainable value that serves a market. And if somebody were to come in and say buy it, because I was in that space before where I tried to sell businesses and people would walk in and they'd go, "You are the business. The only reason this business is surviving is because of you. And if you're not here, there is no business."

And that was really true. And it's so true for many businesses and it's potentially true for a lot of brokerages too. So if the shift goes to ... Now I'm not saying to literally sell it, although it could create some opportunities for that, but it gives an opportunity to really scale and expand the business when we start thinking about if I was building this to sell it, what would I do different?

Tracey Velt:

Yeah. And that's interesting because Steve Murray, the president of REAL Trends, really focuses on that. And he has found, especially with teams, that they're very hard to value because the team is basically one person. And so especially with teams, it's so important to build them so they outlast the team leader. So, yeah.

Eden Sunshine:

That's so true, Tracey. And that's one of the conversations I've had with team leaders, these agents around the country, for years and years. There's a celebrity status, right? I'm the agent. Everybody knows me. I'm the person. And it's very, very difficult for them to say, "You've got to brand your business and so it is not your name."

And that's hard for people to do that because it's like, "Well, if I'm not talking to that person, what does that mean?" But it's very, very true and you hit the nail on the head for, especially within this industry, teams being an integral concept and an integral approach to building a business. But being able to build it so the value of the team is not dependent on that individual is really, really tough, but it's doable.

Tracey Velt:

Yes. Well, Eden, thank you so much for your time. All of your coaching has definitely come through. This has been a wonderful interview. I appreciate all of your insight. So thank you for joining Real Trends.

Eden Sunshine:

Thank you very much for having me.

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