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REAL Trends Game Changer: Jim D'Amico, President of Century 21 Northeast in Massachusetts

Jun 10, 2020 6:00:00 AM

With about 17 small mergers and acquisitions in 2016 and an aggressive recruiting program, Jim D'Amico grew his firm to the 850 agents he has today. Find out what lessons he learned by growing so quickly and his strategies for successfully integrating new offices into his culture.

Jim D'Amico, President of Century 21 Northeast in Massachusetts

179.4% growth between 2014 and 2018

Tracey Velt:

This is Tracey Velt, Editor in Chief of Content for REAL Trends. The REAL Trends 500 data shows us that there are a handful of brokerage owners who consistently achieve high growth year after year. These brokers were selected to be 2020 REAL Trends game changers.

Today we're speaking with Jim D'Amico, President of Century 21 Northeast in Massachusetts to find out how he managed almost 179.4% growth between 2014 and 2018. Welcome, Jim.

Jim D'Amico:

Hi. Thanks for having me.

Tracey Velt:

Yeah, absolutely. So we'll start with just some information about your brokerage. Tell me a little bit about it and when and how you started it.

Jim D'Amico:

Okay. So I started Century 21, it was called D'Amico & Associates back in 1995. I started in Chelsea, Massachusetts and I've had four agents plus myself, so five, and we started with a little brokerage in Chelsea where my family was involved in the real estate business, but not from a sales perspective, more from a property acquisition perspective and property management.

Tracey Velt:

Okay, great. And so tell me about your brokerage today, how many offices and approximately sales associates do you have?

Jim D'Amico:

So I can tell you that today we have, approximately over 40 offices. I believe it's 42. It's a moving target. And we have 850 agents currently on our rosters throughout four states. Massachusetts being where we do probably a predominant amount of business done in Massachusetts, but we are growing in Maine, Rhode Island, New Hampshire. We have a few agents in Connecticut. And we're continuing to grow within the New England territory.

Tracey Velt:

Okay, great. Well, obviously achieving that type of growth is incredible, especially over the past four years. So tell me about those years, between 2014 and 2018, were there mergers or acquisitions and how much of that growth was organic?

Jim D'Amico:

Okay. So there was a lot of mergers and acquisitions and there was a lot of recruiting. We had a system in place where our goal was to add agents by the hundreds really. I believe in 2014, if my recollection serves me correct, I believe we had somewhere in the vicinity of about 400 agents.

At that time, we were doing somewhere around ... We base everything up here based on GCI gross closed commission income, so at that time I think we're running around a $7 million TCI. And so our goal was to get to 20, and that was where I was really focused. And the only way I thought I could really do that was through recruiting and merges and acquisitions.

Jim D'Amico:

I believe it was 2016 where we did ... In that year we did about 17 small acquisitions. And these were anywhere from three agent offices up to 40 agent offices. So we just targeted the territories we thought we could do business in, we thought we could grow in and running parallel to that, mergers and acquisitions. We were also doing a lot of recruiting, meeting with lots of agents, top agents mostly, and bringing top agents into the firm.

Tracey Velt:

Okay, great. So obviously in every entrepreneur's life there's an aha moment, it's a moment when you realized you needed to change the way you were doing things in order to scale and grow or you needed to stop with the current business plan and get creative. What was your aha moment?

Jim D'Amico:

Well, my aha moment was probably back in 2010 when I basically saw that we had grown the company all throughout the late nineties and early two thousands but that we were not built with a solid foundation. So when we did hit the recession, we were not positioned to handle the changes that were going on in the market.

Back in those days we were just under a billion in sales and we went all the way down to roughly 300 million in sales, so we did not have the foundation in place to sustain in a down economy. And so what we did before 2014, right around that time, was we implemented systems that we could manage a brokerage of a larger scale size.

So we implemented a new back office system, we changed the organizational structure, how we centralized certain services, like administration for one. We had come to the realization that centralizing our administration team was going to be more effective and also giving them a better platform to work with was going to help us grow.

Jim D'Amico:

We also regionalized our management team. So instead of having our managers focus on individual offices, we have them focus on territories. So our managers would handle anywhere from three to five to seven offices based on where the growth was coming from. So there was a few things that we did differently.

Jim D'Amico:

We also really structured the way we wanted it to grow, and we worked very closely with the brand to basically effectuate that growth through that five-year plan. So we worked very closely with Rick Davidson from Century 21, who was CEO at the time, we worked with Mike Midler who was in charge of franchise sales, who now is the CEO of Century 21.

And a lot of the things that we did were all based on how to grow, but then how to grow profitably. And that was something that we really stayed focused with was how to grow profitably and really focus on our expenses, as well as our growth at the same time. Those were the two biggest things we really needed to handle.

Tracey Velt:

Okay, great. And you kind of answered my second question, which was specifics about your growth, what did you and your leadership do to create such growth? But why don't you tell me a little bit about your recruiting, your business and your culture currently.

Jim D'Amico:

So our culture is ... We're a pretty good size company, one of the largest in New England, and we still practice our business the same way we did when we started with five agents. It's really a family affair. Our agents, our management team, pretty much everybody that's been with us has been with us for longterm so we've not experienced a lot of turnover over the years.

We really have a family culture. We're really very involved in the community, involved in different passions of our agents and of our management team. Community focused. This year, actually the last two years we've been the official real estate company in the Boston Bruins.

Boston Bruins is very much like our culture, it's hardworking, blue collar, roll up your sleeves, get the job done, but also the Boston Bruins in our market is very strong community focus team so they emulate a lot of the things that we value. And so that's a lot of how we got to where we are today is really through our culture and how we are with our agents, how we are with our clients.

Jim D'Amico:

And it's a mentality where if you see a piece of paper on the ground, it doesn't matter what your job is, you pick it up. And everybody's all hands on deck. Most of the staff here is a seven-day-a-week staff, so anywhere from a marketing person on our staff to relocation staff, up to administration and management, we're pretty much all seven days so that mentality where we're very loose on ... We're not a punch the clock style company. We're more of a lifestyle company.

Real estate is a lifestyle and that's how we promote it within our company and that's how we all work. It doesn't even really need to be discussed because it's how everybody's work ethic goes here at Century 21 Northeast.

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Tracey Velt:

Okay. So when recruiting agents, what are some things that you look for that and I guess what are some things that you do to retain them to reinforce this whole family, the family culture that you have?

Jim D'Amico:

Well, you have to be really creative with your compensation packages. There's a lot of different compensation plans and packages out there. So at our company, we know that our company is going to work within the framework of how we operate. And we're a no expense company.

I mean we still put the signs up and take them down for the agents, we still offer our administrative services at no fee, we still don't have desk fees and things like that nature that other companies have employed and been able to be a little bit more aggressive on compensation. So we've really been creative.

We keep our eyes open as to what else is out there and we try and make sure that our agents are aware of what's out there and that they hear it from us and not from the other company. So we do keep them in the loop of what else is out there. And we're always thinking of new creative ways to make us a leader in the real estate sales industry up here.

Jim D'Amico:

So I guess there's that, but then there's also we do have a loyalty factor. We have seen and we have run statistics, and it's not something that we promote and really shove down people's throats, but agents do better here.

So in this market we've had several agents that business has grown three, four or five times much like our company has grown three, four, five times. So agents come here and they become more successful.

And it's really that back office support, that structure that we have in place, the way that we get things done for them that makes their job easier so that they can focus on listing and selling homes.

They don't have to worry about a lot of the things that they would have to worry about elsewhere. So we do track and watch how people do when they're with us, how they did before, how they do after. And we really pride ourselves on giving the agent the ability to make the most amount of money here at Century 21 Northeast.

Tracey Velt:

Okay. Well, obviously it's working.

Jim D'Amico:

It seems to be. Who knows, this industry is crazy. And we deal with so many unique, and I'm sure you see it at REAL Trends because you cover the whole country, we see so many different and unique things happening in our market every day and we try to stay on top of them. I mean, we definitely don't try and duplicate, we are who we are, but we always keep an eye open to what else is out there.

Jim D'Amico:

And my mentality right from the beginning when I was a sales agent was if everybody's going to zig, we're going to zag. So we're not going where everyone else is going. We're not going to dip into the same well that everyone else is trying to dip into, whether it be compensation, whether it be short sales, when the short sales are big or flipping homes or whatever it is, whatever the new thing is, we always stay focused in the areas of the business that are not being focused on.

And that's always been a strength of ours, to find the spot where no one else is. And we make our camp right there. And then everybody ends up there and then we go somewhere else. So we've always tended to be on the front end of a lot of the things that have changed in the industry over the years.

Tracey Velt:

Yeah. That's interesting. So last question, if you could offer other brokers some advice when growing their businesses, what would it be?

Jim D'Amico:

It's recruiting. I mean, it really comes down to solid recruiting. And you have to have a product. First of all, you have to develop a product that agents want to become a part of, and then when you do develop that product and you do get them in, you have to make sure that you're delivering what they came for. And that's really the most important thing. Sometimes it's painful, sometimes you say, "Geez, why did we create this particular product?"

But you have to do it and you really have to stick to what you tell the agents that are coming on board, what they can expect, even if it hurts. So what we've learned is we've had some agents that were really big producers and we wanted to handle a division of what they do for their business support wise, and boy, did they grow and boy, did it become expensive to support that, but we still support it.

Jim D'Amico:

And we're always looking at ways to develop our agents for the highest possible potential that they have. And we've had agents that have come in here with 50 sales a year that are now doing 250 sales a year and we've had agents coming in at six sales a year doing 36 sales a year.

So it's really about spending the time after they come on board and making sure you have a team in place. Because if your strength is on the recruiting side of it, you need to make sure your team is in place that can handle the retention side of it as well.

Jim D'Amico:

So you can't do it all yourself. That's something else I learned over the years. I'll still try, but it's really hard work. It's hard work. It's effort. It's caring. It's really a focus on your people and making sure that they're happy because if your agents are happy then your client's ultimately going to be happy. At the end of the day, that's the goal.

Tracey Velt:

Yeah, definitely. Well Jim, thank you so much and congratulations on being named a REAL-Trends game changer. We appreciate your time today.

Jim D'Amico:

I'm thrilled. Thank you very much. I appreciate your time as well.

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