From left to right: Kymber Lovett-Menkiti, Christian Barnes, Drayton Saunders, Leo Pareja and Rick Haase.
Editor’s note: The Power Broker Roundtable is brought to you by the National Association of REALTORSⓇ and Kymber Lovett-Menkiti, NAR’s broker relations liaison. Watch for this column each month, where we address broker issues, concerns and milestones.
Kymber Lovett-Menkiti, President/Regional Director, MG Residential, Keller Williams Capital Properties, Keller Williams Realty International, Washington D.C., Broker Relations Liaison, National Association of REALTORS®
Christian Barnes, President/CEO, Better Homes & Gardens Real Estate, Overland Park, Kansas
Drayton Saunders, President, Michael Saunders & Company, Sarasota, Florida
Leo Pareja, Chief Strategy Officer, eXp Realty, Miami, Florida
Rick Haase, President/CEO, United Real Estate, Dallas
Kymber Lovett-Menkiti: In a time when AI is on everyone’s lips—when the reach of technology defies imagination—how vital is human connection? While traditional real estate is grounded on the premise that relationships drive achievement, virtual world competitors are challenging that premise with undeniable success. How are these newer business models impacting the industry as we know it? Must today’s brokers choose between them, or can we pick and choose from among their offerings like diners at a cosmic smorgasbord?
Christian Barnes: Without question, agents who are tech-enabled will likely be more successful than those who are not—and we work hard to ensure our agents have the knowledge and skills they need as it relates to tech. At the same time, we believe real estate has been, and always will be about relationships. Maintaining our connection-based company culture is a top priority, and that is what agents are counting on when they choose to come on board. Fostering a collaborative environment rooted in connections while meeting the needs of the tech-enabled agent is a delicate balance that we are all learning to master.
Drayton Saunders: If there’s a silver lining to the pandemic years, it’s that everyone was forced to embrace technology. We were all living in a virtual world in ways we might never have imagined, and if we learned anything, it’s that there is more than one way to do what needs to be done. But Zoom-fatigue is a real thing, too, and post-pandemic, we worked hard to get people back in the office. It was a slow process, but they did show up, some faster than others, primarily because they found they missed the office culture and camaraderie. They were glad to resume in-person open houses and new listing caravans, and to re-connect face-to-face with clients. Despite the increased flexibility from new technology, what has not changed since 2019 is the value of the human connection.
Leo Pareja: On the other hand, being fully virtual is in the DNA of our company, and as someone who has lived in both worlds, I can tell you there are numerous advantages—not least of which is the caliber and talent of the people we attract, who are no longer burdened by the boundaries of location or market. They can use their skills from wherever they choose to live, with full access to data and information across multiple platforms. And that kind of freedom doesn’t come at the cost of in-person guidance. We are a cloud-based model, but we understand that collaboration is key, and we provide access to regional in-person leadership as well as round-the-clock access to chat, email and desk support. Those benefits, and our groundbreaking approach to commission structure, are the reasons for our extraordinary growth.
Rick Haase: As a start-up 12 years ago, we were able to start with a blank sheet of paper. Our goal was to provide more value for agents and consumers by combining the best features of both traditional and virtual business models—cutting-edge technology, full marketing and support services, and a compensation structure that rewards agents—all without sacrificing brick-and-mortar offices, because we believe the value of physical locations where people can congregate and consult cannot be overstated.
KLM: Are you saying there is a place for hybrid business models?
RH: Absolutely. In focusing on improved agent careers and financials, we are rewarded through scale.
LP: The fact is, the genie is out of the bottle. For me, there is no going back—and in this increasingly borderless world, the speed at which we’ve been able to grow is proof that our strategies work.
CB: Operating strategies are complex decisions. If I were an agent today, the virtual model might be appealing initially. But no matter where I am in my career, I want full, immediate collaboration when I need it. I want in-person training and mentoring, as well as a place to meet comfortably and face-to-face with clients who expect it. No question, technology is a beautiful thing, but our business is still anchored in relationships and those are best fostered in person.
DS: I agree—and even as the virtual world evolves, it will never be a magic bullet. Brokers must be continually tinkering. We need to ask ourselves, ‘what’s the most efficient way to handle this situation?’ Is it Zoom? Is it in-person brainstorming? Will reading my audience up close and personal result in a better outcome?
KLM: That, it seems, is the question of the day…and would I want to if I could?
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