Eric Barron headshot 1

Keller Williams Realty International (KWRI) is the largest residential brokerage in the United States, with more than 700 offices and 80,000 agents in North America. Since launching in Manhattan in 2011, Keller Williams NYC has grown to more than 275 agents, with plans to triple in size over the next few years. We chatted with Keller Williams NYC CEO Eric Barron about entrepreneurship, self-proclaimed “neighborhood experts” and transforming the industry into an advisory service.

BuzzBuzzHome: You’ve mentioned that sellers should have a better process in choosing the right real estate agent to represent their assets. What do you think is wrong about the process right now, and how can that be changed?

Eric Barron: There are always exceptions, but far too many sellers don’t do the proper due diligence. For example, you do not choose a listing agent just because they’ve sold other things in your building, work for a certain company or because you like them.

These things may make up part of the decision making process, but this is big business here in Manhattan and sellers need to be prepared to ask tough questions. We’ve discussed this internally [at Keller Williams NYC]. I think choosing an agent is 1,000 times more important than choosing the company, because the company has very little to do with the sale of your property.

As for the right questions that sellers should be asking when finding an agent, I don’t think there’s a cookie-cutter list: it depends on what the sellers’ needs are and what’s important to them. Maybe it’s price, maybe it’s speed, maybe it’s the level of customer service. The seller themselves needs to rank and understand what’s the most important thing to them, and then match that up with selecting the right agent. But not to leave you without any specifics, one of my favorites is, “What value will you add to this transaction?”

The bottom line — we have one job as real estate agents, protect the seller’s equity.

BBH: How can the industry become more of an advisory service?

EB: I think that buyers and sellers need to hold us to a higher standard. It’s not just about showing homes, it’s about potentially forecasting where prices are going to go in the next couple of years. It’s being highly educated about the economy, interest rates, neighborhood development, foreign investment, zoning, etc. Who are the next Chinese and Brazilians? You have to be educated, not just about the future, but the past. If someone really loves real estate, they will be knowledgeable about our industry’s history and be able to share this information with their clients.

What does it mean to be an advisor? An advisor asks very good, probing questions. It’s like being a consultant at McKinsey; they go in, ask questions, collect data and decide on the best course of action.

So first step, be highly knowledgeable. Respect and know your craft. Second, ask in-depth, probing questions to uncover your client’s needs, expectations, fears and motivations. Then deliver information as a solution to their needs. Then and only then, can you call yourself an advisor.

BBH: How does Keller Williams NYC foster the advisory mindset in its agents?

EB: We had a boot camp recently and spent two to three hours discussing this. The overriding factor was, “be able to support all your claims.” For example, people claim all the time that they’re neighborhood specialists, but why have they earned the right to say that? Because they live in the neighborhood? That’s a joke. I want sellers to call agents out.

So we came up with a detailed list of what a true neighborhood specialist would need to know in order to provide “advisory services” for that area. A sample includes: Participating in the local community board, school board, and business improvement district meetings. Befriending the retailers, which are the heart and soul of the community. Being versed in all zoning and landmark changes that may affect property values. Even being involved in local politics which oftentimes can directly affect the housing landscape.

Bottom line — it’s involvement. And involvement takes time and a real commitment.

I’ve joked that an agent is part director, part producer, part copywriter, part therapist, part negotiation expert. We focus on giving our agents the tools to call themselves real estate experts. We treat our agents as business owners, and we have the obligation to teach them how to run a successful business.

BBH: Keller Williams NYC has recently created an in-house productivity coaching department, which is a rarity in Manhattan real estate firms. Could you talk about the program?

EB: It’s rare anywhere in the country. Most managers at real estate offices are gatekeepers, problem solvers; their job is much more focused on maintaining, rather than growing. Managers are so busy every day dealing with stuff that they don’t have time to spend helping an agent grow their business. We don’t even have managers as we believe that no one person can actually support an agent’s needs. We’ve taken on the concept of having four to five people to go to, because it takes a village. We classify it all as leadership.

The productivity coaching department is strictly focused on moving agents forward as efficiently and effectively as possible. Best part, there are no monthly costs to the agent, like a Mike or Tom Ferry. Our productivity coach shares in the agent’s success and improvement. It includes one-on-one and small group sessions for all levels of production.

Remember, the core of this company is that we coach and train for a living. It’s part of our DNA and we have made a real commitment to our agent’s professional development on an on-going basis.

This on-going commitment is what completely separates us. It’s not just going to a three day or three week boot camp. We’re constantly updating and changing our classes on a monthly basis and throwing new people into the mix — if an agent has a passion for data, or searching for new developments, they’ll teach this class. Part of our philosophy is to have agents make one another better.

The second thing that sets us apart is that we are a collaborative environment like no other. With half our profits each month going back to the agents in the form of profit-share, it creates a company where agents have a true incentive to support one another.

Agents do about 70 percent of the coaching and training. And the great thing is, agents have told me that the level of their game has improved dramatically, as teaching has forced them to come prepared with quality information.

We’re in the presentation business. Whether it’s one-on-one, we’re always presenting.

For example, Marco [Chiappetta] taught a class about a month ago, after complaining to me that he was too busy. The title was, “Know Your Market Statistics.” It was supposed to be a half hour, but they didn’t let him leave. He went more than 75 minutes through the lunch break. So now, he’s the one asking, “let me do it next month.”

But that’s the great thing — the only way you can collaborate is if you know what value other agents can provide. There’s enough money to go around. Sometimes you’re better off collaborating on a deal than not getting one.

And now, Marco’s even gotten more business from it. He’s actually starting to build a team.

BBH: What are your goals for Keller Williams NYC in the future?

EB: We plan to open a few boutique-style retail spaces within the next year, with five to six in total. Think Apple store meets real estate office as we’re building them for the consumer. The goal is for 400-plus agents by the end of 2014.

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