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Recruiting Top Sales Associates/Users/adamp/Desktop/Stuff for FAR/Magazine Assets/JUN08/Images/Recuiting

It pays to be selective when recruiting sales associates. Here are some tips for finding good sales associates with staying power.

Not a workday goes by when Sherri Wetzel isn’t actively recruiting real estate professionals who can stay the course. With one office and 21 sales associates, this broker-owner at RE/MAX Midway in Fort Pierce knows that at any given time, one of her top producers may exit the business, move to a new city or leave for a local competitor.

“You never know when someone is going to leave,” says Wetzel, “or when someone’s life is going to change.” That scenario can be a blessing and a curse for brokers, who are typically on either the losing or the gaining end of such changes. Wetzel maximizes this fact by keeping the following mantra in mind as she strives to fill the ranks with professionals: “All sales associates are looking for a better work environment.”

“Real estate is a stressful profession, and one thing agents don’t need is to be stressed out at the office,” says Wetzel, who strives to create a work environment that cultivates both new and experienced talent without adding to their anxiety about their careers and the current market conditions. She recruits through Realtor® Association functions and often nets good candidates through referrals from existing sales associates.” 

  But that doesn’t mean Wetzel kicks back in her office waiting for her sales associates to attract new candidates. She’s doing much the same as the sales associates themselves do when building relationships with prospective customers. “I get out there into the marketplace,” she says, “and I know who the movers are and what they’re doing.”

Needle in a Haystack
Regardless of market conditions, brokers like Wetzel are in a perpetual state of seeking out and hiring new sales associates who want to make a career in real estate, and not just do it for a few months to make a few bucks. Particularly prevalent during the housing boom, the latter can be costly for brokers who put time and money into recruiting and training, only to have their nascent associates exit the industry for greener pastures. To keep revenues rolling in and cash flow positive, brokers require more dedicated associates who can attract buyers and sellers, and close deals on a consistent basis.

Many brokers treat farming for recruits just as they would farming for customers. After careful research, they add a prospective recruit to their DRIP [consistent] marketing campaign and follow up consistently. According to the National Association of Realtors®, the recruiting activities of brokerages trying to attract licensees from other companies aren’t specifically addressed in the Code of Ethics. However, the Code requires all Realtors to be truthful in the comments they make about real estate professionals. It provides that “Realtors shall not knowingly or recklessly make false or misleading statements about competitors, their businesses, or their business practices.”

 With one office and 25 agents, Susan Compton has developed a program that requires her to recruit on a weekly basis for her company—Lake Placid–based Century 21 Compton Realty. And while she advertises open positions in local newspapers, this broker-owner says the one-on-one contact she has with both new and existing sales associates usually works best. “If I see someone who has a great personality and willingness to work hard,” says Compton, “I talk to [him or her] about a career in real estate.” Compton isn’t afraid to pick up the phone to call someone who seems interesting to her.

Gary Harlow, broker-owner at Realty Executives of Jacksonville, isn’t so quick to lure in potential recruits right now, due to market conditions and the fact that “so many agents are jumping from one office to the next.” With one office and 11 sales associates, Harlow says he’s shifted his recruiting strategy to focus only on seasoned professionals who would be a good fit for his company. “I’m in safe mode right now,” he says. However, there’s always room for a proven professional.

To find good candidates, Harlow says he networks at Realtor® and builder groups, and at specialized associations like the Women’s Council of Realtors®. He doesn’t advertise open positions, and he avoids career nights, preferring instead to talk one- on-one with existing sales associates who would benefit from a move to his company. “My goal is to meet with them in a natural, comfortable environment,” says Harlow. “That helps me understand if they would be a good fit.”

If the shoe doesn’t “fit,” so to speak, Harlow moves on. “I have a number of agents who would like to come on board with me right now,” he explains, “but unfortunately they don’t have track records, and with the market as it is, I’m not comfortable putting my office at risk.”

On Hold
Larger brokerages are equally challenged. With eight offices and 742 agents, Patrick Skiffington, general manager and broker at Keller Williams Orlando, says turnover is high. “Right now we’re looking for people who will push through this dip,” says Skiffington, “and come out on the other side and gain market share.” After all, veterans know that in a market such as this, the most successful sales associates actually gain market share, taking on the slack from less dedicated associates.

To meet that goal, Skiffington says, he seeks out those who have the “proper mind-set” about what it means not only to survive in the current housing market, but also to take their businesses to the next level. The firm’s team leaders, by keeping their ears to the ground in the marketplace, networking at Realtor events and regularly reviewing the MLS to see who the most active sales associates are, have been able to “zero in on agents that we want to work with,” says Skiffington.

Once those professionals have been identified and have shown an interest, they are put through an in-depth interviewing process that “digs deep into the agents’ business to uncover their successes and struggles,” says Skiffington, whose team members review business plans and identify individuals who would benefit from the company’s intensive training programs. “We’re looking for agents who may not have had the proper training needed to grow their businesses,” he says, “versus those who have the ‘victim’ mentality.”

Harlow says he’s refined the interviewing process to focus less on past performance and more on ways the sales associate is going to thrive in today’s marketplace. He looks for responses to questions like “How easily do you accept rejection?” He steers clear of those who either brag incessantly about past accomplishments or reveal an action or involvement with which he would be unhappy. “That’s a red flag,” says Harlow, “and I’ll end the conversation right there.”

Because Compton’s real estate office relies on teamwork to run smoothly, one of the first interview questions she asks is this: “Did you participate in any sports in high school or college?” If the answer is positive, she follows up with this one: “Were any of them team sports?” Depending on the answer, Compton says, she can usually determine whether or not a potential recruit would make a good addition to her team.  “It’s hard to be a recluse in this business,” says Compton, “so someone who has competed on a team is usually a good bet.”

Making Strides
Compton recently revamped her company’s in-house program to include more frequent statistical reports (of sales associates’ performance) and objection-handling techniques (for sales associates to use while working in the field). She also set up two mastermind groups that meet regularly and focus on coaching that stokes the creativity and refines the skill sets of existing sales associates.

Even with the additional training and support, Compton says, the current market has made many a sales associate nervous about his or her career future.

Those who stay the course may require more care and feeding by the broker going forward, says Wetzel, who sees more brokers “paving the way” for associates by offering more incentives to come on board and by providing items that sales associates once handled on their own, such as business cards and signs.

Expect brokers to become even more selective about associates they bring on board in the future, and rightfully so, says Wetzel. “Most brokers are not really interested in someone who comes in cold after seeing a Help Wanted ad,” she says, “We’d much prefer to have an existing relationship with the person, or have an agent in our office to have a relationship with them, before hiring.”

Bridget McCrea is a Clearwater-based freelance writer.